How-To: Buy sustainably-managed lumber

Energy & Sustainability
How-To:  Buy sustainably-managed lumber
FSC plywood pic.JPG

Photo courtesy Coastal Treated Products Company.

In a discussion in the comments on yesterday’s “plastic plywood” post, I mentioned that I was often reluctant to buy plywood and other “new” timber products at the hardware store because I didn’t know how to tell if I was buying forest-friendly wood or not. A kindly gent named Hank responded to tell me that it was as simple as looking for the seal of the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC), and supposedly that even the big orange store “is surprisingly good at stocking FSC certified lumber.” I haven’t verified that last bit for myself, but I did spend a long time googling around yesterday afternoon and satisfied myself that these FSC folks are on the level. That’s their “tree with a check mark” seal in the photo, above. Now I know what to look for. And so do you. [Thanks, Hank!]


10 thoughts on “How-To: Buy sustainably-managed lumber

  1. princewally says:

    I’m not aware of a domestic company that doesn’t isn’t “forest-friendly”. There are 20% more woodlands in the US now that 100 years ago, due to loggers replanting where they cut.

    Not only is that a necessary part of not driving themselves out of business, but it’s required by most state and federal logging contracts.

    1. craig says:

      Have you ever been in the northern half of Wisconsin? The forest is so dense up there it’s crazy. What you don’t know is since the devistating North-central deforestation clearcut in the 1800s when lumber companies went from east to west cutting down everything and giving nothing back, the forests regrew. In fact, they not only regrew, but have been re-cut three, five, or more times since. The only difference is specific intermittant sectors are cut every year whilest replanted. Each year different sectors are done. Unless a sector along a road was clearcut within the last year or two, you’d never know because at any given point, 90% of the forest is in a healthy state of tree-thriving northwoods at different growth rates.

  2. Sean Michael Ragan says:

    …there are very significant differences between “sustainable” certification programs even in US/American forests. The Sustainable Forest Initiative (SFI) is rather infamous for being the logging industry’s “lap dog” auditing program. See, e.g. this page from 2008…

    And this older report at Yale:

  3. tgmake says:

    I can confirm that big orange has FSC lumber, at least the store I go to. Big orange also offers easy CFL bulb recyling, which is nice since it’s a lot closer than the county hazardous waste disposal center.

  4. Alan says:

    The FSC logo is definitely worth looking for. Contrary to some comments above, much of the lumber in North America is not sustainably managed. The claim that we have more woodland now than 100 years ago rests on some statistical sleight-of-hand, with much of the wooded acreage coming from abandoned farmland that sprouted weedy new-growth forests. And anyone who’s seen the appalling clear-cuts in the Pacific Northwest knows that not all replanting will really replace what was there before.

    The main factor driving sustainable management is land ownership. In places where tree farms are privately owned, there’s a huge incentive to manage them sustainably. My family owns a moderate-sized tree farm in Mississippi, for example, and while clear-cutting it would certainly give us a nice shot of cash in the short term, it would decimate the resale value of a piece of land that’s been in the family for four generations. When the logging is happening on government land, however, the equation is quite different. There, one wants to maximize yield in minimum time, and that means wiping out the whole forest. Yeah, the leases technically require replanting, but that’s a far cry from full ecosystem restoration.

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I am descended from 5,000 generations of tool-using primates. Also, I went to college and stuff. I am a long-time contributor to MAKE magazine and My work has also appeared in ReadyMade, c't – Magazin für Computertechnik, and The Wall Street Journal.

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