Everyone interested in saving the planet understands the importance of forests around the world. Forests cover 30% of the Earth’s land area and store 293 billion tons of carbon in their biomass. And people interested in environmental issues are becoming increasingly aware of the power consumer pressure can bring to bear in effecting positive change. One thing many people might not understand is those two concerns come together with furnishing purchase decisions.

The furnishing industry is the world’s third largest consumer of wood, trailing only the construction and paper production industries. This means the choices people make when purchasing furnishings can have a direct impact on the world’s forests.

The industry has taken note of this development and is meeting the demand for sustainable furnishings through using wood certified by any number of nonprofit organizations that identify sustainably managed forests, making use of reclaimed wood, and using orchard woods such as olivewood, rubber trees and mango wood.

One tool that offers guidance and support for these efforts is the Lacey Act, first enacted in 1900 to protect wildlife and amended in 2008 to include plant material, such as wood. Furniture manufacturers now actively seek out Lacey Act compliant wood sources.

“It began to affect us in the furniture industry in 2008. The Lacey Act as amended says it’s illegal to cut down wood, or transport wood, export furniture or import furniture that has broken any laws, anywhere,” said Susan Inglis, Executive Director, Sustainable Furnishings Council, at EarthX 2019.

The nonprofit organization was founded 2006 and is one of the groups certifying forests as sustainably managed and currently has 158.2 million acres of forest certified and 3,788 companies chain-of-custody certified in North America. FSC’s mission is promoting environmentally sound, socially beneficial and economically prosperous management of the world’s forests and its vision is to meet the current need for forest products without compromising the health of forests worldwide for future generations.

“Consumers need to look for the FSC label when they’re buying a forest-based product and by opting to buy those FSC-certified products you’re sending a direct market signal to the industry in question that says, ‘I value forests, I value the companies and the brands and the products that are part of the solution to the problem of deforestation and forest degradation,’” said Chris McLaren, CMO, FSC.

Why is certification important?

The Lacey Act alone is difficult to enforce. Illegal logging is responsible for up to 90% of all logging in equatorial countries and the total amount of illegal logging globally is 15% to 30% of all logging.

“The problem that we face with the Lacey Act is not that there isn’t a law, the problem is that it’s still not easy enough for law enforcement to detect illegal wood,” said MacLaren.

He added help might be on the way with technologies currently under exploration that would make it easier to determine the origin of wood so that U.S. customs inspectors can detect where the wood came from and understand its provenance in order to detect to illegal wood.

“When that happens the risk factor for all companies that are engaged in wood products trade is going to go way, way up and has the potential to make a very, very big difference to outcomes regarding forests, especially in equatorial areas,” said MacLaren.

Manufacturers are beginning to do their part around the issue of using sustainable wood:

  • Williams-Sonoma created a wood sourcing policy in 2014, including a goal of 100% FSC-certified catalog paper. It has also committed to increasing FSC-certified wood and overall percentage of responsibly sourced wood in its furnishings to 50% by 2021.
  • Mitchell Gold + Bob Williams has 100% of its wood inventory sourced from known origins and legally compliant with the Lacey Act, certified by groups such as FSC, and it also locally sources some of its wood in North Carolina.
  • Crate & Barrel is dedicated to developing products certified by the FSC and it reengages its vendors yearly to ensure they meet company guidelines.

MacLaren summed up how everyone can make a difference, “The choices you make as a consumer have a direct effect on what you can expect to see in the forest.”

Written by David Kirkpatrick