Building Product Comparisons
Most building materials – including steel, concrete, and plastic-based products to name a few – are very energy-intensive to extract as raw materials and to manufacture into finished products. Because most energy is produced by burning fossil fuels like coal, oil, and natural gas, which in turn releases carbon dioxide and other pollutants into the atmosphere, the production of building materials other than wood contributes more to global warming as a result.
Wood, by contrast, is essentially a renewable carbon sink: utilizing solar energy and photosynthesis, young growing trees take carbon from the atmosphere and fix it in a cellular structure – wood. Mature forests are carbon-neutral as natural decay matches new growth. In harvesting mature trees, making wood products from them (which are then incorporated into building structures and do not decompose), and growing new trees to replace the old, we are creating carbon sinks and thereby mitigating the greenhouse effect – provided, of course, that the forest is allowed to regenerate itself.
Unlike oil wells, ore mines, or other ultimate sources for the building materials cited above, forests provide a variety of ecological services, including wildlife habitat, air and water purification, soil stabilization, and so forth. Furthermore, forests can continue to provide these services while being managed for a sustainable yield of forest products.
The truth is that each and every choice of flooring has an environmental impact. In choosing between building materials, one must dig deep to fully understand all the environmental impacts that emanate from the sourcing, production, and ultimate disposal of the product choice.
A perfect example is wool carpet, which at first glance seems to be a perfectly natural product without significant environmental downsides. But digging deeper, producing wool requires sheep. Sheep require grazing lands which are sometimes created by converting forests to grasslands, hence contributing to deforestation. Sheep’s digestive systems are also large producers of methane gases – one of the leading causes of the "greenhouse effect." In addition, sheep are now a domesticated species and are introduced animals in most all areas where they are farmed, meaning that they take over range from native species. What on the surface looks like a natural choice has many hidden environmental costs.
Thus, every building material has its own associated environmental costs. Synthetic carpet made from petroleum-based products has all the environmental costs associated with oil, including drilling, occasional spills, large amounts of pollution and toxic chemical by-products, energy used in different stages of manufacturing, and the lack of biodegradability – not to mention a short life cycle. Ceramic tile has its own set of environmental costs, as does vinyl.
Rather than go into the details of each on this webpage, please read what several experts say about wood:
- Greenpeace states that "Trees are the Answer"
- FAO - Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations - Environmental & Energy Balances of Wood Products and Substitutes
- NAFI - Australia's Forest Industry Council - Timber as Building Material.
At EcoTimber, we are also very aware that wood harvested from living trees has its own set of environmental costs. These include:
- National Parks, which preserve old-growth forests in an untouched state
- Conservation zones, which protect areas of forest for their ecological and biological uniqueness and/or importance to indigenous populations and threatened flora and fauna
- Well-managed production forests
- Plantations on afforested lands
We also know that any harvesting whatsoever from a “natural” forest adversely impacts that forest. This is why we support a varied and balanced approach to land-use and forest management in every country, ranging from:
In an effort to promote this balanced approach and to mitigate the risk of sourcing wood that was harvested irresponsibly or illegally, EcoTimber has committed itself to improving its sourcing and has recently joined World Wildlife Fund’s North America Forest & Trade Network and is committed to the following Sourcing Policy.
Finally, we offer wood from a myriad of reclaimed, recycled, and salvaged sources as well as rapidly renewable alternatives to wood.