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The Green Life: Ask Mr. Green: How Can I Find Sustainable Wood?

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October 10, 2013

Ask Mr. Green: How Can I Find Sustainable Wood?

Mr. Green is Bob SchildgenHey Mr. Green,

We are preparing to replace the planking on our deck, and we want to use a sustainable timber product. Bamboo does not seem to be sufficient for our needs, so we have to look elsewhere.

—Paul, in Downieville, California

The Forestry Stewardship Council is the best source for finding sustainable wood and paper products, and is favored by forest groups. It’s not perfect, says Sierra Club conservation director Bruce Hamilton, but it’s the most credible source. Look for FSC-certified lumber at a local retailer or visit FSC’s website to find a dealer nearest you. FSC’s site is rather confusing, intimidating even, but an FSC representative tells me a more user-friendly system should be in place in a few months. 

Do not fall for any certification from the Sustainable Forestry Initiative, as they were set up by the timber industry itself, and are governed and financed by the industry, warns Jim Ace, of Forest Ethics,  who says SFI approves of clearcuts, lacks adequate wildlife-protection provisions, and allows the use of pesticides to suppress weeds and trees in order to protect new timber plantings. “They deceive consumers and businesses,” he says. And it’s not just about timber, but even items like 3M’s Post-its. Forest Ethics is wrangling with 3M because 3M uses SFI certification. The company claims that SFI is “a comprehensive system of principles, objectives, performance measures and indicators that integrate the perpetual growing of trees with the protection of wildlife, plants, soil, water and air.”

Your other option for sustainable planking would be a synthetic lumber, such as Trex. As far as I've been able to determine, it is a safe product with substantial recycled content, and longer-lasting than wood. It's fairly pricey, however, and of course if you have aesthetic objections to synthetic lumber, then it's not an option.

Finally, as for bamboo, don’t feel too bad. Bamboo is not necessarily as green as some of its fans claim, as I’ve noted in an earlier screed. Some harvesters hack it down prematurely, which can damage the bamboo stand. Also, foreign factories with lax safety standards often use glue containing toxic formaldehyde to bind it. I wouldn't trust any bamboo unless it has a Scientific Certification System label or is certified by FSC. —Bob Schildgen

Got a question? Ask Mr. Green!


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