Are Timber Floors Environmentally Friendly?

When it comes to floor covering options, there are a huge array of options that can vary according to cost, comfort, durability and maintenance, however the range of environmental impacts the manufacturing and installation of a floor can have on the environment can also vary widely.

We are all responsible for our planet’s future, so choosing a sustainable, eco-friendly option like wooden flooring does make a lot of sense, however are timber floors actually environmentally friendly?

Timber growth increases carbon and decreases carbon dioxide

When you choose timber flooring for your home or workplace, you are not only selecting a beautifully unique option manufactured from a renewable resource, you are also making a positive impact on climate change. Up to half the dry weight of wood in a tree is actually carbon that’s been absorbed from the atmosphere by the tree as it grows.

This essentially lowers the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, which is one of the most important things we can do to reduce the damage associated with climate change. Carbon in wood remains locked up in the timber for life, so in essence it is ‘stored’ (or sequestered, if you want to get technical), including in timber products like wooden floors.

The Australian forestry industry is a greenhouse-friendly resource

Solar radiation reaches Earth through the atmosphere where it warms the surface, and stored energy is then sent back to space in the form of infrared radiation. However, because infrared radiation has a different wavelength to incoming solar radiation, less of it is able to penetrate the barrier of the specific atmospheric gases we know as ‘greenhouse gases’.

Since the start of the industrial revolution, there has been a sharp increase in greenhouse gas emissions into the atmosphere, mainly due to carbon dioxide (CO2) levels caused by the burning of fossil fuels, but also from changes in how we use the land. Many scientists agree that the level of CO2 in the atmosphere has increased by over 30% since the middle of the 19th century.

The Australian forestry industry is one of the most greenhouse-friendly sectors of the economy, and in fact is one of the few sectors to actually remain carbon positive. That means that as an industry, forestry actually absorbs more carbon than it creates, and therefore timber floors capture a substantial part of the environmentally friendly flooring market.

Timber floor manufacturing follows sustainable management practices

The management of Australia’s ‘production’ forests is among the best in the world in terms of conservation reserves and codes of practice. Only 6% of Australia’s 147 million hectares of ‘public’ native forests are available for timber harvesting, and only about 1% of these are actually harvested each year.

In the past, about 10% of Australia’s total yearly timber imports also consisted of illegally logged timber products, including decking, timber boards, pulp, paper and outdoor furniture. Most of this timber is thought to have come from clear-felled rainforests in countries like Indonesia, Malaysia and Papua New Guinea. These days, timber importers and manufacturers must ensure their imported timber is legally produced from sustainable sources, and a number of regulatory bodies make it easier for Australians to find sustainably sourced products, including eco-friendly flooring.

A range of regulatory bodies helps consumers make the right choices

The Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) is an internationally recognised accreditation program that was launched in the early 1990’s to prevent the logging of high conservation-value forests around the world. The FSC has representatives across the world including from groups such as the Australian Conservation Foundation, The Wilderness Society, Friends of the Earth and Fauna and Flora International.
Regardless of whether it’s from a plantation or a native forest, if a wood product has FSC certification it means the timber is from a sustainably managed forest, and finding these environmentally friendly flooring products is often as simple as identifying an FSC logo on a product.
Similar to the FSC, timber from Australian Forestry Standard (AFS)-certified forests adheres to sustainable flooring principles as well, and is recognised by the Programme for the Endorsement of Forest Certification Scheme (a European based eco-label), as well as being an Australian registered standard with federal and state government endorsement.

A number of Australian authorities also assist with the sourcing of eco-friendly timber flooring, including the online database, Ecospecifier, which is endorsed by the Green Building Council of Australia, a leading Australian authority on sustainable buildings and communities. The Ecospecifier’s ‘Green Tag’ rates a range of building products (many of which are found in hardware stores and building supply centres) according to their total ‘life cycle’. This includes the health and toxicity levels of products, their embodied carbon levels, biodiversity impacts, their efficiency in terms of building and installation, and a rating based on their corporate social responsibility.

What other environmental factors should I think about when buying flooring?

When considering the issues around environmentally friendly flooring, it’s not just about what the flooring is constructed from or the energy output needed to produce it (which is called ‘embodied energy’), but also how it will be used and what sort of maintenance will be involved in caring for it.

Timber floors (unlike carpets for example) are not only durable and hardwearing but long-lasting, which means fewer resources over time are required to clean and maintain them, and therefore they are more environmentally friendly.

Timber can also be recycled and recycled wooden floors in particular, can add a wonderfully unique statement to a variety of interior home designs. Choosing a natural oil hard-finish coating when maintaining your wooden floor will also ensure that potential toxic polyurethane coatings are avoided and yes, that’s a big tick to the environment as well!

So why choose timber flooring? Beautiful, durable, renewable and environmentally friendly – in a nutshell, you could say timber floors are naturally better!

Ready to embrace the environmentally friendly benefits of timber floors? Contact the experts at Brisbanes Finest Floors today on 0411 220 488.

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