Eco friendly Timber

If you’re planning to use timber, try one of the many eco-friendly choices



Are you in the market to build a timber outdoor setting for a new patio or pergola? Perhaps you’ve been thinking about building a timber deck? The smooth, luxurious feel of timber, coupled with its durability and warmth, has made timber a popular choice for the building of homes, landscapes, furniture and more.
Much of the timber used for furniture and construction in Australia is sourced from plantations or native forests maintained using environmentally sustainable practices. Unfortunately, ecologically friendly methods aren’t always employed, especially overseas.
According to the Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry, it is estimated that $400 million (9 per cent) of timber products imported into Australia could be illegally sourced. This means the timber was extracted without the permission of indigenous populations and/or its removal damaged soil and waterways.
As a consumer, the choices you make when selecting your timber furniture and wood products will, ultimately, make an impact on the planet. Ravaged rainforests and wildlife habitats destroyed by illegal logging practices are a grim reminder that the continued sustainability of the planet really is in our hands.


Changes are underway

In response to growing concern about illegal timber felling and degradation of forest habitats, the government has established Regional Forest Agreements (RFAs). These are 20-year plans that protect the ecological management and continued sustainability of native forests. States bound by these agreements include Tasmania, New South Wales, Victoria and Western Australia.
In 1993, the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) was developed to promote responsible and sustainable forestry management. The FSC is an independent, not-for-profit, worldwide organisation. Timber products that have been sourced through sustainable forestry practices can earn the FSC logo. If a timber product is labelled with the FSC logo it’s been given a “green” tick of approval, says Carly Bannon, executive officer with the FSC. Forest certification is one of the world’s most viable and successful initiatives to manage and maintain forests, she says.
Another group, the Australian Forestry Standard (AFC), a not-for-profit public company developed in 2003, promotes sustainable management of Australian forests and Australian timber products. The AFC is approved by the Programme for the Endorsement of Forest Certification (PEFC), the world’s largest forest certification network. They don’t, however, get the green tick from environmental groups such as WWF or Greenpeace.

Tracking the production

To ensure you’re buying 100 per cent eco-friendly timber, the timber needs to be tracked through all the production processes. This chain-of-custody certification includes manufacturers, loggers, saw millers, joiners … basically, it’s about tracking everything from the raw timber to the finished product (all the people and processes between the forest and the end user), says Steve Mitchell, program manager of the Timber Development Association.
The vast majority of rainforests that timbers are sourced from are certified, but chain-of-custody certification is still being developed, he says.
With the process within the industry still in its infancy, consumers are the driving force that can ensure that each link in the chain is certified, according to Steve. “If more consumers demand that timber and furniture suppliers source products via ecologically sustainable means, the industry will have to deliver,” he says.


Making informed decisions

So how do you know what you’re buying? When you are considering buying a timber product, before you make the purchase ask the retailer or manufacturer where it came from. According to Greenpeace, there are several types of timbers that simply don’t make the cut. These are Australian native old growth and uncertified tropical hardwoods from Indonesia, Vietnam, Singapore, China, Malaysia, PNG and Vietnam. They also advise consumers and builders to boycott plantation timber that’s been cleared from native forests after 1994 — this was the cut-off date imposed by the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) for the conversion of forests to timber plantations.
Check to see if the timber product is certified FSC or AFC to confirm it’s been harvested legally and sustainably. If the supplier or retailer is uncertain or cannot verify the authenticity of the timber product and you want to make an environmentally sound choice, look for a similar product that is certified. Your local builder can also help you make the right decision.


Employing reclaimed timber

Pre-loved timber and timber products are always a good environmentally sustainable choice. Consider the option of buying recycled timber for the construction of decking, pergolas, fencing, cladding, feature pieces and more. Timber beams and posts reclaimed from old wharfs, factories, bridges or wool stores, for example, are usually weather-hardened and add character to a project. Each piece is unique and has a story to tell about its origin.
You can also find furniture made from reclaimed timber or timber off-cuts. To find recycled wood products check eBay, visit council-owned refuse stations, look under recycled in the Yellow Pages and check out the National Timber Product Stewardship Group’s comprehensive online reuse and recycle directory.
As well as native forests, a growing number of renewable plantation forests also service Australia’s increasing demand for raw timber and timber products. Major timber plantations began in Australia in the 1960s and now there are 1.82 million hectares of renewable timber sources in the form of softwood and hardwood plantations. Plantation timbers are farmed extensively, so for a smaller parcel of land there are higher yields, says Steve.
“Conversely, timber extraction is much less per hectare in native forests. But if you look at it objectively, in Australia our native forests are well managed for a variety of uses, including biodiversity and catchment management.”


Using certified sources

In an effort to turn the tide of growing illegal timber felling and encourage well-managed forests, WWF has established the Australia Forest and Trade Network (AFTN), the national division of the Global Forest and Trade Network. “We have agreements with individual companies to buy timber and paper products from certified sources,” says Andrew Rouse, WWF Australia Program Manger, Resource Conservation.
Sustainability of our forests is a critical issue, says Andrew. “Through the choice of timber they buy, consumers can support sustainable forest management and by doing that they’re supporting communities and biodiversity within those regions.”




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