New guide to sustainable wood flooring

Posted: 28 March 2006

The darker shades of exotic hardwoods are the new fashion inflooring and manufacturing companies are turning to tropicalcountries to satisfy consumer demand. But, says the Environmental Investigation Agency (EIA), shoppers should beware of false claims that the flooring is from sustainable sources

One of the more popular species used for flooring is merbau. This species, a valuable hardwood only commercially available in Indonesia's Papua Province and the neighbouring country of Papua New Guinea, is being ruthlessly targeted by illegal loggers to supply the demand from the booming western flooring markets, says the EIA.

Illegal logging of merbau wood in Papua.
Illegal logging of merbau wood in Papua.
Illegal logging of merbau wood in Wasur National Park, Papua. Photo ©Jago Wadley/EIA
So to help consumers who want to be sure that the wood flooring they buy is made from timber harvested in a legal and sustainable manner, it has provided the guide, summarised below. The guide focuses on merbau, but applies to all species used for flooring.

The agency says that illegal and unsustainable logging is a huge problem around the world, particularly in tropical countries with corruptgovernments. It often involves intimidation and exploitation of local communities, and the destruction of natural habitat - leading to loss of species, landslides and even the loss of human life.

Much of this destructive activity is driven by demand for cheap timber from the massive global timber trade. The flooring trade is a particularly strong market, with huge volumes of illegal timber going into hardwood flooring.

Incredibly, there are no laws banning the import of illegal timber. So until such time as governments of western consuming countries stop stolen timber from reaching the shelves, the only incentive for companies to stop using illegal timber is if consumers refuse to buy it.

This, in summary, is EIA's advice:

FSC logo
FSC logo
FSC logo
  • Do not trust environmental claims associated with wood flooring unless they can be backed up. Many of the biggest wood flooring brand manufacturers and retailers sell flooring made from illegally sourced wood. The environmental claims associated with this flooring are often designed to mislead consumers or are blatantly untrue.

  • Consumers should only buy flooring that has been independently verified as legally sourced, such as wood sold under the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC)SC scheme, which provides a full 'chain of custody' tracking timber from forest to shelf.

    The FSC scheme certifies forests and wood, ensuring that the trees are cut in a legal and sustainable manner with respect for the rights of local people. For timber to be properlycertified the FSC logo must appear on the timber or wood product AND the letters 'FSC' appear next to the product name on the receipt.

  • Do not buy merbau flooring until such time as it can be supplied with evidence of its legal origins. Many of the world's biggest flooring companies source their merbau from Papua, where illegal logging, official corruption and smuggling characterise virtually all timber production. These companies do not check that the merbau they use comes from legal sources. Until they do and can provide evidence of its legal origins, consumers are advised not to buy it. There is currently no merbau certified by the FSC scheme.

The EIA and Telapak conducted an investigation into the global merbau flooring trade, the results of which are documented in the report 'Behind the Veneer'. This, and a more detailed guide to buying wood products, can been seen in the EIA website here