Celebrating Earth Day
Recently I was asked to choose wood decking for a client. Instead of approaching lumber companies and asking about sustainable product options, I simply asked what my choices were. The salesman shipped several stunning samples from all over the world for my review.
As designers, we can be seduced by beauty. Clients pay us to find interesting, rare, and uncommon options. After receiving the samples, I placed them outdoors and tested them for warping, cracks, and stains over a six-week period. I was practicing due diligence...or was I?
With the client, I made a final decision and placed an order, but something didn’t feel right—so much so that I couldn’t sleep well that night. I had nagging questions about the wood that wouldn’t go away: How was this wood harvested? Where exactly was it sourced? How were local communities impacted by this purchase?
It turns out I had chosen wood that was grown in a controlled forest. If I had chosen the second option—which was slightly more expensive, and according to the salesman, more desirable—I may have canceled that order.
It is easy to be seduced by the beauty of certain products, but as designers, we have a responsibility to be respectful of the earth’s resources. Many designers are embracing sustainable sourcing and shipping methods, many of which are even more beautiful and functional than their non-eco counterparts.
With persistence and education, we as an industry can grow and make more thoughtful decisions to protect Mother Earth. That may require asking what might seem obvious or uncomfortable questions—and that’s okay! It’s our job to educate clients about industry issues and trends, and you may be surprised how many people want to actively support companies (including yours) whose business ethics match their own environmental values.
As we celebrate Earth Day on April 22, we’d love to hear your thoughts about sustainable design. Please reach out and share your favorite eco-friendly designers and product lines!
Natasha Lima Younts DSA
Designer Society of America
How Designers Can Make a Difference with Sustainable Wood Sourcing
Sourcing wood is a common request for designers. In fact, we are often asked to choose wood for a client's deck in addition to the usual requests for interior built-ins and finishes.
Like any other material being used inside the home, it’s important for designers to understand the sourcing and manufacturing process behind the woods they suggest for client projects. Marketing is a very sophisticated and psychological business which can often be used to your advantage. However, many marketing practices are misleading at best—and downright dubious at worst.
Unfortunately, the logging industry is plagued with serious problems including deforestation, climate change, organized crime, poverty, and threats to vulnerable and sometimes defenseless indigenous communities. According to a Rapid Response Report, entitled “Green Carbon: Black Trade,” illegal logging accounts for between 15 and 30 percent of the global legal trade
When sourcing sustainable wood products, don't be afraid to ask lots of questions. You should be asking about every point in the production process, including where and how the wood is harvested, where it is milled, and how it will be shipped. If your sales rep cannot answer these kinds of basic questions, that’s a big sign they are not truly concerned with sustainability. Research the company using Google and read as many client testimonials as possible. Once you find a type of wood that interests you, research that kind of wood to learn about any potential environmental issues associated with harvesting that particular species, along with impact to local and indigenous communities.
Once you have chosen the wood species that are appropriate for your project needs, you’ll also want to make sure it’s safe to use, especially indoors. This handy list of woods with known toxicities or irritants.
The above-mentioned wood database can be useful for lesser-known or exotic species. Contractors should always wear gloves and masks when cutting to protect against lung damage and other serious allergic side effects.
A Reputable Wood Sourcing Partner
is an invaluable resource when it comes to sourcing sustainable wood for your design projects. In business for nearly 20 years, they work with some of the biggest corporations in the business world: Google, Amazon, REI, Toyota, Hulu, At&T, HBO, Capital One and dozens more household names. Early on, the company aligned itself with architects and designers who appreciated the beauty of reclaimed materials—in addition to the stories they tell.
TerraMai provides clean, sustainable materials that offset the need for new wood products harvested from living trees. They source their wood in several ways:
Wood that lived a previous life as a barn, door, bridge, barrel, fence or other structure.
Post-Industrial Reclaimed: Scrap wood created during the production of wood products such as furniture, culinary items (like plates, bowls and cutting boards) and construction projects. This material is diverted from landfills and reused.
South America and Africa have huge underwater tropical hardwood forests that were created during decades-old dam and reservoir projects. These perfectly-preserved trees can be brought to the surface, creating jobs in the local community and removing dangerous water hazards for the people who use the lake for boating, fishing, and everyday living.
When aging orchard trees are no longer productive, they are culled and replaced. Instead of being sent to landfills or used for firewood, Terra Mai uses this valuable resource, which is exceptionally strong and aesthetically-pleasing.
Forest Floor Salvage:
Small trees are often deemed unworthy during the logging process and left to suffer the fate of the wood chipper. TerraMai works with partners to reclaim this discarded wood.
Next time you need wood for a project, take a moment to stop and think about the life of that lumber. Where did it come from? What is its story? Is this the most responsible choice for my client and my business? Every little bit helps, and simply being aware of the issues surrounding the logging industry is a big step toward making more responsible choices. Thankfully, companies like Terra Mai are there to help.
CONTINUING EDUCATION PROVIDED BY TERRAMAI
We are passionate about wood! TerraMai has industry-leading experts that are eager to teach you and your team all we know so you get the most out of the beauty, functionality, health, and environmental benefits of reclaimed wood.