This post comes to us from our partners at Simply Shutters.
While in theory wood is a renewable and environmentally-friendly resource, in practice it is often harvested unsustainably – with impacts on both people and the planet.
Despite the profusion of modern construction materials, there are many applications for which wood has never been surpassed. It embodies a unique combination of properties compared to common alternatives like plastics, metals and concrete. Wood is strong and resilient, yet comparatively light and cheap. It is attractive, easy to shape and – in theory – carbon neutral and inexhaustible in supply.
The problem is that while some types of tree are fast-growing and therefore readily renewable, others take many decades to reach maturity. This is particularly the case with hardwoods, such as oak, ash, beech and more exotic species like ramin. Their density and tight grain structure, as well as attractive appearance, make them ideal as a construction material and for certain types of furniture and fixtures. However, our demand for their wood means that they are often harvested unsustainably – something that has an immense impact on the carbon cycle, fragile ecosystems and the people who live in them.
A carbon-neutral resource?
Like all plants, trees convert sunlight into usable energy by a process called photosynthesis: a chemical reaction that involves taking in carbon dioxide and water and giving out oxygen. This process also provides them with the carbon they need to grow. Every year, more than 100 thousand million tons of carbon is converted into plant material by photosynthesis. Every time a tree is cut down, the conversion process stops.
Worse, if the wood is burned, its carbon is released back into the atmosphere in the form of carbon dioxide.
If new trees are planted then this offsets the imbalance. Sustainable woodland and forests are harvested in this way. Not only does planting new trees help maintain the carbon cycle, but it ensures a viable long-term business model for the companies that practice it.
Unsustainable harvesting, particularly in the Amazon, are responsible for widespread deforestation – one major factor in climate change.
Bad for ecosystems
Forests – whether tropical or English woodland – are complex ecosystems. They are home to an incredible diversity of flora and fauna, including many species that are still unknown. Unsustainable logging practices result in widespread harm to these ecosystems, with an inevitable loss in biodiversity. Where woodland is properly managed, biodiversity is protected and even improved.
The human cost
Lastly, where unsustainable and often illegal logging takes place there can be significant effects on local populations. Residents may be displaced, either due to physical threat or because the habitat on which they rely is damaged beyond repair (pdf). Supplying wood is a big business, and corruption and violence can go with the territory.
What to look for
Wood remains an excellent material for many products but it’s important to ensure that it has been sourced responsibly and sustainably. The Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) is an international organization set up to promote the responsible management of forest and woodland. Look for their logo, which shows that products have been sourced renewably and with concern for social as well as environmental impacts. It is a voluntary scheme, and so it will generally be immediately obvious whether a manufacturer is certified or not.
This article was supplied by Simply Shutters who obtain their louvre door products from FSC approved sources. By only buying products with the FSC stamp you can be sure that you are not harming the environment and will be promoting the importance of the FSC to better manage our remaining woodland resources.
Image Credit: Creative Commons photo by anathea