Timber flooring - fair trade
or rogue trade? One professional tells
the tale of what's hidden under the floorboards
or global warming is the world's greatest concern, with worrying
new findings and data emerging on an almost daily basis and global
scientific community urging governments and citizens to take
urgent steps to halt destruction. Large-scale deforestation -
whether legal or illegally felled - to feed the world's growing
hunger for wood, plays a major role in this hugely complex problem
According to news reports areas of forests the size of 300 football
pitches were cut down every hour in Indonesia alone between 2000
and 2005 , while in Brazil more than 750,000 acres of the Amazon
were deforested in the second half of 2007 - which makes for
an alarming rate of global forest depletion, forests that are
commonly called "the lungs of the earth" and which
are vital to our climate as they sequester carbon through photosynthesis.
And yet, as is always the case
with such alarming news stories and statistics, they worry us,
but they seem so far removed from our lives, taking place on
the other side of the world, seem to be caused by local needs
or big, profit-hungry business, that we feel it has little to
do with us.
Noel James, a timber flooring
installer from Bristol with almost twenty years' experience in
the timber flooring industry, has learnt over the years that
nothing could be further from the truth. "The WWF has estimated
that the UK is the largest importer of illegally sourced timber
in the EU, which means that this timber is bought by private
consumers or business on the UK market in one form or other,
probably in the shape of furniture, flooring or construction
materials. Our lifestyle choices therefore have a direct impact
on what's going on elsewhere in the world."
Having fitted floors for almost
two decades up and down the country, including large pub chains
and some rather illustrious clients, such as Mohammad Al Fayed
(Harrods) or the Sultan of Brunei, Noel says he has installed
thousands of square metres of timber, but admits it has become
increasingly difficult for him to go along with what he terms
as unsustainable and inconsiderate practice that is costing the
earth - literally. "Over the years I have worked extensively
with designers who specify certain species of timber for flooring
without the slightest regard for its origin or its status on
the endangered list. Merbau, for instance, is the preferred choice
of large pub chains, because it offers them a dark, rich reddish
colour. No other consideration is given to the product selection.
It's by now a well-known fact that the species is illegally-sourced
from Papua New Guinea, where it is becoming very rare indeed.
The deforestation of entire primary forests in order to physically
get to this precious tree not only threatens the livelihood of
the indigenous people, but also their land rights and water supply.
Over there organisations are only interested in turning forests
into cash no matter what, over here the overriding concerns are
costs or simply look. At neither end does anyone act with a care
for the environment."
On its website the World Wildlife
Fund states that it is currently not illegal to import illegal
timber into the EU and as a result the vast majority of companies
do not properly check where their timber comes from. Noel confirms
this: "I recently asked all my timber flooring suppliers
to provide me with information on the origin of their timber
and found that very few of them had actually given it any thought.
The profit-driven attitude in the trade is quite often shocking,
I get answers like 'I think it's been illegally harvested
in Russia, but your client doesn't need to know that' or
'Yeah, it's not sustainable, but I buy hundreds of containers
of the stuff and it's cheap - what more do you want' !"
What makes matters worse is
the short-term planning and the pervading throw-away attitude.
"More often than not large commercial installations have
a life cycle of just 2 to 5 years, after that they are hacked
up and scrapped." Such disregard for a tree which has taken
hundreds of years to grow is very upsetting to Noel, but he says,
"things can be different, there is a way out: FSC accreditation."
FSC (Forest Stewardship Council)
is an international not-for-profit, multi-stakeholder organization
promoting responsible management of the world's forests. Its
main tools for achieving this are standard setting, independent
certification and labeling of forest products. This verifiable
audit trail assures customers around the world that the timber
products carrying the FSC logo are sourced from socially and
environmentally responsible forestry.
"This way cutting down
wood can actually do good," says Noel. "Wood is the
most renewable of all materials. Forests act as carbon storehouses.
So far, the Forest Stewardship Council has accredited 100 million
acres of forests across the world. These plantations must meet
a whole range of very stringent criteria in both social and environmental
terms, covering aspects such as the protection of local labour
and indigenous habitats, and the avoidance of monocultures, which
is generally bad news for soil and biodiversity," he explains.
"Most importantly, for every tree felled another one is
planted, keeping alive the carbon-absorbing cycle, while the
wood end-product, in form of your living room floor for instance,
locks away carbon for life. Personally, I feel much happier fitting
or supplying timber flooring that I know has not harmed the environment."
Deforestation accounts for
20% of all current carbon emissions and scientific consensus
is clear: if we don't reduce deforestation we risk an environmental
catastrophe. Noel has therefore decided he can no longer do business
as usual, but instead intends to use his knowledge and experience
to advise suppliers and customers on a more ethical and sustainable
alternative to flooring. He has launched Greenwood Floors, believed
to be the first wood flooring supplier in the UK that sells solely
products carrying the FSC Chain of Custody seal of approval.
Effecting a change in consumer behaviour won't be easy at a time
of global credit crunch and tying of purse strings, but Noel
is confident that once people know the facts and are given the
right background information there can only be but one choice:
"My most recent job was
to fit the restaurant area of Jurys Hotel in Bristol. I proposed
an alternative FSC timber solution instead of their original
choice and Jury's accepted that this more eco-friendly alternative
was the only way forward even if marginally more expensive."
The way Noel sees it, we all
play a part in the global threat of climate change, and it's
up to each and every one of us to make a difference. "The
choice is ours: to cherish or to destroy. As far as my line of
work is concerned, I shall do what I can to make a change. We
must make sure we can still see the trees for all that wood -
my clients can rest assured that there are no hidden skeletons
under my floorboards!"
Healthy Flooring Network -alliance of individuals and organisations concerned
about health, asthma and allergies. The network aims to raise
awareness of the links between fitted carpets, PVC flooring and
health and to encourage and promote alternatives.
Lapicida -holders of a mouthwatering
collection of beautiful natural antique and reclaimed stone flooring.
They offer showrooms in Harrogate, Cobham, Oslo and recently
opened in Kings Road, London and have a strong environmental
board and strip floors:
boarding and parquet, bamboo, plus stripped timber floors
Acorn Floor Sanding -dust-free floor sanding, specialising in wood
and concrete floor sanding, floor restoration and refinishing,
French Polishing and floor repair, across the South of England.
-Bristol based suppliers of solid and engineered oak flooring
using both new and reclaimed timber.
Ecoimpact -eco friendly bamboo flooring strips
-floor sanding service in South London with lots of guidance
on how to do it yourself.
sandingwoodenfloors.co.uk -specialist in sanding floors in mainly Victorian/
Edwardian houses in the London area for 8 years.
Stone River Hardwoods - supplies hiqh quality hardwood floors
stains and widths, from standard to wide plank flooring.
Urbane Living Natural & Wood Flooring - Supplier of sustainable wood and
natural flooring. solid and engineered floors in oak, walnut,
maple and bamboo. Also carpet and rugs available in sisal, coir,
jute, seagrass and wool.
-all those extras you need for the complete job -suppliers of
stair rods for runners and other fitted carpet accessories -threshold
strips, skirting skiffers and edge binders, all with some helpful
guide pages. Based in Lutterworth, Leicestershire but sell online
-produce quality carpets for residential and contract use in
Axminster, Wilton and Tufted constructions.