Wildlife Federation Ranks Retailers on Sustainable Wood Products

Wildlife Federation Ranks Retailers on Sustainable Wood Products

Wooden outdoor furniture, like the kind Americans put out on their decks for summer entertaining, has far-reaching impacts. The United States is the world's largest importer of wood from tropical countries, and the number is only increasing: U.S. imports of tropical wood products have quadrupled in the last year, according to a study by the National Wildlife Federation.

As a result, forests in countries like Indonesia, Malaysia and Brazil are being harvested so quickly that, according to NWF estimates, the forests may disappear within a decade.

"Deforestation, especially in tropical forests, accounts for approximately one-quarter of global greenhouse gas emissions as well as the rapid disappearance of the world's remaining natural forest habitats," said Eric Palola, executive director of the NWF's wildlife restoration campaign.

In a new study released this month, the NWF ranks the top retailers of outdoor wooden furniture based on their use of sustainably harvested wood products.

At the top of the list are Crate & Barrel and Pier 1 Imports, for offering the largest selection of Forest Stewardship Council-certified garden furniture compared to their total wooden outdoor furniture offerings. The companies not only clearly identify FSC-certified products in their catalogs and online, but also make sustainable forest management an important criterion for selecting product offerings.

"The good news is more and more retailers are offering wooden garden furniture made from sustainably harvested forests. The bad news is retailers don't always make them easy to find," Palola said.

Crate & Barrel and Pier 1 both received four-star ratings from the NWF for the amount and visibility of their FSC-certified products. Crate & Barrel in particular was noted for giving preference to vendors that use recycled or sustainably managed wood.

Explaining why the survey based its findings on the Forest Stewardship Council's certification, Stacy Brown, forest certification coordinator for the National Wildlife Federation, said, "Buying FSC-certified garden furniture helps support sustainable forest management, which reduces the emission of greenhouse gases and protects wildlife habitat."

"We want consumers to know they can make a huge difference in the fate of the world's forests by acting with their wallets. If buyers don't ask for FSC-certified products, retailers won't supply them," Brown added. “And we want retailers to know that people are paying attention to which companies make it easiest to find sustainable products. Vague public relations assurances -- now found on many wood and paper products -- are not enough, and in many cases amount to 'greenwashing.'"

Earning three stars in the group's ranking of the 13 retailers, Home Depot, Lowe's and IKEA all offer between 36 and 70 percent of their outdoor furniture that is FSC-certified or sources from forests working toward FSC certification. All three companies have developed procurement policies for sustainably managed wood products.

Target, Sears, Pottery Barn, Kmart and Frontgate all earned two stars, with limited certified wood products, and Wal-Mart and Smith & Hawken scored the lowest in the survey. Wal-Mart said it does not offer any FSC-certified products, and Smith & Hawken declined to participate in the study, although the company's values statement says it uses only ecologically harvested timber.

The NWF says it plans annual surveys of retailers to keep track of which companies are making progress on using sustainable wood products. The full scorecard is available for download from the National Wildlife Federation's website [PDF].