Rainforest Conservation | Sustainable Furniture and Flooring

The Vermont Furniture – Rainforest Connection

Last post, I shared the mission behind our sustainable furniture company.  It’s rainforest conservation and here are a few reasons why that’s important to me:

  • Although the earth’s rainforests cover less than 2% of it’s total surface area, they are home to 50 % of the Earth’s plants and animals
  • We are losing the rainforest at a rate of 1 acre every second!
  • About 100 rainforest species are going extinct every day
  • What nature has crafted over hundreds of millions of years is being destroyed with no thought as to the consequences
  • Much rainforest destruction is a result of clear cutting huge areas of land by organized crime
  • The timber is used to supply cheap furniture and flooring to companies like IKEA and Lumber Liquidators
  • The Amazon is the world’s largest rainforest, storing 1/5 of the world’s fresh water and producing 20% of the planet’s oxygen

Vermont Woods Studios is my attempt to raise awareness about the plight of the rainforest and to offer sustainable, Vermont made furniture as an alternative to illegal imports.  At VWS we share our passion with customers and support non-profits dedicated to rainforest conservation.  We also plant a tree for every furniture order we take work (through the Nature Conservancy’s Plant a Billion Trees project).

Sustainable, Vermont made furniture as an alternative to illegal imports
Vermont Woods Studios is my attempt to raise awareness about the plight of the rainforest and to offer sustainable, Vermont made furniture (like this Cherry Moon dining table) as an alternative to illegal imports. We plant a tree for every furniture order we take work.

The Amazon is Disappearing:  How Can We Help?

I’ve always wanted to visit the Amazon rainforest to understand what’s happening there and find a way for Vermont Woods Studios to help.  But it’s a big place.  At 2.72 million square miles, the Amazon Basin is roughly the size of the United States (minus Alaska).  So where to start?

Serendipity Happens

A strange coincidence happened.  Riley (my son) took some time off from college this year to backpack through South America.  He called recently to say he’d be doing rainforest conservation work for a woman named Rosamaria Ruiz in the Bolivian Amazon.  For some reason that name rang a bell.  I pulled up Google and sure enough, Rosamaria is someone I read about in National Geographic 15 years ago (the article was written by Steve Kemper).  She’s an award-winning environmental activist who led a National Geographic team through her homeland and brought about the creation of a protected national park called Madidi.  Something else she had a hand in creating:  Vermont Woods Studios!  Her story and others like it planted the seed for our sustainable furniture company.

 

madidi-travel
Madidi Travel and founder, Rosamaria Ruiz safeguard a protected area in the Bolivian Amazon with the greatest biodiversity in the world: the Madidi National Park. Riley is currently volunteering there and Kendall and I will join him next week. 

 

Into The Amazon

So next week, Kendall (my other son) and I will be heading down to the Serere Reserve, an area of the Amazon rainforest conserved through the efforts of Rosamaria Ruiz.  We’ll meet up with Riley where he’s volunteering in the Madidi National Park*.  And we’ll ask Rosamaria and her team at Madidi-Travel what we can do at Vermont Woods Studios to support their efforts.  I’ll keep you posted.  If you’re interested to know more, check out these websites:

* Fun Fact:  The continental United States and Canada are home to about 700 species of birds.  Madidi National Park (with 1/10 of 1% as much area) contains an estimated 1,000 bird species

https://tropicalnaturetravel.wordpress.com/biography-of-board-of-tropical-nature/charles-a-munn/

http://rainforests.mongabay.com/amazon/

http://ngm.nationalgeographic.com/2007/01/amazon-rain-forest/wallace-text

http://www.counterpunch.org/2015/02/27/revenge-of-the-rainforest/

This blog is written by your friends at Vermont Woods Studios. Check out our Vermont made furniture and home decor online and visit our showroom and art gallery at Stonehurst, the newly restored 1800s farmhouse nestled in the foothills of the Green Mountains.

A Passion for The Rainforest

I have a confession to make.  I did not start Vermont Woods Studios because I had a deep, abiding love of handmade furniture.  Mind you, I HAVE developed a sort of reverence for it over these past 10 years, but that wasn’t the driving force for me.

