‘Sustainably sourced’ and ‘eco-friendly’ have become buzz words of recent times.
What isn’t often spoken about is exactly what they mean in terms of furniture creation, and also how we can be sure as consumers that the timber used to produce the furniture we choose to buy is indeed planet friendly. What we all know to be true is that if we don’t start doing more to protect the planet and its resources then there will be direct consequences for all of us. One of the most valuable assets we have on this earth are our forests, supporting an incredibly complex biodiversity as well as the millions of people across the world that depend on them for food, shelter and work. And of course, the tree – or wood – is one of the most useful materials we use all around us.
Managed forests for planet-friendly product
We developed ways of respecting and protecting these valuable forests many hundreds of years ago through forest management systems; even back then people realised that wood had to be sustainable and to ensure that not too many trees were cut down. Go back almost 60 years and the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) was formed which created a blueprint for protecting and developing our natural wood resources. Today much of the timber that is “responsibly sourced” is certified under the FSC scheme and/or comes from responsibly managed plantation forests. Despite these huge initiatives it is believed that only about 10% of the world’s remaining forests are currently protected from further destruction. To put this in perspective, no-one is saying we should stop using wood – but we do need to grow and source it in a sustainable way. That’s not just about making sure we grow as many new trees as we cut down, as there may be other factors at play. For example, the impact on soil conditions and the local ecology of growing lots of trees – or even too many trees. As consumers we should really think about this and look for assurances that the wood in our product has been responsibly sourced, which can become tricky if those we buy from don’t openly talk about it themselves.
Strong, durable hardwoods such as oak and beech lend themselves to the crafting of high quality furniture pieces. But these trees can take a long time to grow and are not naturally found in “organised plantations” where the softer, knotty woods from trees such as fast-growing pines are planted. Plantations can be seen as crops which are purposely planted for easier and quicker harvesting. Fast growing soft wood trees such as Pine are often selected for planting. The quick growth zaps the earth of nutrients and there can be huge demand on water resources, affecting not only the trees, but also the local inhabitants too. Sustainable management has to apply to forest and plantation alike. It’s about equipping ourselves with the knowledge and understanding of how to treat these natural forests, and indeed when it comes to furniture manufacture, which types of wood to use to best protect our ecology.
At Little Folks Furniture, we spend a lot of time consciously selecting sustainably sourced hardwoods and we have a dedicated Sourcing Manager based in Europe whose role it is to ensure that the timber we select is from managed forests as well as managing top quality control. As an example, each log coming in to the factory should have an identification label – almost as a passport for sustainability so that we are able to check. – and to check that it hasn’t been illegally logged.
The fight against fast-furniture
The availability of cheap softwoods has meant that we have developed a throw-away mentality and not expecting furniture to last, which is a bit of a full stop to the sustainability sentence and where we need to think much more carefully about our choices. If we replace furniture more frequently, then not only do the costs add up but we are adding to the pressure of harvesting more wood in the first place, and the environmental cost of getting rid of the old too.
But it isn’t just about avoiding the fast-furniture cycle. Over recent years there has been much more recognition of the need for children’s furniture to be “safe” and most of all to withstand the rigours of childhood. It goes without saying that if you start with a decent raw material such as hardwoods such as beech or oak, then the result is a product that will be stronger and more durable; it will stand the test of time. All of our bed frames at Little Folks are crafted using hardwoods like beech or oak, and we use our own test rig to continually assess the performance of beds to ensure they meet Safety Standards. - Put a bed made of pine and dowelled joints into the test rig and apply one of the standard stress tests, and the bed will likely fail (break) straight away. In contrast, put a similar looking bed but made of a hardwood such as beech with more traditional mortice and tenon joints into the rig, and it will have to go on bashing away to have any effect.
And it doesn’t stop there. As the name suggests, pine is a softwood and one of the consequences of growing quickly is that the grain is “soft” and the timber is easily dented. This means that paint finishes that should be protecting the wood underneath also crack – not ideal for the wood nor the look of the furniture. So durability is also about how wood is finished or painted. - Furniture made from hardwoods under the paint will generally look good for longer and make for better recycling projects later on down the line.
Knowledge is power
So it seems that the Sustainability equation is not straightforward, but perhaps the answer can be. We have to have a holistic view and ensure that the wood is from a sustainable, properly managed source which could be a natural forest, managed forest or plantation; also what it is going to be used for and that it is fit for purpose and safe, durable and how long it can be used for so that we’re not unnecessarily adding to the carbon footprint of waste. For us at Little Folks, hardwoods are definitely a valuable part of the answer in terms of both the ecosystem and performance and we endeavour to continue our promise of protecting our planet whilst designing and crafting beds that are built to last and designed to be cherished.