How Sustainable Is Eucalyptus Wood? Here Are the Facts

How Sustainable Is Eucalyptus Wood? Here Are the Facts

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Quynh Nguyen

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Eucalyptus trees can regrow easily (and rapidly) from the stumps left behind after lumber logging. It means any timber cut for furniture and building projects. However, there are concerns over the diversity of forest lands where the non-native invasive eucalyptus species overtake local vegetation. So we had to ask: How sustainable is it to buy products made out of eucalyptus wood?

Eucalyptus wood is sustainable thanks to the trees’ carbon sequestration. These species’ large size, fast growth, and coppice regeneration enable relatively short rotations of sustainable timber harvesting. Also, locally-grown eucalyptus has lower transporting carbon emissions than imported wood.

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

Here’s How Sustainable Eucalyptus Wood Is

Eucalyptus wood is a sustainable material because of the eucalyptus trees’ carbon sequestration potential and the carbon offset value at the end of any products made with eucalyptus wood. 

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 eucalyptus wood, we assess the life-cycle of eucalyptus furniture and household items. 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 furniture and flooring made with eucalyptus wood. 

The life-cycle stages of eucalyptus wood Each stage’s sustainability
Growing of eucalyptus wood Growing eucalyptus trees is sustainable because these species adapt and regenerate well. Most importantly, eucalyptus trees have a great carbon sequestration value. 
Manufacturing of eucalyptus wood Turning eucalyptus wood into furniture has a relatively low carbon footprint because wood waste can be recycled fully. Sawmill waste can make valuable by-products for some composite wood panels or be turned into biomass pellets to offset the carbon emissions during harvesting and processing. 
Transporting of eucalyptus wood Transporting is a relatively carbon-intensive stage in the life-cycle of eucalyptus wood furniture due to the emissions associated with operating the hauling vehicles that take timber to sawmills and factories, then furniture to stores. Providing being sold in the US, a piece of furniture made with US-grown eucalyptus lumber has a lower carbon footprint than that made with imported lumber. 
Usage of eucalyptus wood Using eucalyptus furniture can be sustainable thanks to the carbon capture during the products’ long life. 
End-of-life of eucalyptus wood The end-of-life stage for eucalyptus furniture is sustainable when the wood is reused or burned as bioenergy. 

Overall, we can say that eucalyptus wood is sustainable. However, the actual environmental impact of a particular product, like an outdoor table or fence posts, depends on more specific factors, especially the distance and mode of transportation. Let’s dive deeper into each life-cycle stage and find out how you can buy eucalyptus wood more sustainably. 

How Sustainable Is the Growing Eucalyptus Wood

Growing eucalyptus trees is sustainable because these species adapt and regenerate well. Most importantly, eucalyptus trees have a great carbon sequestration value. 

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

Eucalyptus wood comes from the many fast-growing hardwood tree species of the Eucalyptus genus. All the 600+ shrubs and tall trees in the genus are native to Australia, Tasmania, and surrounding islands. 

However, there are numerous eucalyptus plantations throughout the world’s tropical and subtropical regions. For example, Tasmanian blue gum has been introduced and naturalized in California and Hawaii since the 1850s. 

The growth rate for a eucalyptus tree depends on the growing condition (temperature, rainfall, and soil quality). Some species grow rapidly at an annual rate up to 16 feet per year, topping 100 feet before their sixth birthday

How Sustainable Does Eucalyptus Wood Grow

Eucalyptus’s sustainability lies in its carbon sequestration potential, ease of regeneration, and high adaptability. 

  • Carbon sequestration: As eucalyptus trees grow, they absorb CO2 from the atmosphere while releasing oxygen. They act as a carbon sink during their lifespan. Lifespan depends on species, but most eucalyptus trees can live longer than 200 years. 

Being a carbon sink means that eucalyptus trees take greenhouse gasses out of the atmosphere, helping to mitigate the climate crisis

Eucalyptus trees can store fair amounts of carbon thanks to their extreme height. For example, Tasmanian blue gum – the Eucalyptus globulus species – generally grows to 180 feet. There are Tasmanian blue gum trees in California as tall as 260 feet. Such impressive heights put eucalyptus trees among the tallest trees in North America (together with redwood and Douglas fir). 

Thanks to carbon sequestration, eucalyptus-based products can have a negative carbon footprint, despite all the emissions from harvesting and manufacturing the products. For example, a beverage carbon made with eucalyptus pulp has a – 2.0 g CO2-eq (cradle-to-grave). 

  • Availability: Eucalyptus timber is regularly available in the US market, thanks to the trees’ fast-growing rates, coppice regeneration, and adaptability. 
  • Adaptability: Though eucalyptus species are native to Australia, they adapt well to the climates in California and Hawaii. Thus, these trees have been naturalized in the two states since they were introduced there in the 1850s. In Hawai’i, for example, there are about 12,000 acres of planted and naturalized Tasmanian blue gum. 
  • Regeneration: Eucalyptus globulus is a fast-growing species that can sprout readily from the bole, from stumps of all sizes and ages, from the lignotuber, and from the roots. 