It was my passion for the rainforest that got this sustainable furniture company started. 

I think it may have been Jane Goodall and Dian Fossey who initially drew me into environmental conservation in the 60s.  Or maybe it was Mom, who had us kids outdoors all the time and kept a stack of National Geographic magazines handy for the rare moments we were in the house.

Anyway, for some reason, when I lost my job in 2005 I decided to quit the corporate world and get back to my youthful aspirations of doing something “green”.  I had become convinced that our generation’s most important conservation priority was to preserve the world’s rapidly disappearing rainforests. I wanted to focus the rest of my working life helping people understand the tragedy of this loss and the fact that they could do something about it.

Ken had just finished building a woodworking shop on the back of our house.  I thought maybe we could marry his woodworking background with my love of the rainforest to create a new kind of green business.  After several attempts and stumbles we came up with Vermont Woods Studios: a website where Vermont furniture makers could market and sell furniture made from sustainably harvested wood.

The company would be a vehicle to help us persuade people to stop buying furniture and flooring made with illegally harvested rainforest wood.  The plan was pretty detailed, even including a Manifesto.

 

Sustainable furniture and flooring
Global rainforest destruction is happening now at a rate of  1 acre per second. 60 seconds per minute. 60 minutes per hour, 24/7/365. It’s the greatest extinction in the history of the earth. Once the rainforest is gone, it’s gone forever.  Interested in conserving the rainforest and preserving the iconic species who’ve lived there for millions of years? Learn how your choices for furniture, flooring and other forest products can help.

Not That Easy Being Green

But soon reality hit and although I was always guided by conservation, I quickly learned that small businesses don’t have a lot of time or money for environmental projects.  We did what we could… making support of environmental non-profits (like the World Wildlife Fund, the Rainforest Alliance, Vermont Center for EcoStudies and many others in our own community) a cornerstone of our business.  We also work with The Nature Conservancy’s Plant a Billion Trees project to plant a tree for every furniture order we take.  And a number of times we’ve traveled to the rainforests of Costa Rica and Panama where we did some volunteering.

In retrospect I can say that we have made progress on our mission.

But I feel like we’ve fallen short in getting the word out that how we build and furnish our homes has a huge impact on the future of our planet. 

We have to figure out how to spotlight the difference consumers can make by choosing sustainably harvested wood flooring and furniture as opposed to that made from illegally harvested rainforest woods (think: Lumber Liquidators and Ikea).

A Trip to The Amazon

So I’m taking a trip to the Amazon rainforest. 

It’s something I’ve always wanted to do but never had the opportunity.  Next post I’ll share how this trip came about and what I hope to accomplish.  I am so grateful to our customers, employees and other allies who have supported our business throughout these 10 years, thus making such an endeavor possible.

Thank You!

This blog is written by your friends at Vermont Woods Studios. Check out our Vermont made furniture and home decor online and visit our showroom and art gallery at Stonehurst, the newly restored 1800s farmhouse nestled in the foothills of the Green Mountains.

50-shades-of-cherry
Google image search results for ‘real cherry wood”. Half of these are NOT cherry wood.  Many are illegal rainforest woods, brought to you by organized crime which has taken root in the global timber industry.

Cherry Wood: Will The Real Color Please Stand Up?

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.

At Vermont Woods Studios, our cherry furniture is indeed made out of real, solid North American Black Cherry wood.  The color starts out as a light pink and slowly ripens to a rich reddish brown over time, depending on how much light the furniture is exposed to.  See various colors of cherry wood as it changes colors.

This blog is written by your friends at Vermont Woods Studios. Check out our Vermont made furniture and home decor online and visit our showroom and art gallery at Stonehurst, the newly restored 1800s farmhouse nestled in the foothills of the Green Mountains.

Buying new hardwood flooring? Tips for buying sustainably harvested wood.
Buying new hardwood flooring?  Ask if it’s made from legal sustainably harvested wood.  Watch tonight’s Global News documentary to see why.

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, Lumber Liquidators and the Forest
A report by the Environmental Investigation Agency (EIA) reveals that Lumber Liquidators (America’s largest retailer of hardwood flooring) is under investigation by federal authorities for possible violations of the Lacey Act – a law banning the illegal harvest and trade of wood and timber products.

