How Sustainable Is Coconut Wood? Here Are the Facts

How Sustainable Is Coconut Wood? Here Are the Facts

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Quynh Nguyen

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The wood from the coconut plant’s single stem was once discarded as a sustainable usage of a by-product that would otherwise go to waste. However, coconut is an invasive species. There are concerns over the diversity of islands and atolls where coconut plantations overtake native vegetation in local forests. So we had to ask: How sustainable is it to buy products made out of coconut wood?

Coconut wood is sustainable, thanks to its carbon sequestration. As coconut is a short-lived tropical species, especially if compared with some rainforest hardwood trees, logging has a lesser ecological cost. Also, coconut trees are cut down only when they stop being productive.

In this article, we’ll walk you through the life-cycle of coconut wood used for flooring and furniture. Then, we evaluate its sustainability, potentials, and shortfalls. And in the end, we’ll show you tips for buying sustainable coconut wood. 

Here’s How Sustainable Coconut Wood Is

Coconut wood is a sustainable material because of the plant’s carbon sequestration potential and the carbon offset value at the end of any products made of this by-product of the coconut fruit. 

Sustainable: The ability to be maintained at a certain rate or level | Avoidance of the depletion of natural resources in order to maintain an ecological balance”

Oxford Dictionary

To understand the sustainability of coconut wood, we assess the life-cycle of flooring and furniture. This life-cycle assessment (LCA) is a method to evaluate the environmental impacts of each stage in a product’s life cycle, from the making to the recycling. Over the years, companies have strategically used LCA to research and create more sustainable products. 

In this article, we’ll use the cradle-to-grave perspective of the LCA, examining the five stages of the life-cycle of flooring and furniture made with coconut wood.

The life-cycle stages of coconut wood Each stage’s sustainability
Growing of coconut wood Growing coconut plants is sustainable thanks to this species’ wide distribution, the multiple benefits of land use for coconut plantations, and most importantly, the potential for carbon sequestration. 
Manufacturing of coconut wood Turning coconut wood into furniture has a relatively low carbon footprint because wood waste can be recycled fully as by-products or biomass pellets to offset the carbon emissions during harvesting and processing. 
Transporting of coconut wood Transporting is a relatively carbon-intensive stage in the life-cycle of coconut furniture due to the long distances from its source and emissions associated with operating the hauling vehicles that take timber to sawmills and factories, then furniture to stores. As coconut wood typically comes from the tropics, transporting coconut wood furniture would typically have a higher carbon footprint than regionally available wood. 
Usage of coconut wood Using coconut furniture can be sustainable thanks to the carbon capture during the products’ long life. 
End-of-life of coconut wood The end-of-life stage for coconut furniture is sustainable when the wood is reused or burned as bioenergy. 

Overall, coconut wood is highly sustainable. However, the actual environmental impact of a particular product, like a floorboard or a window frame, depends on many factors, especially the distance and mode of transportation. Let’s dive deeper into each stage and find out how it can be more sustainable. 

How Sustainable Is the Growing Coconut Wood

Growing coconut plants is sustainable thanks to this species’ wide distribution, the multiple benefits of land use for coconut plantations, and most importantly, the potential for carbon sequestration. 

What Type of Wood is Coconut and What Does This Mean for Sustainability

Coconut wood, or red palm, comes from the short-lived tropical species of the Cocos nucifera genus in the Palm family. There are about 190 genera, 2800 species of palms, making the family one of the largest in the monocotyledon (or monocot) group. Other widely-known families in this group are banana and bamboo

As a monocot, coconut is more closely related to grass than trees: the plant has only a single stem, no bark, no branches, or secondary growth. Thus, coconut wood is technically neither hardwood nor softwood. However, coconut or some other palm species are commonly called “trees” because these plants have equivalent sizes to some trees (i.e., much larger than most grasses). Similarly, in this article, we sometimes refer to coconut as a tree. 

There are two types of coconut plants: Talls and Dwarfs. And as the classification implies, these plants differ in height. 

  • The tall variety is slow-growing. Fruit-bearing starts around 6 to 10 years and continues even after 80 to 120 years. The tall coconut tree can reach 100 feet. 
  • The dwarf variety grows at a faster rate but reaches a smaller height – about half – compared with its tall counterpart.  Fruit-bearing begins a year or two earlier. After a short productive life of 30-40 years, dwarf coconut trees could already be cut down for harvesting wood. 

How Sustainably Does Coconut Wood Grow

Coconut wood’s sustainability lies in the potential for carbon sequestration, its wide distribution, and the multiple benefits of land used for growing coconut trees.  

  • Carbon sequestration: As coconut trees grow, they absorb CO2 from the atmosphere while releasing oxygen. During their lifespan, they act as a carbon sink. This means that they are taking greenhouse gasses out of the atmosphere, helping to mitigate the climate crisis. They can store a significant amount thanks to their size (reaching 100 feet in height and 1.3 feet in diameter).

