Sustainable hardwood floors are beautiful for so many reasons with its natural and long lasting value, as well as quality and comfort. You might be surprised to learn that hardwood flooring is also a smart choice for the environment. Selecting wood that is sustainable allows you to create the decor you desire without contributing to an adverse effect on the environment.
Concerns about wood harvesting include deforestation, illegal logging and loss of slow-growing hardwood species that are difficult to replace. Sustainable forest management includes an approach that addresses the big-picture needs of the forests and surrounding ecosystem. As a resource that affects air quality, water purity and the presence of wildlife, forests are much more than trees.
Environmental Cost of Non-Sustainable Wood Flooring:
Exotic woods such as teak and mahogany are typically not harvested from sustainable sources. In addition to contributing to deforestation of tropical rainforests, the impact can extend to endangered wildlife, human populations and many other components in large ecosystems across the world.
Just 8% of the world’s forest is properly protected from destruction. The timber industry is insatiable, as is our demand for wood. And much of the time it’s harvested unsustainably despite the best efforts of conservationists, governments and lawmakers. Sadly Money often is the motivation for the continued harvesting of wood utilizing unsustainable methods.
In Malaysia, for example, timber production demands more trees than there are in existence. In some areas there are no trees left and wood is being smuggled in from Indonesia to meet demand.
In a nutshell, buying sustainable wood is one way you can support the future of the planet’s forests and, at the same time, protect the future of our children.
Choosing sustainable wood is as simple as understanding the type of wood and geographical locations that practice sustainable harvesting methods. Hardwoods tend to grow more slowly than softwoods, so sustainable wood is especially important when selecting species for hardwood flooring. Softwoods such as pine and fir grow very quickly, these types of wood are often used for lumber products due to their abundance and renewal rate.
Which woods are most sustainable?
Sustainable hardwoods are harvested from forests managed to maintain a natural balance of tree and plant diversity. The harvesters also take pains to reduce the impact of the harvest by maintaining a buffer of trees around waterways and reseeding areas damaged by the lumbering equipment.
Timber is usually classified as either hardwood, from broad leafed trees like beech and oak, or softwood from conifers like pine and fir. Simply because they’re replaceable, fast-growing species like pine trees tend to be more sustainable than slow-growing trees like oak. Oak forests have to be managed carefully to make them sustainable, grown and harvested in the right way, but it can be done.
The EU has introduced legal measures to protect its woodlands and forests, and these day more trees are planted than felled. It’s great news for the future, with EU forests actually growing instead of diminishing. Because the law places a minimum requirement on replacing harvested trees as well as limiting annual harvests, buying European wood is usually a safe choice.
If you’re buying non-EU wood, take care not to buy wood from an endangered tree species. You’ll find an up to date list of threatened trees on the United Nations website and also on the Friends of the Earth website.
The simplest way to avoid purchasing hardwood flooring which has been unsustainably harvested is to look for materials that are FSC (Forest Stewardship Council) certified. FSC is an independent organization, established in 1993, to promote environmentally sustainable, socially beneficial and economically prosperous forest practices worldwide, to protect forests for future generations. FSC operates in 80 countries, where forests exist
All tropical and temperate rainforest woods should be avoided for flooring, unless the wood is from second growth logging and carries independent certification accredited by the FSC.
The types of hardwood that are generally available as certified sustainable options include:
- Oak: This popular hardwood with decorative grain is a durable choice for cabinetry, furniture and hardwood flooring. When selecting oak, look for FSC certification and sources that are reclaimed or recycled.
- Teak: FSC certification from Burma and Africa is possible with teak, and other types of exotic hardwoods such as Favinha, Guariuba and Tatajuba woods are additional options. Slow-growing teak is difficult to grow sustainably, but because the wood is in high demand for outdoor furniture, it is often available on the black market.
- Mahogany: The rich colors and unique grain of this unique wood make it a desirable choice for flooring and furniture. FSC-certified wood comes from South and Central America, Asia and Africa. Other types of wood, such as Andiroba and Jatoba, are additional options when a mahogany look is desired.
- White Ash: This hardwood is desirable for baseball bats, hockey sticks and pool cues. Resistance to shock and the light, creamy color make it a popular choice for furniture, especially for curved forms. Ash is grown in FSC-certified forests across the eastern United States and Canada.
- Black Cherry: With a red wood that has a similar look to mahogany, cherry highly valued for the lustrous glow that it brings to furniture, cabinets, flooring, paneling, doors and trim. Sustainable cherry is also a wood of choice for some Martin Guitars. Fine grain and wavy rings provide it with a unique texture and look.
- Maple: Maple is available in both soft and hard types, and sugar maple is a coveted type of hardwood. This beautiful wood has many unique types of grain and a light color that is suitable for a wide variety of furniture, stair treads and hardwood floors. Maple grows abundantly along the east coast of North America.
- Bamboo: While you can’t buy FSC certified bamboo, the wood can be sustainable. It’s amazingly light and strong and grows like mad, so can be naturally sustainable. It’s used for furniture and floors, scaffolding, fences, bridges and even bricks. With about 1500 species it’s very versatile, harvestable in 3-5 years compared with 10-20 years for most softwoods.
- Douglas Fir: Usually from Europe and North America, good old Douglas Fir is used in building, for paneling and to make furniture. Sustainable Douglas Fir from Europe comes from well-managed plantations
Many companies in the hardwood flooring industry have gone green to combat mounting concerns over global deforestation and devastation of natural habitats, and offer a number of sustainable wood flooring options. We will walk you through these options:
Option 1: FSC Certified Hardwoods
There is a huge selection of both domestic and exotic species that are FSC certified, including: white and red oak, cherry, black walnut, beach, hickory, ash, maple, acacia, Brazilian cherry, Tigerwood, Jatoba, Santos mahogany, madrone, pepperwood, orchard pecan, Cumaru, Pine, and many others.
Option 2: Bamboo Flooring
Bamboo is known as the poster child for sustainable flooring materials, and is heavily marketed as the MOST eco-friendly flooring choice. In reality, most bamboo flooring does not lives up to this hype. You have to do your due diligence to find bamboo flooring that is truly sustainable.
Reclaimed Wood Flooring:
If you are a hardcore green living enthusiast, reclaimed wood flooring is your dream come true. It is a truly eco-friendly option that preserves our forests, reduces waste and pressure on our landfills, and conserves energy by salvaging and recycling old wood building materials. The finished product is a unique and exquisite flooring material with rich and unique accents.
With today’s growing awareness of how energy consumption and waste build-up impacts the planet, many of us look for ways to green our homes with materials that are not only beautiful but environmentally friendly. Hardwood flooring meets those expectations perfectly!