Managed Forests Make for More Sustainable Wood Choices

Locally sourced wood from managed forests is more sustainable than exotic wood. Learn why.

Posted by Cris Carl | May 05, 2011
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sundstrom/stock.xchngThe most sustainable wood choices for your building projects are woods that are grown locally and are well managed. Depending on where you live, the best type of sustainable wood will vary. However, nature tends to be smarter than we are. If your local wood producer is managing certain types of trees, they will likely work well for your building projects.

For example, Mathew Kelty, who teaches about forest ecology at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst said “In the northwest, Douglass fir is everywhere. There is also a lot of western red cedar, which is soft, but doesn’t decay. It’s often used for shingles for that reason.” Kelty added that in the northeast region a lot of spruce and fir is used due to its abundance. DIY Resource:

The idea of sustainable wood products is larger than what specific woods to use. Sustainability in relation to wood products has more to do with appropriate land management, biodiversity of plants and animals, and the integrity of the soil according to Emily Boss, director of the Massachusetts Woodlands Institute. “We prefer to use the term ‘responsible management’ of wood over ‘sustainable,’” said Boss. “Responsible management is the goal,” she added.

When you are looking for sustainable wood products, it is important to know if they are certified woods and by whom. One of the best certifications comes from the Forest Stewardship Council. The FCS logo is an excellent indicator that you have chosen woods that have been properly and responsibly managed. It is also a good idea when researching local sustainable wood sources to look at certifications your state provides. Boss said in Massachusetts, for example, a new certification was created approximately a year ago called the Commonwealth Quality program. There are also similar programs in Vermont and Maine, Boss said. “There are no quick answers (regarding sustainable wood products). But, FCS takes into account how the workers are being treated, indigenous people’s issues; there are a lot of variable when talking about sustainable wood products,” said Boss.

The best sustainable woods travel the least distance from harvest to consumer. “Local soft and hardwoods use less energy to transport. If you are supporting a local business, you can get to know then, know how high their land management standards are,” said Boss. Boss said that good land management also take invasive species such as bittersweet and and wild rose into account as they take over and are destructive to native trees and plants.

Boss said that typically in the New England region, oak, white pine, sugar maple, red maple, and birch are the most commonly used woods for lumber production. It’s also good to know where the wood is being processed. In other words, do you have a local saw mill? DIY Resource:

Beware of using tropical woods such as teak, rosewood or ebony for custom woodworking. Many tropical areas of the world where these woods are harvested have not been responsibly managed, and over-harvesting often causes environmental, political and social harm to indigenous peoples.

To sum up how to find the most sustainable woods, look for certified woods from managed forests that travel the shortest distance from harvest to consumer.

Cris Carl is a Hometalk/Networx writer.  See more articles like this one, or get help with your home projects on

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