What Makes Wood Sustainable
Apr 24, 2017
Think we’ve only recently started the “green” revolution, attempting to bring sustainability and eco-friendly products into our lives? Think again.
History shows that sustainability has been a part of our culture since the earliest of civilizations. No matter how far back in time you go, we’ve understood the basic circle of life. Plants, animals, fire, water - everything factors into the way we live, and without taking care of each piece, it won’t be there for us when we need it most.
Fast forward to today’s economy and you’ll find sustainability to be one of the most widespread focuses within the building industry. During the 1970s, the concept of green building moved past research and development into reality. Builders became knowledgeable on ways to make buildings more efficient, require less energy, and reduce their negative impact on the environment.
What does “green” mean? According to the Environmental Protection Agency what makes a product green is complicated at best. To make any product, from the simple to the complex, requires a multitude of processes along the way. From the way we gather raw materials to the disposal of the product after, as well as its usefulness; all of this can impact the sustainability of the product. Factors include things like:
- Natural resources - how they’re grown to how they’re harvested and processed.
- Air and water pollution from procurement to production to transport and installation.
- Toxic exposures for humans, other animals and plants.
- Waste disposal - what happens after an item’s useful life?
Some parts of the world are more knowledgeable and focus on sustainability more than others. Similarly, some product manufacturers are more dedicated to the process of bringing sustainable products to the market than others. And when you get down to local communities, stores and products, it can be challenging to weed through it all and know that you are buying a green product. How do you know if a lumberyard here in Chicago, for instance, is making a difference and offering products that can help you live a greener lifestyle? How do you know if the wood products the lumberyard has on display fall under the green classification? Because, as we know, “green” means different things to different people.
Luckily, if you know what to look for, there are specific things that will help you identify sustainable products that offer eco-friendly practices within their production process.
Products that are FSC certified
The National Wildlife Federation’s Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) labels all wood products that come from companies that process, manufacture, or sell products made from certified wood. You can look for it on the packaging or you can ask a representative here at our lumberyard. We’ll guide you to make the wisest choices for your home.
In order for lumber to earn the FSC certification, it has to meet specific criteria, including “The 10 FSC Principles” -- 10 Rules for Responsible Forest Management -- and strict chain-of-custody records. Based on FSC labeling rules, the wood you purchased will either be deemed FSC 100%, FSC Mix, or FSC Recycled. When you purchase lumber with this certification you will confidently know that the wood was harvested from a forest designed to protect water quality, soil productivity, the rights of indigenous people and wildlife, among other things.
Products that focus on reusing and recycling
Recycling has become a part of our lifestyles; but what does that really mean? Putting an old newspaper or a water bottle into the recycling bin may have become a natural occurrence, but how can that help with sustainability?
Take a trip to your local lumberyard, and you’ll find many products that have been created by reusing resources or recycling products with a prior use. Salvaged products are often reused because they can be repurposed for another mission in another building: composite decking, for example, is made up of sawdust, used plastic milk jugs, and shopping bags. Recycled products give new life to a material that otherwise would have ended up in the landfill.
Products that conserve resources
To have a green designation, a product has to meet criteria that guarantee it is created in a way that helps maintain natural resources. When trees are taken from a well-managed forest, for instance, the lumber supplier is ensured that the area is replanted and protected so that it is in a constant cycle of growth. Bamboo has become a popular flooring option and is a great choice for sustainability and going green since it offers rapid growth and doesn’t require a lot of energy or other resources to plant, grow, and harvest.
Products that contribute to our health and safety
Humans have gotten quite good at creating lab-based products. However, many of those lab-based materials can be quite toxic to the surrounding area. Looking closer to nature can provide a world of opportunity to find natural or minimally processed items that can still do the job only without impact on the environment.
Look for products that have reduced or eliminated pesticide treatments, offer alternatives to ozone-depleting substances, provide less hazardous materials both for the environment and for our health, as well as reduce the pollution.
Today, we not only care about the manufacturing side of what we buy, but we're also equally concerned about how it impacts our health. Who wants a lot of chemicals in our indoor air supply, especially when we spend as much as 90-percent of our days inside?
A wood floor may be a sustainable, eco-friendly product, but what about the adhesives used for installation? If they admit a high level of VOCs, they can be harmful to your health and the environment.
Ultimately there are a lot of ways to purchase sustainable wood and building materials and many factors that are considered before a product is labeled as such. If you are looking to forge a “green” path while working on your next product, consider the tips above when visiting your local lumber supplies store.
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