For example, the carbon sequestration potential of ten-year-old coconut trees (Tall or Dwarf) averages between 18 and 28 kg per tree per year, as reported in a plantation in India. This specific fifteen-year-old plantation of nearly 70,000 acres (27,974 hectares) had sequestered 1.15 million tons of carbon from the atmosphere.

The plant’s worldwide distribution, relatively fast growth, and short lives contribute to its being sustainable. It is possible to source coconut wood with a shorter traveling distance and a lower ecological cost than hardwood from endangered tree species like teak or rosewood.

  • Land use: Coconut wood is one of the many benefits coming from a coconut plantation. It is the last thing to be harvested from a plant that no longer produces sap and fruit. Cutting down a coconut tree then provides material for construction and household usage while making room for more trees to grow. Using this supposed waste as a material is highly sustainable. 

Without a tree-like canopy, coconut trees give little shade. Thus, this species can work in multistoried agrosystems. (Agrosystems are the intentional combination of agriculture and forestry to create productive and sustainable land-use practices). A coconut plantation can also harbor profitable crops of smaller and shade-tolerant plants like banana, cacao, coffee, and various vegetables

Coconut trees are cut down only when they stop being productive. Hence, logging makes room for more trees to grow, starting a new cycle with possible harvests for food, drinks, and more. This is the main reason why coconut wood is considered highly sustainable.

Here is a list of usages for every part of the coconut tree: 

  • Leaves: Can be used for shelter and various household items 
  • Flesh (inside the fruit): Can be consumed as food 
  • Oil: Good for cooking as well as care products 
  • Shells: Can be turned in household and handicraft items 
  • Husks: Can be pressed into board material of equal or better quality than medium-density fibreboard (MDF)
  • Flowers: Have medicinal properties 
  • Water: Make a healthy, refreshing drink 
  • Stems: Can be used to build houses and make household items 

Where Is Coconut Wood Usually Grown

It is commonly agreed that coconut trees originate from South and Southeast Asia but have traveled to all tropical regions around the world. Because this species is broadly adapted to the tropics and the seed can travel on sea current, coconut has become almost ubiquitous between 26 degrees north and 26 degrees south. The exceptions are some areas in Africa and South America. 

Coconut plant is mostly associated with lands near the sea: seashore, island, atoll. However, these trees can also be seen in the foothills of mountains. And in some countries, large coconut plantations are located well inland. 

Coconut can tolerate sandy soil with salt spray (and many other soil types), making it a good crop to reestablish some harmed ground. 

Coconut plant’s adaptability and ability to travel far and wide on the current could, however,  lead to harmful invasion. In places where coconut palm Cocos nucifera dwarfs other native plants and has high abundances, lower biodiversity has been reported, according to multiple studies. Cutting down coconut trees in those places is an effort being made to increase biodiversity. 

In general, cutting down trees for timber can disrupt wildlife who depend on those trees for food and shelter. The ecological damages are often higher with long-lived trees in old-growth forests. In comparison, cutting down short-lived coconut trees in the plantations has minimal damage to the ecosystem.

How Sustainable Is the Manufacturing of Coconut Wood

Turning coconut wood into furniture has a relatively low carbon footprint because wood waste can be recycled fully as by-products or biomass pellets to offset the carbon emissions during harvesting and processing.

The first step of manufacturing coconut furniture and flooring involves cutting down trees and turning them into lumber in a sawmill. Electricity is needed to run sawing machines. 

The next step is to dry lumber before turning it into furniture. If a piece of lumber can be air-dried to the desired moisture content, no added energy is needed for this step. However, if a kiln is used, it requires extra energy, which could mean higher carbon emissions.

Coconut wood should be dried slowly because of its tendency to warp. In a kiln set at 60-65° (dry bulb), coconut boards can be dried over 10 to 14 days

Drying time varies with the board thickness, stacking method, weather conditions, and fiber density.

Hardwoods have annual growth rings that are similarly dense. Conversely, wood from the stem of a coconut plant has three degrees of density, depending on its location relative to the tree’s core.

  • High-density timber: the most outer layer – the dermal part 
  • Medium-density timber: the middle part (between the dermal part and the core) 
  • Low-density timber: the core of the coconut trunk 

The energy needed to power sawing machines and kilns can come from fossil-free sources to reduce carbon emissions. 

Burning wood waste is one way to avoid using fossil fuel in this step. At least 90% of all thermal energy used for kiln drying in the US hardwood sector is derived from biomass

Other fossil-free fuel options are solar power and hydropower, both of which are often plentiful in sunny and rainy tropical regions.  