    In Hawaii, four 64-year-old coppice stands were studied two to five years after logging. 70% to 80% of the stumps had sprouted. Also, all stands had seedlings. Those seedlings made up more than 20 percent of the total number of stems. 
  • Land usage: Eucalyptus’ adaptability allows these tree species to grow in disturbed land where other plants can’t. Thus, they can be used to reforest areas that have been ruined by mining or unsustainable agricultural practices. 

The land used for planting Tasmanian blue gum trees can also provide several economically beneficial products: fuel, medicine, wood pulp, honey, oils, and timber. Eucalyptus wood is used both as solid virgin lumber and as input for steam-pressed scrim lumber (a type of engineered wood). 

Where Is Eucalyptus Wood Usually Grown

Eucalyptus species have been grown in plantations throughout the world’s tropical and subtropical regions. In the US, Tasmanian blue gum has long been naturalized in California and Hawaii. It is also a fairly common sight in Arizona as an ornamental tree. 

When eucalyptus forests are planted instead of native trees, it is likely to reduce the biodiversity regarding the amount of plant and animal species. Also, there might be negative impacts on surrounding areas. The reasons are the unique biochemical characteristics of these species (i.e., leaves, barks, and roots).  

Eucalyptus trees mostly grow in pure stands of one or a few different species in the genus. These trees make a unique kind of forest land because the leaves and roots of eucalyptus trees inhibit other plants from growing under them. Besides, leaves and bark are poisonous. In their native range, mammals such as koalas, wallabies, and pademelons have evolved mechanisms to deal with these toxins. Thus they can feed off these trees and live in these forests. The story differs when eucalyptus travel to other regions. 

When eucalyptus arrived in the US, the insect pests and the birds that nest in these trees didn’t go with them. Local mammals can’t eat the leaves, so they don’t live among eucalyptus stands. Native trees are also pushed out because of the chemicals emitted by the roots. 

Moreover, these forests don’t have different stories (upper-, middle-, and understories) like other types of forests. Having no middle or lower canopies (but the tall eucalyptus trees) causes soil to easily wash downslope through streams and rivers into the ocean. Eventually, this can harm coastal reefs by over-sedimentation. 

The tall eucalyptus trees undoubtedly have a great value in sequestering carbon and mitigating climate change. However, the lack of biodiversity of eucalyptus stands causes much concern when these trees are planted in monoculture plantations for harvesting timber or other products. It is, therefore, very important to source sustainable eucalyptus woods. We will point you in the right direction at the end of this article. 

In total, logging of forestry products from plantations accounts for 26% of forest loss, which is a combination of deforestation and forest degradation. However, the loss in bio-diverse forests in tropical climates is more significant (and sometimes less properly recorded) than in temperate, well-managed logging forests. 

Illustration of long-term forest loss
Our World in Data: Decadal losses in global forest over the last three centuries

How Sustainable Is the Manufacturing of Eucalyptus Wood

Turning eucalyptus wood into furniture has a relatively low carbon footprint because wood waste can be recycled fully. Sawmill waste can make valuable by-products for some composite wood panels or be turned into biomass pellets to offset the carbon emissions during harvesting and processing. 

The first step of manufacturing eucalyptus furniture 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.

Lumber from some eucalyptus species, including eucalyptus globulus, is challenging to dry. There is a high chance of excessive cracking, shrinkage, and collapsing potential. Besides, the wood has high moisture and oil content, prolonging the drying time. 

A high proportion of energy (to power sawing machines and kilns) can come from renewable sources, including solar, wind, hydroelectric, geothermal, and biomass. At least 90% of all thermal energy used for kiln drying in the US hardwood sector is derived from biomass (instead of fossil fuels). The use of renewable energy reduces the carbon footprint of this step. 

How Sustainable Is the Transportation of Eucalyptus Wood

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

Providing being sold in the US, a piece of furniture made with US-grown eucalyptus lumber has a lower carbon footprint than that made with lumber imported from South America, Southeast Asia, or Australia (eucalyptus or other tropical woods like teak, mahogany, rosewood or ipe). 

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 and opt for the more sustainable option. 

How Sustainable Is the Usage of Eucalyptus Wood

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

Eucalyptus lumber, especially from older trees (75 years and more), is rated as durable. Some eucalyptus species are comparable to teak in durability and 10-20% denser. When adequately cared for, eucalyptus furniture can last 20 to 25 years. 

When eucalyptus 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 then reclaimed for making another piece of furniture, its positive carbon storage environmental impact is even higher. 

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

The end-of-life stage for eucalyptus wood furniture and household items is sustainable when the wood is reused or burned as bioenergy. 

There are a few scenarios for wood products – 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 an eucalyptus door can be burned for biomass energy displacing coal or natural gas in generating electricity

With smaller household items, 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 Eucalyptus 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 eucalyptus wood comes from responsibly managed forests that provide environmental, social, and economic benefits.

PEFC’s approaches to sustainable forest management are in line 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 eucalyptus wood as long as the material comes from sustainably managed forests. And, to make it even more sustainable, use any eucalyptus 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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