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No environmentally acceptable alternative to wood

Wink Sutton, New Zealand Tree Grower May 2009.

Dovetail, the USA based non-profit environmental wood advocacy organisation, has suggested wood may be getting a raw deal. If wood must come from environmentally certified sources should not the same requirement be required for all wood substitutes – materials such as metals, concrete and plastic. I do not know why the global forest growing and wood using industries have not taken this line of reasoning. Unlike all its substitutes, wood is the world’s most environmentally acceptable raw material and, if it comes from responsibly managed forests, wood is endlessly renewable.

I recall a discussion I had with one of New Zealand’s environmental leaders. It was in the mid 1990s and I was employed by Fletcher Challenge on secondment to the Canadian Federal Forest Service. After our discussion had gone about 10 minutes the environmental leader made the comment that she did not like what Fletcher Challenge was doing, especially in British Columbia. She anticipated I would attempt to justify British Columbian forest practices which I was prepared to do, but instead I used the opportunity.

One of my responsibilities in Fletcher Challenge was to investigate environmentally acceptable non-wood alternatives as possible industries that the company might invest in. I asked what environmentally acceptable wood substitute she would recommend.

At first, she said that I must know what the alternative wood substitutes were. I knew them but I wanted the recommendations. After some time she finally said ‘hemp’. I replied that I could not believe an environmental leader could be so irresponsible. Hemp requires monoculture planting and also requires farmland – almost all of which is the result of permanently trashed indigenous forest. Hemp is only a fibre substitute and what we need is a solid wood substitute. What would be her substitute recommendation? After some delay she finally said ‘concrete’.

Wood is the world’s most environmentally acceptable raw material. If environmentalists are against managing indigenous forests for a wood supply as well as the establishment of plantations, where do they recommend the world gets its wood from?

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