Sustainable Wood: Certifying Sustainable Forestry Management

If you love the look and feel of real wood but also want to save trees, you’ll need to wade through the certification choices, learn to conserve and use your own common sense.

| November/December 2002

The world’s forests provide as much valuable shelter to us when left standing as when they’re cut down to build our homes. By absorbing and storing carbon dioxide (the principle greenhouse gas) and releasing oxygen they simultaneously work to counteract global warming and supply us with the air we need to survive.

Since the late 1950s, nearly one-fifth of the world’s forests have disappeared. In fact, every second, another acre of rain forest is intentionally destroyed by fire for agricultural purposes. As deforestation continues to accelerate, forests are unable to provide climate control, soil conservation, or wildlife habitats. As a result, the world’s forests now lose more carbon to the atmosphere than they absorb, fueling climate changes. Based on our current rate of deforestation, some predict that the rainforests will completely disappear by the end of the century.

So what can we do? 

For many, the answer lies in certification. In theory, certified wood and wood products come with “chain of custody” documents proving that they originated from sustainably managed forests, thus offering a way to recognize and reward practitioners with higher prices or stronger demand. Certification also provides a means to address and monitor forestry issues.

Certification of forestry practices arose, in part, out of bitter confrontations in the late 1980s between environmentalists dedicated to protecting old growth forests and members of the timber industry, whose livelihoods depended on harvesting them. In August 1999 Arthur Blank, the president and CEO of Home Depot, brought this issue to center stage by promising to “eliminate from our stores wood from endangered species . . . and give preference to certified wood” by the end of 2002. Lowe’s and IKEA soon followed suit.

But shopping for a logo claiming that a product is harvested from sustainable wood doesn’t guarantee that you’ve made the most environmentally responsible choice. Different certifiers have different definitions of “green forestry;” some businesses have created their own logos without significantly changing their harvesting methods.

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