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What About Teak? (page 4 of 7)

by Yuri Bihun

Certified Green

Certified Green
Teak logs with blue markings are certified as sustainably grown.

Since the early 1990s, environmental watchdogs have monitored the trade of tropical timber and wood products. In 1990, the New York-based, Rainforest Alliance, in conjunction with outdoor furniture distributors, "certified" that the wood coming from Java was being harvested in a "sustainable manner." Over the last decade, a certification system overseen by the Oaxaca, Mexico-based Forest Stewardship Council, or FSC, has been painstakingly developed by a coalition of community activists, social scientists, environmentalists and industry. Part of the certification process, is a stringent segregation system and field audit-a "chain-of-custody"-that follows the wood from stump to finished product.

Around the world, the FSC has certified millions of acres and thousands of products. One of the most active certifying organizations is a Vermont-based offshoot of the Rainforest Alliance called SmartWood. Since 1997, Smartwood has worked diligently to update the standards and re-issue the original certifications to Javanese manufacturers. Says Jeff Hayward, "Not all plantation teak is certified but only certification through SmartWood or another FSC-accredited certifier can assure the buyer that the wood in the product was not harvested illegally and follows the highest standards of forest stewardship available."

Environmental responsibility

How can you help? Consumers can have a positive impact on the protection and stewardship of world's forest habitat by selecting wood products, regardless of whether the wood is tropical or temperate, with the FSC label. Although the FSC certification process, like or any other eco-labeling scheme is imperfect, the FSC logo on a product is the consumer's best assurance that the material they are purchasing is coming from the source claimed and that the product was produced in the accordance with the highest environmental and social standards.

ScanCom International is a young Danish company that has have grown to become the largest supplier of wooden outdoor furniture in the world. ScanCom's production operations are located in Viet Nam, Indonesia and Malaysia. Typically, their furniture is made from teak and other tropical woods. During 1998, European environmental groups criticized the wooden outdoor furniture industry for not paying enough attention to the environmental aspects of their operations. Since then, ScanCom has developed an International Environmental Policy and set an ambitious target of five years to convert all their purchases to FSC-certified wood. This reflects a growing commitment of many companies that the use of wood as a raw material does not adversely affect tropical forests; the people that depend on them for their livelihoods; or the rich biodiversity they support. ScanCom also founded, in partnership with its principal customers, the Tropical Forest Trust, a non-profit company that is committed to increasing the area of FSC-certified forest in the tropics. The company also commenced a program to introduce chain-of-custody and "wood origin control" systems in all of our production facilities.

One United States company that has been a leader in environmental responsibility is San Francisco-based Smith & Hawken. Smith & Hawken has been a pioneer in the use of certified wood products and has consistently tried to source certified teak and Spanish cedar (Cedrela odorata) and lesser known species in their outdoor furniture and accessories. According to Heather Itzla, Smith & Hawken's public relations specialist, "our company carries only FSC-certified material and sells teak that is guaranteed to be ecologically grown and responsibly harvested on the Island of Java."

Consumers who prefer wood have a few other alternatives. One is to seek lesser-known wood species from community-based operations or small-scale industrial operations in developing countries. Lesser-known species assign value to otherwise degraded forest, increase the palette of options to forest managers and reduce pressure on overharvested species. The Gardener's Supply Co. carries a line of FSC-certified garden furniture from a South American species that looks and feels similar to teak. According to the importer, Paul Fuge, one of the owners of Sylvania Forest Products of Santa Fe, New Mexico, the material, roble, (Amburana caerensis) is a cheaper, durable alternative that is sustainably harvested from the lowland rainforests of Bolivia. Purchasing products utilizing reclaimed or recycled sources, so called "re-discovered wood," is another option for attractive functional pieces that feel good without taking a bite out the world diminishing forest resources.

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