Nearly 25% of all industrial wood consumption is from plantation sources, and that number is expected to double over the next 50 years. Most of the Teak flooring sold in America is sourced from plantations in Central America, and just about all of our Southern Yellow Pine is plantation grown. Radiata Pine plantations occupy nearly 8% of New Zealand’s land area and Palm Oil and Rubberwood plantations occupy over 80% of Malaysia’s arable land.
Plantations are a mixed blessing. They remove pressure from the primary forests and can additionally reclaim degraded lands, halt soil erosion and sequester carbon. However, they can also replace a bio-diverse native forest with a mono-specie. Most woods do not lend themselves to plantation forestry and can only grow in a natural habitat.
The dynamics of responsible silviculture are different for each forest type around the world. The Northeast deciduous forest has been harvested at a surplus since 1900. In 1900, Vermont was 90% clear and 10% wooded. One hundred years later those figures are nearly exactly opposite and the major reason for this reversal is that the farmers moved West. Competing land use (pasture, agriculture, and silviculture) accounts for about 90% of Rainforest degradation, not timbering as many people might expect. Healthy forests remain necessary for human survival. Forestry results in reforestation. Deforestation is a result of development, with only a tiny percentage attributable to poor forestry practices.
In assessing the “cradle-to-grave” impact of any product on the environment, one must take into account many things, including: energy consumed in manufacture and transportation; toxicity of byproducts introduced to the environment during production; lifespan and performance of the product; and disposability. Other common building materials, like concrete, steel, aluminum, plastic, plaster, and glass, are environmental disasters compared to wood. Two fundamental characteristics of any product considered environmentally friendly are that it is made from a renewable resource, and a bio-degradable resource. Wood is the only common building material that qualifies (unless you live in an igloo).
For these reasons (and many others), we’ve always been reluctant to classify “good” wood and “bad” wood. As far as environmental impact is concerned, the distance between “good” and “bad” wood is inches, whereas the distance between wood and other building materials is miles.