Decision making

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How to make an environmentally friendly timber purchase decision:

1. Don’t buy any kind of timber from any kind of natural forest

Earth has a serious shortage of ancient untouched forests - tropical, temperate and boreal. For the sake of biodiversity and numerous other reasons, those that remain should be left alone and allowed to exist peacefully. Make sure that your timber is not from old growth forests - not even so-called ‘sustainably managed’ or ‘renewable resource’ natural forests - see page 4 of the 1992 Good Wood Guide.

The following is a list of old growth timbers not to buy:

A’asa, African mahogany, Agathis species, asi-toa, amoora, Aucomea, balau, Bauvadi,

beech (native, from NZ), blackbutt, blackwood, ironbark, Calophyllum species, Castanopsis, cedar (pencil), Chengal, Chlorophora, damanu, Dacrydium, Decussocarpus, Dipterocarpus, Dryanobalanops, Dyera, Pometia, Endospermum, Entrandrophragma, eucalyptus (all species from Australia), Fiji kauri, Gonystylus species, Homalium, Hopea species, giam, Intsia species, iroko, ironbark, jarrah, jelutong, kahikatea, kalantas, kapur, karri, kaudamu, kauri (Fiji), Kauvula, kempas, keruing, khaya, Koilo, Koompassia, kwila, lauan, lithocarpus, mahogany, malas, matai, meranti, merbau, Milicia, narra, nemesu, Neobalanocarpus, New Guinea oak, nyatoh, obeche, odum, okoume, oregon, Palaqium, pencil cedar, Pterocarpus, ramin, red cedar, red seraya, redwood, rewarewa, rimu, rosawa, rosewood, tawa, sapele, salu salu, sapele, Shorea species, sipo, spotted gum, Syncarpa, Syzgium, Tasmanian oak, taun, teak, Tectona, Toona species, totara, Triplochiton, turpentine, vesi, Vitex, watergum, western red cedar, yaka, yasiyasi - and anything else which is not proven to be from sources other than old-growth forest . See also page 21 of the 1992 Good Wood Guide.

Almost all of the species listed above are never grown in plantations. So don’t believe anyone who, for example, tells you that jarrah or kwila have been grown in a plantation.

It could be suggested that getting timber from a modified or second-growth forest would not be as bad as getting timber from an undamaged old growth forest. But we advocate the complete avoidance of any wood from any kind of natural forest, for the following reasons:

1. So many false claims of sustainability are still being made, and will probably continue. They often appear in the form of new terminology, and tend to blur the issues in various ways. If there is any doubt as to whether or not natural forest timber should be avoided, some timber trader is likely to leap into the gap with some new claim, exploiting the uncertainty in the consumers’ minds;

2. We know of only one verified source of modified second-growth forest timber, producing a very small quantity of timber; and

3. There are a wide range of other plantation and woodlot timbers available. There is an alternative ‘good wood’ for every use of native forest timber.


2. Apply the ‘reduce, re-use, recycle’ concept.


This is really and truly the best possible option! Ask yourself - "Do I really need another material object in my life?", "Will my friends really abandon me if I don’t refurbish my kitchen?" and/or "Could I donate the money to a good cause instead?". Seek meaningful alternatives to a consumer lifestyle.


If at all possible, buy things second hand or fix up the old ones. Look up ‘Furniture - secondhand’, ‘Secondhand Dealers’, ‘Antique Dealers’ and ‘Antique Furniture Restorers & Conservators’ in the Yellow Pages.


If timber is genuinely recycled, then it will have a low ecological impact. But there is a huge amount of fake recycled timber on sale in Aotearoa at the moment - ask for written evidence that it is actually recycled. Look up ‘Demolition’, ‘Building Recyclers’ and ‘Recycling’ in the Yellow Pages.


3. Choose timber from trees planted by people

For the meantime, we advocate the use of plantation timbers, because their use has much less serious consequences than the use of old-growth timbers. Sustainable alternatives to fuel-and-chemical-dependant monoculture plantations include permaculture, multi-species systems, agroforestry and small, special-purpose species, woodlots.

The World Rainforest Movement has recently launched a campaign to promote awareness of the serious social (such as displacement of local people) and environmental (such as chemical use) impacts of plantations in many countries of the world. For more information, have a look at the rainforest web site in the ‘Helpful products and services’ part of the 1998 survey results. Also, Greenpeace NZ has produced a book called "The Plantation Effect" about issues in this country.

Some growers of eucalyptus and other hardwoods in Aotearoa have had problems with insects, diseases, timber quality and reliability of economic returns. These point to a strong need for more investment in research to find reliable growing techniques which more closely mimic the trees own natural ecosystems - some of the ‘sustainable alternatives’ listed above might be helpful.

Macrocarpa and Douglas fir are widely available throughout the country, as far as we know. The quality of macrocarpa available may sometimes vary, but it can be checked.

