Sustainable wood

4 February 2022  |  by Simon McFarlane

It’s often said that wood is one of the most sustainable materials. It’s natural, renewable and amazing for its ability to produce oxygen and store carbon dioxide. The thing is, our demand for timber is having a huge effect on the natural world. Illegal logging, deforestation and removing native forests to make way for plantations are all taking their toll.

We all know what is happening in the Amazon but don’t often think about other parts of the world where similar things are happening.

“The British Isles were once covered in dense forest, but as population grew the forests receded until in the 1930s only 5% of British soil was woodland. Thanks to forestry efforts coverage has doubled since then, but still falls far short of the European average of 44%. Despite this relative lack of trees, the UK is one of the biggest users and importers of wood in the world, consuming about 10 million cubic metres of timber a year, much of it in the construction sector. Only 20% of timber used in the UK is grown domestically, with the rest imported from overseas, often from countries with dubious environmental controls. It’s estimated that in 2013 UK imports accounted for almost a million cubic metres of illegal timber.”

Here are 3 things you can do help to make the best choice.

Use recycled or reclaimed timber

Recycled wood.

In 2020 the UK generated around 4.5 million tonnes of waste wood. Over 20% of this came from domestic households.

Of that wood:

Recycled timber isn’t that easy to find. Luckily in Brighton we have a really good source “The Wood Store”  in Brighton. Founded in 1998, Brighton & Hove Wood Recycling Project was the first of its kind in the country, dedicated to recycling waste timber. They are now based in Edward Street in Brighton but also have a sorting yard in Clayhill, Ringmer.

Another great option is to look on local recycling groups or even in skips. Please note you can only take items from skips with the owners permission!

Making careful buying choices


If you need to buy new wood then it helps to do a little research. Timber is classified as Hardwood (e.g. Oak) or Softwood (e.g. Pine). Softwood is normally seen as more sustainable as it grows much faster. The EU has laws to ensure that forests are well managed and due to this more trees are being planted than cut down in the EU.

Outside of the EU it is much more complex. Asia, Africa, South America and even USA and Canada can be less reliable when trying to find out about sources.

The best way of identifying new sustainable wood is using the The Forest Stewardship Council (FSC). They set standards and guarantee that the wood comes from sustainable sources.

According to the FSC:

“FSC forest management certification confirms that the forest is being managed in a way that preserves biological diversity and benefits the lives of local people and workers, while ensuring it sustains economic viability.”

You may also see the Programme for the Endorsement of Forestry Certification (PEFC) logo on some wood. The Programme for the Endorsement of Forest Certification, is a leading global alliance of national forest certification systems. As an international non-profit, non-governmental organization, they are dedicated to promoting sustainable forest management through independent third-party certification.

Friend of the Earth have a great website listing types of wood with notes to tell you whether they are threatened –

Upcycling, repairing or restoring

Upcycled desk.

This is my favourite thing to do. Most of the wooden furniture in my house have been sourced second hand then either painted, sanded and waxed or adapted to meet our needs. Not only are you saving these items from waste but often getting something well made and unique.

Charity shops offer a good way of helping charity whilst finding bargain bits of furniture. Age Concern even has a furniture warehouse in Newhaven.

Our kitchen table cost £10 and if I didn’t collect it was going to be burnt for firewood. Turned out to be made by Ercol . After cleaning, gluing, screwing, sanding and finally polishing we got a really great table for next to nothing.

If you’re not great at woodwork yourself there are lots of upcyclers and carpenters around who will often be able to help you. YouTube is also a great source for inspiration and practical advice. It can be a simple as a bit of sandpaper and a pot of paint or wax.

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