Monday, 15 October 2007

Wood and the environment

Today is "blog action day" so a good time to look at how the forest and timber industries impact on the environment.

Is using wood good or bad for the environment?

Well the answer is that it can be the moment.

OK, environmental issues are complicated so I'm afraid your going to have to concentrate while I try and explain this.

We all use wood products in our daily lives...and so it is very important that everyone understands this: there is good wood and there is bad wood.

Let's start with bad wood. Thankfully most people these days are aware that forests are being destroyed in some areas of the world. Some of this is because of logging for timber and some of it is because land is being cleared for other uses. This is a bad thing...for all sorts of reasons. As well as being the "lungs of the planet" forests provide homes to lots of animals and plants...and people too. Deforestation contributes to climate change and can also lead to landslides and floods. We hear a lot about the rain forests in South America, Africa and Asia, but forests are threatened in other areas as well...including Europe. Bad wood is wood that comes from:

  • Forests that are logged faster than they can regrow

  • Old growth forests, which contain important and rare habitats and which can't recover from logging

  • Forests that provide homes to endangered plants and animals

  • Logging that is linked to crime and poor treatment of native people

  • Logging that causes pollution or damage to the land

Buying bad wood is like buying a panda fur coat...and you wouldn't do that would you?

Now let's look at good wood. Wood is one of the few truly renewable materials we have. If we are careful about how we manage forests we can grow new wood to replace the wood we use. So long as forests are managed carefully they can provide wood forever. Indeed, thanks to responsible forestry for wood, the UK has more forests now than it had 100 years ago...and the forests are still growing.

Also, as trees grow they take carbon dioxide out of the air helping to combat climate change. When that wood is used to make products like furniture and houses the carbon is stored away and doesn't get back into the atmosphere until the wood product decays or is burnt...and that might be decades or even centuries. What's more is that we can make things out of wood that we would otherwise have to make from materials that cause environmental problems when they are made - like metals, concrete and plastics.

Forests can be factories for producing wood...and also provide lots of other good things too like homes for wildlife and nice places to go and exercise in.

So how can you know what's good wood and what's bad wood? Well, this is something that has been given a lot of thought in the last few years. There are now several "certification schemes" which aim to identify good wood. One of the best known is the Forest Stewardship Council (or FSC) which is supported by environmental organisations like Greenpeace, WWF and Friends of the Earth. You can find more information here and here. There is also an excellent virtual tour of a Finnish Forest explaining some of what is involved in sustainable forestry. And you can also learn a little more about the sustainability of different species by playing our timber trumps game.

Buying certified wood is a good encourages people to look after their forests. So look out for the certification marks.

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