Just what, exactly, is a “sofa designed for the home we call Earth?” And what is so “sustainable” about the wood in it?
The home goods industry has become just as enamored with green buzzwords as the food and fashion worlds have, and “sustainable wood” is one of the most common marketing cries. (Crate and Barrel makes that particular sofa for earth out of not just wood that is certified by the Sustainable Forestry Initiative, but also from “revolutionary, bio-based materials that are environmentally renewable.”)
Some wood, of course, is more sustainable from others. Here’s what you need to know.
Generally, “sustainable wood” means wood harvested from carefully managed forests or reclaimed from old buildings or furniture.
“There are a number of programs that certify the way timber is cut down and used,” says Deb Snoonian, executive editor of Plenty magazine, which covers green topics. “They have guidelines on how forests should be managed and the idea is that you never want to clear-cut a forest.”
The most stringent of these programs, she says, is run by the Forest Stewardship Council. “The FSC guidelines are the ones most environmental groups trust,” Snoonian said.
The FSC offers a searchable database of certified vendors, says Katie J. Miller, the organization’s U.S. communications director.”
Even without certification, customers can assume that most wood grown in North America is likely to be harvested in an environmentally safe way, says Ron Jarvis, vice president of environmental innovation at The Home Depot, which sells some FSC-certified wood.
“If you’re buying Southern yellow pine or redwood or cedar, probably it’s OK without certification,” he says.
Be careful with woods which may have been harvested in countries lacking stringent environmental rules, Jarvis adds. “If you’re going in to buy a wood product and you’re not familiar with the name or it’s a name that usually means rain forest, like teak, ask for an FSC-certified product.”
Bill Banzhaf, president of the Sustainable Forestry Initiative, one of the country’s largest certifying organizations, says the more customers ask about sustainable wood, the more it will create a market for good practices.
“There is a great deal of material out there. Sometimes it’s not labeled because a manufacturer doesn’t want to confuse the consumer, or wants to support their own brand.”
Besides certification, Banzhaf says the SFI’s program also trains loggers, 97,000 so far, to harvest wood in an environmentally safe way.
“Whether it’s a whole building or parts of a building, or wood is used from one piece of furniture to the next,” Snoonian says, “there are a lot of ways you can repurpose wood that has that history.”
Sustainably harvested wood products aren’t necessarily expensive, Miller says. “It’s not just high-end manufacturers that do this. Among lower-end retailers, Ikea uses a lot of sustainable wood products,” she says.
And consumers don't have to sacrifice style. Take, for example, the furniture made with sustainably harvested wood by Connecticut-based retailer ducduc, which merges eco-sensibility with sleek, modern design.
In a further nod to environmental sensitivity, ducduc finishes their products with non-VOC (volatile organic compound) and HAP (hazardous air pollutant)-free paints.
Focusing on these issues will soon be crucial for retailers in today’s eco-conscious world, says ducduc’s CEO, Philip Erdoes. “Being smart green is becoming ‘the price of entry,’ not just an idea,” he says.