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 Siberian Tiger's Fate Rests with Lumber Liquidators?
The Siberian Tiger’s Fate Rests with you, the consumer and global timber companies like Lumber Liquidators.

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!

References

  1. EIA (Environmental Investigation Agency), Liquidating the Forests: Hardwood Furniture & Flooring, Organized Crime, and the World’s Last Siberian Tigers
  2. Timber, a book by Peter Dauvergne and Jane Lister
  3. TV Documentary, “Liquidating the Forests
  4. Global Tiger Day, Organized Crime and Timber (the New Heroin)
  5. IKEA Cuts Down 600 Year Old Trees, Suspended From FSC
  6. American Wood Furniture Is Linked To Global Forest Conservation
  7. Where Does Your Furniture Come From?
  8. Is Your Wood Furniture Brought to You by Organized Crime?
  9. Organized Crime Is Getting Rich By Cutting Down The Rainforest

This blog is written by your friends at Vermont Woods Studios. Check out our Vermont made furniture and home decor online and visit our showroom and art gallery at Stonehurst, the newly restored 1800s farmhouse nestled in the foothills of the Green Mountains.

OrangutanEyes

The 19th of August is International Orangutan Day, a day put aside to recognize the extreme dangers facing the palm oil industry’s most recognized victim. Once widespread throughout the forests of Asia, Orangutans are now found on just two islands, Sumatra and Borneo (Indonesia). On the brink of extinction,  there are now only about 6,600 of them left in the wild. Orangutan’s are beautiful, intelligent creatures that share 97% of human DNA. They are complex, curious, and they need our help. We cannot let Orangutan’s become the first great ape species to go extinct in the wild, as experts suggest may happen if action is not taken now.

Why Orangutans are Endangered:

Habitat Loss-   The loss of Orangutan habitat has been devastating, as Sumatra has lost more than HALF of it’s forests in the last 25 years.  “The orangutans’ forest home is being felled and turned into oil palm plantations on a massive scale, logging continues even within national parks, and road networks divide the remaining forests into isolated fragments. Human-orangutan conflict is now frequent in farmlands, as orangutans raid crops in search of enough food for survival. The expansion of farmlands and the building of new roads opens up the forest, making it easier for hunters and poachers to capture orangutans and other protected wildlife.”  (1)  This factor is one of the driving forces behind our mission, as we work to provide a source for beautiful wood furniture that does not contribute to mass deforestation. 

Illegal Trade- While Orangutan’s have been protected by law since 1931, the illegal trade of Orangutans has continued to decimate populations. They are often captured for use as an exotic pet or for entertainment purposes, as commonly seen in the circus.

What We Can Do To Help:

  •  Avoid Palm Oil- Palm oil is causing mass deforestation of Orangutan habitats, leaving them with no place to live and raise their babies. As they search far distances for a new home, they have to look further and further apart often times ending up in palm oil fields. When this occurs they are unknowingly tresspassing, and palm oil farmers are legally able to kill them right on spot to protect their crops. Orangutans are left with little to no food or resources, and when deforestation from fires occur there are many slow moving Orangutans that are burned alive in the process. By Boycotting palm oil, you are doing a small part to keep these majestic creatures safe.
  • Boycott circuses that use Orangutans as entertainment, and write to your local government to keep these circuses from your community.
  • Write to your local legislators and The President.  Ask them not to explore palm oil as a biofuel option.
  • Write your favorite companies that use palm oil and ask them to use sustainable sources  for their ingredients
  • Support companies who do not use palm oil in their products or support the palm oil industry
  • Adopt a Orangutan (Virtually!)
  • Sign Petitions that promote Orangutan safety

As passionate environmental advocates, we are happy to help spread awareness about Orangutan’s today. If you’d like to learn more about World Orangutan Day, check out the #OrangutanDay hashtag on Twitter or Facebook!

This blog is written by your friends at Vermont Woods Studios. Check out our Vermont made furniture and home decor online and visit our showroom and art gallery at Stonehurst, the newly restored 1800s farmhouse nestled in the foothills of the Green Mountains.