How Sustainable Is the Transportation of Coconut Wood

Transporting is a relatively carbon-intensive stage in the life-cycle of coconut furniture due to the long distances from its source and emissions associated with operating the hauling vehicles that take timber to sawmills and factories, then furniture to stores.

As coconut wood comes from the tropics, transporting coconut wood furniture would typically have a higher carbon footprint than regionally available wood, like maple, oak, or birch. However, as coconut trees are grown in many regions, you can opt for coconut wood sourced closer to home to reduce the carbon footprint.

The actual emission during the transporting stage depends on the type of vehicles used, the fuel they need, and the distance the wood travels. Calculations made by the Norwegian Forest and Landscape Institute showed that smaller wood hauling trucks emitted more CO2 per transported cubic meters of timber: 1.25 times more than larger wood hauling trucks, 1.3 times more than sea vessels, and six times more than freight trains. Therefore, the sustainable transportation option would be rail or large trucks running on biofuel. You can check with your wood suppliers how their products are transported to and within the US and opt for the more sustainable option. 

How Sustainable Is the Usage of Coconut Wood

Using coconut furniture can be sustainable thanks to the carbon capture during the products’ long life. 

Coconut wood is reported to have high decay resistance. However, it is susceptible to insect attacks. Therefore, coconut wood products don’t tend to last for a very long time if used in weather-exposed conditions. When used indoors, above the ground, however, it is a different story. High-density coconut boards can last for more than a decade, providing they are dry and treated properly.

When wood is decayed, either naturally in the forest or because of damage caused by usage at home, the carbon stored in the wood is released back to the atmosphere. Therefore, long-lasting furniture can be considered a good way of keeping carbon out of the atmosphere. If the wood is reclaimed for making another piece of furniture, its positive carbon storage environmental impact is even higher.

How Sustainable Is the End-of-Life of Coconut Wood

The end-of-life stage for coconut products is sustainable when the wood is reused or burned as bioenergy. 

There are a few scenarios for wood products – flooring, furniture, and household items- at the end of their life: 

  1. They can end up in landfills and don’t decompose. In this case, it keeps its role as carbon storage.
  2. Wood products can also be upcycled and reused, extending their role as carbon storage and reducing the fossil CO2 emitted as much as four times when comparing, for example, a recovered hardwood flooring with a new one. New wood products often travel much further to their markets, compared with recovered wood products. The latter is typically made in urban centers and sold locally, which lowers the transportation environmental burdens.
  3. In another end-of-life scenario, products like a coconut wood window frame can be burned for biomass energy displacing coal or natural gas in generating electricity

With smaller household items, like a bowl or a chopping board, the offset won’t be as high as there is much less waste for burning. However, if such products are made from manufacturing wood waste as by-products, their carbon footprint is minimal. 

How Can You Buy Coconut Wood More Sustainably

The key to sustainably buying any wood is to check on relevant environmental and original certifications. Reliable certifications for sustainable woods are: 

An FSC certification ensures that the coconut wood comes from responsibly managed forests that provide environmental, social, and economic benefits.

PEFC’s approaches to sustainable forest management align with protecting the forests globally and locally and making the certificate work for everyone. Getting a PEFC certification is strict enough to ensure the sustainable management of a forest is socially just, ecologically sound, and economically viable but attainable not only by big but small forest owners. 

Why Is It Important to Buy More Sustainable Wood

Buying sustainable wood also means helping to prevent illegal or unsustainable logging, which harms the forests’ biosystems and accelerates climate change. 

Logging of forestry products from plantations accounts for 26% of forest loss. Cutting down trees for wood has a lesser impact on carbon storage than digging up the whole forest floor and turning it into farms or mines. However, if logging is not sustainably managed, it can badly damage wildlife.

When logging happens in tropical forests – the bio hotspots of our planet – the biodiversity loss can be much more damaging. Subtropical and tropical forests are packed with unique wildlife – endemic mammals, birds, and amphibians. The displacement of such wildlife during poorly managed logging would be a major contributor to global biodiversity loss. 

Sustainable management of forests also means that trees are cut down for timber only when they are mature. These trees will then be able to regrow and eventually replace the loss of canopy, absorb carbon from the atmosphere and reduce the effect of climate change. 

Illustration of drivers of tropical forest degradation
Our World in Data: Drivers of tropical forest degradation

Final Thoughts

You can buy sustainable furniture made from coconut wood as long as the material comes from verified sources that follow sustainable management practices. Opt for the wood that travels the shortest distance using the greenest mode of transportation. And, to make it even more sustainable, use any coconut furniture for as long as you can, upcycle the material to extend its usage, and arrange for it to be recycled fully.

Stay impactful,



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Quynh Nguyen

Quynh loves to research and write about how we can live more sustainably. Before joining Impactful Ninja, she managed communications at the social enterprise Fargreen. And when she's not writing, she likes to run in the woods, dig in the garden, or knit the next jumper.

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