Some people have said that they have found it difficult to locate good decking timber. Options for this include some eucalyptus species, ecotimber vitex, or treated radiata pine. Some treatments may be less toxic than others, it is worth investigating (try the Building Biology and Ecology Institute for advice, phone 09 479-3161). VL Smith and Sons, sawmillers in Kaikoura, say that they are producing a water repellant softwood decking timber called "Ultrawood", as an alternative to hardwoods (phone 03 319-5447). "Indurite" is a hardened form of radiata pine suitable for decking if treated with chemical preservatives (phone 07 578-5990).

Timbers from trees planted by people include:

Australian blackwood, chestnut, douglas fir, elm, eucalyptus species, larch, lawson cypress, macrocarpa, oak, poplar, radiata pine, redwood, spruce, sycamore, walnut, and western red cedar.

The list of timber suppliers in this Good Wood Guide includes many sources of plantation timber. If you are only seeking small quantities of timber, look up ‘Tree Services’ in the yellow pages, or contact your local branch of the NZ Farm Forestry Association - ask their Wellington office for details - phone 04 472-0432; Box 1122, Wellington.

The Forest Stewardship Council (FSC)

The FSC is an international non-profit organisation based in Oaxaca, Mexico. Its members include representatives from environmental and social groups, as well as the forestry and timber trades. The FSC provides a certification system so that consumers can know that the timber they buy is from forests which have complied with the FSC’s principles of forest management.

Unfortunately getting FSC certification can be very expensive, so smaller operations - which tend to be innately more sustainable - seem, at the moment, to be excluded from the process. The New Zealand Farm Forestry Association is currently working with the FSC, to see if a solution can be found, for members of their organisation.

With regard to wood from natural forests, Dean Baigent-Mercer from Native Forest Action says that "When getting timber from poorer ‘third world’ countries, it is preferable to have FSC-approved wood, because it means that forest areas haven’t been clearfelled. But in a richer ‘first world’ country, like New Zealand, with abundant exotic plantations and little native forest left, it is inappropriate to be logging native forest at all".

If people start asking for FSC certified plantation timber then retailers and growers will realise that there is a demand for it, and one day it can become more widely available. The FSC system, despite its drawbacks, offers a real opportunity for more ecologically sustainable forestry practices to become economically viable.

There is some FSC certified NZ grown plantation timber available in Auckland now, through Wiri Timbers, phone 09 277-7695.


4. Consider various construction materials

Many non-timber alternatives can be considered ‘good wood’, in that their use reduces our need to imprudently consume precious timber resources.

See page 20 of 1992 Good Wood Guide; ‘Helpful products and services’ in the 1998 survey results; and ‘Cane’, ‘Bamboo’ and ‘Stonemasons’ in the yellow pages. Decisions are best made on a case by case basis.


5. Consider ‘eco-timber’

Eco-timber is being produced by various ecoforestry programmes in the Solomon Islands and Papua New Guinea. The natural forests are managed by the indigenous landowners themselves and single trees felled and milled on site and carried out by hand. At one place where it is being done, the local people threw the Korean based logging giant Hyundai (the same people who make cars) off their customary land, in 1985. Eco-timber is an excellent way of protecting the forests and meeting local people’s needs - environmentally, socially and economically.

This is the only source of bona fide eco-timber that we know of - that is, the only exception to the rule about not buying any timber from a natural forest. It is Greenpeace endorsed and carries a registered trade mark to guarantee its source and environmental standards. Attempts at sustainability should be independently verified, don't take the seller’s word for it. Also, don’t trust any claims by any governments that timber products from their country are okay, because governments have a very bad record with regard to reliability of claims about timbers’ sustainability.

For information about eco-timber and supplier details, contact Greenpeace - phone 0800-22-33-43 or visit their web site <www.greenpeacenewzealand.org>.


6. Take time to make a decision that you will be happy with

Think about things carefully, make your own investigations, research your options.

Buy local; buy organically produced materials. If your plans or intentions for some reason mean that the use of ‘good woods’ is difficult, seriously consider adapting your plans or intentions.

Have a look at the list of ‘Helpful products and services’ included in our 1998 survey results.

The New South Wales Good Wood Guide

The Rainforest Information Centre (RIC) in New South Wales has produced a very comprehensive Good Wood Guide, which can be accessed through RIC’s web site [http://forests.org/ric/].

Amongst the topics it covers are:

The nature of forests; the forest situation; wood use reduction; sustainable timber use; recycled and salvaged timber; recommended timbers; plantation timbers; radial milling; wood based composites; treatments; pesticides and herbicides; glue; non-timber alternatives; paper; and ethical investment.

It also supplies a directory of products and services, including:

Alternative energy; books and journals; building, design, homemaking; consumer organisations; environment groups; ethical investment; forestry/timber organisations; hemp; intentional community; internet, world wide web, e-mail; paints, treatments, finishes; non-toxic pest management; rainforest information centre; timber; and woodcrafting.

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