In this sponsored post, Factory Furniture’s Dean Harvey reflects on sustainable material procurement, and asks whether addressing a problem in one area can sometimes create bigger issues in another

    This article is a sponsored post.


    It’s hard to pick up a paper or visit a website nowadays without seeing a story about the threats facing the rainforests of South Africa and South America. These stories aren’t ‘scare stories’, although they are very scary. They’re realistic and considered pieces that look at how changes to the global climate and economy are affecting some of the most important places on the planet.

    The threat to these delicately balanced ecosystems comes from all directions. Climate change, deforestation to release land for more lucrative uses, and logging – both legal and illegal – all contribute. The variety of threats is what makes the answer to the problem so difficult. If you solve one problem, do you simply create another, greater one elsewhere? It feels a bit like pushing down on a Lilo – when you press in one place, it just pops up in another.

    At Factory Furniture, this is something we’ve thought about long and hard. As a responsible manufacturer, we want to be part of the solution, not a contributor to the problem. At the same time, there’s no getting away from the fact that our products often use resources from areas we know are under threat.

    This isn’t just something that concerns us as a business. It concerns us as humans too. The people who work at Factory Furniture care passionately about timber – where it’s from, the beauty it holds, how it’s produced. We’re clear that, whatever we do, we need to be working in a way that aims to secure a long-term, sustainable future for some of the most biodiverse, beautiful and impoverished parts of the world.

    This is always a live debate in our office. We’ve even discussed sourcing different materials to make our furniture, stepping away from the tropical timbers that we’ve used in the past – maybe even trying the new generation of recycled plastics that are available. Some people would instinctively applaud this. But when we started to dig deeper, we realised that if responsible purchasers of timber like ourselves choose to step away, the impact on the rainforests could actually be even more devastating.

    Let me explain our thinking. At the moment, we use FSC-certified timber. This costs us more money, but we’re happy to pay it knowing that some of what we spend supports improved management, labour and logging practices, as well as funding local conservation work. However, we also know that at the moment, this alone isn’t nearly enough to save the rainforests. Only a small proportion of logging is controlled in this way – around 80% is not.

    Fundamentally, we believe that the long-term answer has to be about increasing the proportion of responsible, environmentally sensitive logging. I know one thing – if 80% of production was FSC regulated and only 20% unregulated, the future of the Amazon would look much brighter than it does today.

    We want to be part of making that happen. We’ll continue to look at how we produce our products, but part of the solution to deforestation has to be about making responsible logging the norm rather than the exception.

    The sad truth is, if companies like us start sourcing materials from elsewhere, the land value in the rainforests will plummet – and it’s much more likely that forests will be cleared to release land for cash crops and cattle farming. That will be devastating for those areas and communities.

    I know that some people will disagree; will think that any company taking tropical hardwood from such fragile areas is fundamentally part of the problem. I get that, and I respect the views of those who hold that stance. What I want to get across though, is that the decisions we take are always careful and considered, and that these are issues that we think about and discuss every day.

    Put it this way – if I honestly thought plastic furniture would help save the rainforest, then we’d start manufacturing it tomorrow. Our business would be fine, our customers happy. I genuinely believe, though, that while we were patting ourselves on the back about our ecological credentials, communities living in some of the poorest parts of our planet would be worse off, and the impact on the rainforests would be devastating.

    That’s not a future that I want to help to create.

    Statistics

    • About 10% of the world’s forests are FSC or PEFC certified
    • About 17% of the world’s production forests are FSC certified
    • An estimated 23% of global industrial roundwood production (all roundwood excluding fuel wood) is FSC certified
    • An estimated 11% of global roundwood production (which includes industrial roundwood and fuel wood) is FSC certified

    Further reading

    1 COMMENT

    1. An interesting rationale for responsible use of tropical timber, which I find convincing.
      I get the point that if the timber is of little economic value, the forests are more likely to get clerared for farming beef, or thousands of square miles converted to soya or palm oil monocultures. Sadly, with or without tree felling for timber products, this process is going on and on and on, perhaps ever faster.

      The holy grail must be be responsible HARVESTING of timber, and retention of the forests, not CLEARFELLING and grubbing up the land for agriculture.

      Currently, how much timber becomes throw-away chopsticks, picture frames, and cheap front doors that are ripped out and replaced with another cheap front door a few years later.?

      The pressure for providing land for vote-giving farmers in the Amazon and even dry forests like parts of Argentina, is immense.

      I sometimes wonder if the only solution is non-dense suburbanisation (with 90% of the trees kept) such as one sees across much of the Eastern USA, and the rise of a caring generation who care about the environment. In saner moments, I support the latter but not the former, although if people live with trees, they are more likely to care about them. Would an urban based population care more, or care less, about the forests?

      Several decades ago, like many others, I sponsored the purchase of an acre of rainforest through one of the major conservation organisations. Where “my” acre was–and hopefully still is–I have no clue. I do hope that it is still standing, and owned, protected and well-managed by that conservation organisation. Success depends on all three aspects.

      Ownership– and economics, as the article suggests– –must be key to saving the tropical forests. Maybe agro-forestry too.

      There also must be a role for plastics in the form of recycled plastics in the landscape construction world. Boardwalks, river and lake pontoons and edgings, retaining walls, landscape sleepers, bollards and picnic benches are specific items which are really suited to recycled plastics, and are long lasting, giving decades of maintenance free use in wet and vandal-prone environments. We really need to use up plastics by recycling, not by burning them.
      Thanks for the thought-provoking article.

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