1. Wood as sustainable material

In the architecture and interior design, people not only pursue safety, aesthetics, and comfort, but also pay more attention to green lifestyles, striving to reduce their impact on nature. As a sustainable material, wood not only plays a role in carbon sequestration in the natural world but can also be fully degraded and recycled.

The environmental impact of wood and wood products is influenced by factors such as forest resource management and wood processing, showing significant differences in sustainability in practical use. Taking wood flooring as an example, from a lifecycle perspective, the stages to consider in assessing its sustainability include:

  • Growing of the wood
  • Manufacturing of the wooden planks or veneers for flooring
  • Transportation of the wooden planks
  • Usage of wood flooring
  • End-of-life of wood flooring

Therefore, we need specialized tools to assess the sustainability of wood products, helping us choose more environmentally friendly options.

2. Is engineered flooring a sustainable flooring choice?

Due to the low maintenance and the wood appearance, multi-layer engineered flooring has become one of the most important flooring products in the market. Additionally, the substrate of engineered flooring is made of plywood, making full use of fast-growing wood species such as eucalyptus, birch, and poplar. Compared to slow-growing hardwoods, using fast-growing wood is more environmentally friendly.

From the perspective of lifespan, multi-layer engineered flooring is less prone to swell or warp in environments with temperature and humidity changes compared to hardwood flooring, making it suitable for a wider range of applications. At the same time, from the perspective of carbon footprint analysis, due to the longer service life of engineered flooring, it also has a better carbon sequestration effect.

Besides, engineered wood is less susceptible to swelling and warping from moisture and heat. Consequently, plywood panels, for example, can be a longer-lasting option than some solid woods for flooring in kitchens and basements.

Yet, the environmental impact of different engineered wood flooring also varies. Therefore, it is necessary to assess aspects such as the sustainability of forest management, timber harvesting, transportation, etc., from the source of raw materials. When selecting adhesives, attention should also be paid to whether they are safe and non-polluting.

3. How Can we Buy More Sustainable Wood?

Chain of Custody certification ensures that the consumer can trust that the purchased item originates from a sustainably managed forest. Currently, there are three major certification organizations internationally, namely FSC, PEFC, and SFI. Their content is largely similar, and they do not exclude each other, while also competing with each other.

3.1 FSC 

The Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) was established in 1993 as a stakeholder-owned system with the aim of promoting responsible global forest management. It provides standards development, trademark assurance, accreditation services, and market access for companies and organizations involved in forestry.

The FSC certification means that wood products with the FSC trademark logo can be tracked through a chain of custody process, from the point of purchase back to FSC-certified forests. Tracking timber from certified forests through all stages of processing and production until it reaches the end user, the source of a timber product can be verified.

FSC Certified timber must be kept separate from non-certified timber throughout the forest products commodity chain. If the commodity chain process complies with FSC standards, the product is sold as certified wood and displays the FSC trademark label. Compliance with chain of custody provisions ensures no substitution has occurred.

3.2 PEFC

The Programme for the Endorsement of Forest Certification (PEFC), established in 1999, is an independent, non-profit, non-governmental organization. It was initiated by forest interest groups from several European countries as an alternative to FSC, in response to concerns about the needs of small-scale forest owners and the costs of implementing certification. PEFC promotes sustainable forest management through third-party independent certification. It provides a mechanism for buyers of timber and paper products to guarantee the promotion of sustainable forest management.

Competition between FSC and PEFC has led to improvements in both systems, reducing certification-related costs, and promoting the globalization of PEFC. PEFC does not have a binding performance-based system, and although it initially certified European schemes, the organization is increasingly endorsing non-European schemes.

3.3 SFI

The Sustainable Forestry Initiative (now renamed the Sustainable Forestry Initiative, Inc.) was established in 1995 in Arlington, Virginia, United States. SFI was developed in response to public concerns about the protection of wildlife, the environment, and the capacity for sustainable forestry practices in the industry. The SFI standard integrates sustainable tree planting and logging with the protection of wildlife, plants, soil, and water quality. Although SFI is headquartered in the United States, it is also recognized as an international organization like FSC because it is a member of PEFC.

SFI focuses on sustainable environmental issues but does not address economic or social problems.

3.4 Comparison

The differences among three forest certifications are illustrated as follows:

FSCPEFCSFI
StandardPerformance-based
Includes environmental and social issues
System-based
Non-binding criteria – varies between countries
System-based on ISO 14001
Ignores social and economic issues
Standard development processComprises three chambers(social, economic and environmental)Private forest owners
Industry representatives
Industry dominated
LogoYesYesYes
Labelling and chain of custodyChain of custody number is included on the labelThree tier structure based upon the process of inclusion or separation of certified wood in the production processNo chain of custody certification
WeaknessesTracking of certified and uncertified wood
Non-certification of wholesalers and retailers
Independent verification of chain of custody difficult
Variability of standards
Governed by forest owners and forest industry
Does not recognize land rights
Companies can customize standards used in assessment process
No clear performance requirements
Wood not originating from SFI-certified forests can be included under label
StrengthsEconomic, social and environmental interests includedIncreasing level of transparency within some countries
Regular reviews of national standards
Recent inclusion of NGOs
Stringer, C. . (2006). Forest certification and changing global commodity chains. Journal of Economic Geography, 6(5), 701-722(22).

The FSC was established as the result of collaborative efforts of several NGOs who took the debate from being one focused on tropical timber to forest management on the global scale. The initiative for PEFC came from forestry interest groups at the national level in several European countries in response to concerns about small-scale farmers under the FSC scheme but also because of concerns about the dominance of NGOs within the FSC. SFI is an industry response to public concerns about environmental performance and membership in the American Forest and Paper Association (AF&PA), the national trade association, is based upon participation in the SFI scheme.

4 Sustainability in Guolian

At Guolian, our dedication to sourcing sustainable forest products is more than a commitment—it’s a responsibility. We proudly hold a chain of custody certification for forest products that meet the rigorous standards. This certification is not just a badge; it signifies our unwavering focus on economic, social, and ecological sustainability across our production chain.

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