If environmental sustainability is your goal, then wood is considered difficult to better with its low embodied energy, longevity and sustainability. This is all true but, as ever it is not the whole story. There is a huge amount of hardwood flooring available on the market of questionable or even downright illegal provenance. This type of uncertified timber is usually at the lower end of the market such as some cheaper Chinese grown Oaks and Walnuts, but many of the aspirational tropical hardwoods such as Brazilian or Burmese Teak, Merbau and certain African exotic hardwoods continue to be taken at an unsustainable rate from unmanaged mature forests in South America, Asia and Africa causing immense ecological and potential climatic damage. Both Russia and China have been known to use clear cut practices and much damage has been done to the Boreal forests in Northern Russia and Siberia. Russian old growth forests are disappearing at a rate of 12 million hectares per year and up to 95% of these forests are reported to be subject to clear cutting practices to a greater or lesser extent.
So how can you be sure that your hardwood flooring purchase is not literally costing the earth? Well, you should try to purchase from sustainably managed forests through the FSC (Forest Stewardship Council) which is an independent certification system which follows the wood from tree to floor. All partners in the FSC supply chain have to get certified to maintain the chain of custody right through to the consumer. An alternative scheme from the EU is the PEFC (Pan European Forest Certificate) which, however, does not have the endorsement of the WWF as there are issues over member states being allowed to use forest practices WWF consider to be unsustainable. Interestingly, 80% of Canadian forests are still owned by the UK Crown Estate and are subject to very stringent forestry management controls, although much of the timber production from this region does not fall under the FSC or PEFC schemes. Not everything that isn’t certified is bad, but this does not particularly help to clarify the situation for the consumer!
The old adage ‘you get what you pay for’ still pretty much holds true. Certified and sustainably managed timber costs more to produce so be wary of very cheap wooden floor products; apart from the forest management perspective these are more likely to have been produced using child or badly paid labour.
Finally, and probably most importantly, make sure that you ask the right questions about your timber flooring purchase. Get to know the company you are buying from, find out about their environmental policies and whether they really sell their wood with a clear conscience. Work with people who are as close to the source of the timber as possible, the more contacts in the supply chain the cloudier the provenance of the timber becomes.
It is possible to buy a beautiful, sustainable and environmentally positive hardwood floor if you know what to look for. A wooden floor is a beautiful addition to your home and you should be as proud of its origin as you are of the way it looks.
We have sourced some environmentally friendly floors. Take a look at the following: