We have conversations with customers every day about the color of real cherry wood furniture. It’s no wonder! When I just googled “real cherry wood” these well over 50 shades of cherry came up. Quite a variation, isn’t it?
First of all, half of these images are NOT of cherry wood. When the big American furniture companies started off-shoring their furniture to China over 30 years ago they found it cheaper to use rainforest woods (rather than import cherry from North America and then export it back to North America as furniture). So they stained these cheaper woods and gave them various trade names containing “cherry”. For example Makore, an increasingly rare African wood being illegally logged in Sierra Leone and Gabon has been sold under the trade name Cherry Mahogany, though Makore is not closely related to either cherry or mahogany. Worse yet, it is listed as an endangered species due to illegal logging and exploitation by organized crime which has taken root in the global timber industry.
Many times customers come to us looking to buy real cherry furniture that matches existing cherry pieces in their homes. After discussions and emailing pictures back and forth they are shocked to find that their “cherry” furniture from Bassett, Broyhill, Ethan Allen, Thomasville, Drexel, Lane or other big “American” companies is not cherry at all but rubberwood, poplar or some kind of engineered hardwood.
As a sustainable wood furniture company, we don’t usually have much to say about hardwood flooring. But recent news & events in this area are so compelling I thought our readers would be interested to hear a few details.
Hardwood Flooring and the Future of the Forest
Every year about 7.5 billion square feet of flooring is purchased in the USA (Freedonia). If it takes roughly 1 acre of forest to produce 500 sq ft of flooring (UN Report by TimberGreen) then by my calculations it would take about 15 million acres to produce 7.5 billion sq ft of flooring (the amount sold annually in the USA). By comparison, the state of Vermont is 5.9 million acres so each year an area of forest about 2.5 times the size of Vermont is logged to supply the American wood flooring industry. Granted, my calculation is mushy and imprecise but even so, it begs the question: where is all that hardwood flooring come from?
Where Does Your Hardwood Flooring Come From?
We always encourage people to buy American made wood furniture because we know that environmental, health, safety and quality standards are high here in The States. The same is true for American made wood flooring, but that integrity built into American made wood products makes them more expensive than imports. So, not surprisingly about half of the hardwood flooring in America is imported (USITC Publication 4032).
The Trouble with Imported Wood
The imported wood products industry is now controlled to a large extent by organized crime. A recent report Liquidating the Forests: Hardwood Flooring, Organized Crime, and the World’s Last Siberian Tigers reveals that “demand for hardwood flooring and furniture in the United States, European Union, Japan, and China is fueling corruption and making the world’s last temperate hardwood forests into a major epicenter for illegal logging… Organized criminal groups send out logging brigades to steal valuable hardwoods from protected areas” thus decimating the last remaining habitats for iconic species like the Siberian tiger (in fact all species of big cats are now critically endangered as are all species of big apes, such as gorillas, chimps and orangutans).
Consumers Will Ultimately Decide the Fate of the Forest
As consumers we need to ask ourselves whether we want to buy the cheapest wood products we can without regard to the legality or sustainability of their origins. Think about it. How could it be that hardwood flooring from the rainforest of South America or the Russian Far East is half the price of local hardwood flooring?
There is a high price being paid for these bargains– we just don’t see it. Check out this video to see what the real price is, in terms of irreparable environmental damage. I’m betting, it’s a price you’re not willing to pay.
What You Can Do To Help
Maybe you’re not in the market for hardwood furniture or flooring but you still want to help protect the forest and it’s inhabitants. Join the folks at Sierra Club in signing this petition to enforce the Lacey Act which seeks to eliminate trafficking in illegal wood products and penalize those who import illegally harvested wood products and wildlife. Sign it today!
IKEA: A Trusted Sustainable Furniture Source? Not so quick.
While furniture giant IKEA has been leading campaigns for their use of sustainably sourced cotton, and promoting LED lighting & solar panels in their stores– they apparently made the mistake of not paying attention to where their wood comes from. Already criticized for their staggering wood usage (IKEA uses a whopping 1% of the entire earths forests for their furniture), they are now facing harsh criticism for cutting down old growth trees in Karelia, Russia.
Swedwood, IKEA’s forestry subsidiary, was given lease to log 700,000 acres of Russian forest as long as they avoided old growth trees and trees in specified protected areas. A recent audit done by the Forest Stewardship Council revealed “major deviations” from regulations, including cutting down 600+ year old trees.
Environmental organizations had been voicing their concern about IKEA’s logging practices in Karelia for years– PFS (Protect the Forest, Sweden) apparently handed Swedwood over 180,000 signatures and a joint statement with criticisms of their forestry practices and demands to transform their habits to protect the valuable old growth forests over a year ago.
IKEA’s infraction resulted in the Forest Stewardship Council temporarily stripping them of their certification. Despite the withdrawal of IKEA’s FSC certification for their illegal logging, insufficient dialogue, lack of environmental consideration and work environment issues– many believe that FSC is not addressing key issues.
According to Linda Ellegaard Nordstrom, “The report raises several deficiencies, but does not describe the main problem, which is that pioneer exploitation, with fragmenting and breaking into the last intact forest landscapes and tracts, does not fit to FSC’s principles and criteria. Thus we believe that the FSC label is still far from being a guarantee for sustainable forestry, Together with Russian environmental organizations we have suggested to IKEA that they, as an influential multinational corporation, should set a good example by announcing that they will no longer log or buy timber from intact old-growth forests, whether the forests are certified or not.”
An Ikea spokeswoman told The Sunday Times: “We see the suspension of the certificate as highly temporary. The deviations mainly cover issues related to facilities and equipment for our co-workers, forestry management as well as training of our forestry co-workers,” claiming that they have already corrected most of the violations.
While IKEA announced plans to stop operations in Karelia in 2014, it’s important for consumers to be critical of all businesses claiming to practice sustainability. IKEA is a leader in the furniture industry, using resources unimaginable to a small business like Vermont Woods Studios. We would love to see them take true accountability for their actions.
Responsible forest management is at the heart of our mission as the devastating loss of these old trees is irreversible, and we can only hope that more furniture companies will take note of the criticism that IKEA is facing and take steps towards sustainable forestry. It’s up to consumers to make informed decisions about where they buy the products that ends up in their homes. If certification can’t stop this type of thing from happening, then people must be more careful than ever in picking a company that they care about and trust.
What are your thoughts? Leave us a note in the comments section, or send us a message on Facebook or Twitter!
Marlin was always venturing into exotic places like the African savannah or the Amazon rainforest, filming wild animals in their natural habitats. Orangutans, gorillas, kangaroos, pythons, lions, tigers, bears… the whole shebang. He would be holding a chimp and talking about conservation and… oh how I wanted to be him! Cuddling up with a tiger cub, rescuing a couple orphaned bear cubs — what could be better?
Although I didn’t end up majoring in zoology or doing research for Jane Goodall, my passion for wildlife conservation has stayed with me. Like most people I went for a “more practical career” and decided to pursue my passion as a hobby. I visited zoos and natural history museums whenever I could. I studied wildlife news in National Geographic, World Wildlife Fund, Sierra Club and other green publications. I poured my support into wildlife conservation non-profits.
But the real fun didn’t start along until Kendall and Riley came along. How convenient? It seems little boys love wildlife! We camped out in local beaver ponds and vernal pools getting to know the resident turtles, frogs, salamanders, snakes and such. We made trips to the rainforest, adopted snakes and started a non-profit called Kids Saving the Planet. Our adventures in Vermont’s forests and in the Central American rainforests eventually led to the creation of Vermont Woods Studios Sustainable Furniture. More about that in my next post.
* and the Wonderful World of Disney and Ed Sullivan Show, of course
People ask me why on earth I would put a fine furniture store in the middle of nowhere, aka rural Vermont. Finding people who are looking to buy American made sustainable wooden furniture is hard enough. After all, customers typically have to wait 6-12+ weeks to have their furniture custom handcrafted and specialty shipped to their homes. Plus… compared to imported furniture, American made furniture is more expensive. With such a small number of people fitting our customer profile (willing to wait for their furniture to be handcrafted of sustainably harvested wood by Vermonters earning a living wage), wouldn’t it be smarter to have our store on main street in a big city with maximum exposure and traffic?
I’m sure that’s true for most fine furniture stores but at Vermont Woods Studios we’re on a mission to raise awareness about where your fine furniture comes from. Wood furniture comes from the forest and we believe the people involved in all aspects of furnishing your home have an opportunity to show you how choosing sustainable furniture makes a difference: in forest conservation, global warming, clean air, wildlife preservation and in the way you feel when you’re sharing a meal at your table.
See this barred owl who visited us at Stonehurst today? He’s able to be here because (under the direction of professional forester Lynn Levine) we’re managing 100 acres of forest for wildlife habitat. We believe businesses have as much obligation as governments to conserve our planet’s resources and protect endangered species. We believe our customers support that philosophy and want to see it in action. As we venture into the new year we extend our thanks to them and pledge our continued efforts in the area of forest and wildlife conservation.
Come visit our sustainable furniture showroom at Stonehurst. See first-hand how your choice of furniture can make the world a better place.