Who Wood Have Thought It? Sustainable Timber Practices

sustainable wood products

Look around your home and you will more than likely notice that one of the most common materials is wood but not all wood is created equal and some is best avoided.

While I live in a rented flat that was primarily furnished by my landlord, the amount of wood is quite astonishing – laminate flooring throughout the living room and hallway, wooden desk, wooden coffee table, wooden TV unit, wooden wardrobe, wooden chest of drawers, wooden bed, wooden bedside table, wooden doors, wooden kitchen (mainly) and the sofa is almost certainly wooden. Now really – that lists almost everything in my flat!

I’m not saying that using wood in this way is necessarily a bad thing because it’s not; wood is lightweight, hard wearing, has a high strength to weight ratio and, in the process of growing, a tree locks CO2 away in its fibre which is then kept locked away when used for building and furniture.

The issue comes when forests are either logged illegally or in a manner than is completely unsustainable. A 2010 report concluded that 100 million cubic metres of illegal timber were being cut worldwide each year and 1.5 million of these were ending up in Britain. In the same year the EU officially banned imports of illegal timber although this legislation only comes into effect this March.

Now I could just tell you to buy FSC certified products but that would be glossing over the other solutions which are even better for the environment and can often save you money at the same time.

Repair or Rework

Nothing lasts forever, that is pretty much a universal fact and furniture isn’t any different but a well maintained piece of wooden furniture can last decades, if not centuries (antiques roadshow anyone?). I can certainly remember sitting around the same family table when I was a kid as I did just last month for Christmas dinner.

If your wooden furniture is looking a bit worse for wear, don’t write it off completely and chuck it out; it is possible to revitalise and refinish most pieces to extend their useful life. Here is a fantastic 10 part guide to achieving the desired result. Even if you have to get professional help, it will probably still work out cheaper than buying something new.

Reclaim and Reuse

There is wood already out there that has been used once before but is still perfectly good for furniture, flooring and other purposes. The choice you face is whether you want to buy second hand items or products made from reclaimed timber. Both options prevent further deforestation although there may be price differences.

Buying second hand will often lead to bargain prices as people look to offload their unwanted furniture to make space or because they are moving/downsizing. Websites like eBay and Gumtree are good places to start but you can also check out local car boot sales and even ads in your local shop window.

Reclaimed fixtures, fittings and furniture may or may not be more expensive. If you are willing to take timbers off the hands of builders who would otherwise have to pay to dispose of it then you are quids in but if you want fully finished pieces then you may be looking at the more premium end of the marketplace.

If the reclaimed wood is of a certain age then it may in fact be stronger and more durable than products made from virgin timber now because of the types of forests that were being cut down in the past.

Of the 1.5 million tonnes of timber generated from the demolition of buildings in the UK each year, some 750,000 tonnes is either being burnt or disposed of in landfill. Another 1.3 million tonnes is generated from packaging such as wooden pallets and up to 672,000 tonnes of timber comes from households (old furniture, doors, floorboards, etc.) and is thrown into civic dumps. So there is plenty of wood out there that could be reclaimed but isn’t (source).

FSC = For Sustainable Consumers

Well ok it doesn’t (it’s actually Forest Stewardship Council) but the FSC is a global, not-for-profit organisation that sets the highest standard of sustainability for new wood and only certifies those forests that are managed and run to strict environmental criteria.

By looking out for the FSC logo when buying timber and paper products, you can rest assured that everything that could be done to reduce the impacts of growing and felling trees is being done.

I’m not saying that the FSC is completely foolproof; there are still concerns about forest plantations which are essentially monocultures. These do not encourage diversity and can lead to a variety of problems but if you want brand new timber products from virgin forests then FSC is better than non-FSC without question.

Don’t Dump, Sell

If you are looking to replace wooden items in your home but you need to do away with what you already have, the temptation might be to throw them away or burn them but before doing anything you should consider whether someone else might want them.

Much like my suggestion to buy second hand, you can be the one doing the selling. You may not get a lot for them, especially if items are bulky, but start an auction on eBay at £0.99 and see what bids come your way. My brother did exactly this and his old table found a new home and he actually made his money back on what he paid for it. If you are not bothered about the money, items on Freecycle can go very quickly indeed – you might be rid of them the very same day you list them.

Recommended Stores

I’ve done a bit of digging and while there are probably a number of companies out there who produce sustainable wood products, these are the ones that I have found to have the best range and the clearest policies on their timber sourcing.

eatsleeplive – they say it loud and proud on their website: 100% of their solid wood furniture is 100% handcrafted in the UK from 100% British reclaimed wood.

So not only is the wood reclaimed but it comes from that huge amount we waste here in the UK that I mentioned above. Now I don’t need any new furniture at the present time but if I did then I’d probably buy mine here because not only is it better for the environment, the pieces look absolutely stunning. Just click on the link above and take a look for yourself.

Raft – as the largest retailer of 100% FSC Recycled timber in the world, you can find a larger range of styles than you can from eatsleeplive and most of their lines are made from teak in either dark or natural looks.

While most of their reclaimed timber is shipped in from abroad, they do have the FSC seal of approval and you can visit them at their Tottenham Court Road store in London to see the quality for yourself.

Warren Evans – they were the first British bed maker to be fully FSC certified and have gone on to win a number of environmental and customer service awards.

If you want a sustainable bed or other bedroom furniture then Warren Evans has the largest selection by far of the 3 companies listed here and their prices are slightly lower.

What is even better, you can utilise the Green Steve Shop when you purchase anything from Warren Evans and with 6KG being offset for every £1 you spend, you could well offset a number of tonnes in one go.

Steve (152 Posts)

I am chief writer and editor on Green Steve. Blogging since 2011, I like to delve into a wide number of topics to help people reduce their carbon footprint. You should follow me on Twitter here. And add me to your Google+ circles here.


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