Using wood instead of metal or plastics when choosing floors, doors and furniture could significantly decrease emissions

Wood furnishings beat plastic and metal in cutting CO2 emissions

Using wooden floors, doors and furniture when furnishing a house could significantly reduce carbon emissions, a UN agency has said. 

Although making anything from wood requires trees to be cut down, which doesn’t sound like an environmentally friendly alternative, the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) maintains that producing anything from wood is far less energy-intensive than using metal or plastics.

"If you are able to produce firewood, a dining table or construction materials from sustainable sources, you're... replacing CO2 intense products for better ones," Rene Castro-Salazar, FAO assistant director-general for forestry, told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

"If [wood] is extracted in a sustainable way then you can do it forever."

Moreover, while production of plastics relies on the extraction of petroleum and releases harmful emissions in the process, wood actually stores carbon even when no longer alive. Even if the carbon is released at a later stage, it can be stored again by growing more wood. According to a report published by the FAO, carbon stored in wood products offsets nearly all of the greenhouse gas emissions related to their production.

Using recycled wood in construction and then burning it as fuel could lead to a reduction in carbon emissions by up to 135 million tonnes a year, which is equivalent to the annual carbon emissions of Belgium.

According to a report published by the FAO this week, not even recycling plastics offers the same benefits.

"When you are recycling plastic you use too much energy," said Nadege Nzoyem, Central Africa manager of the conservation non-profit Rainforest Alliance.

The major challenge, Castro-Salazar said, is to ensure the wood is sourced sustainably.

"You should be sure that the brand you're buying is behaving responsibly in terms of the social and labour conditions," he said.

Nadege Nzoyem agrees and has suggested that a certification system should be established that would allow buyers to verify the origin of the wood used in a product they are thinking of buying.

"The only way we have [to ensure wood comes from a sustainable source] is when you see a logo of a certification scheme like FSC," she said, referring to the Forest Stewardship Council, an international not-for-profit organisation.

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