How Sustainable Is Wenge Wood? Here Are the Facts

How Sustainable Is Wenge Wood? Here Are the Facts

By
Quynh Nguyen

Read Time:9 Minutes

Follow
this site

follow follow

Impactful Ninja is reader-supported. When you buy through links on our site, we may earn an affiliate commission. Learn more Learn more .

Affiliate Disclosure

Hey fellow impactful ninja 👋

You may have noticed that Impactful Ninja is all about providing helpful information to make a positive impact on the world and society. And that we love to link back to where we found all the information for each of our posts.

  • Most of these links are informational-based for you to check out their primary sources with one click.

  • But some of these links are so-called "affiliate links" to products that we recommend.

Why do we add these product links?

First and foremost, because we believe that they add value to you. For example, when we wrote a post about the environmental impact of long showers, we came across an EPA recommendation to use WaterSense showerheads. So we linked to where you can find them. Or, for many of our posts, we also link to our favorite books on that topic so that you can get a much more holistic overview than one single blog post could provide.

And when there is an affiliate program for these products, we sign up for it. For example, as Amazon Associates, we earn from qualifying purchases.

What do these affiliate links mean for you?
  1. First, and most importantly, we still only recommend products that we believe add value for you.

  2. When you buy something through one of our affiliate links, we may earn a small commission - but at no additional costs to you.

  3. And when you buy something through a link that is not an affiliate link, we won’t receive any commission but we’ll still be happy to have helped you.

What do these affiliate links mean for us?
  1. When we find products that we believe add value to you and the seller has an affiliate program, we sign up for it.

  2. When you buy something through one of our affiliate links, we may earn a small commission (at no extra costs to you).

  3. And at this point in time, all money is reinvested in sharing the most helpful content with you. This includes all operating costs for running this site and the content creation itself.

What does this mean for me personally?

You may have noticed by the way Impactful Ninja is operated that money is not the driving factor behind it. It is a passion project of mine and I love to share helpful information with you to make a positive impact on the world and society. However, it's a project in that I invest a lot of time and also quite some money.

Eventually, my dream is to one day turn this passion project into my full-time job and provide even more helpful information. But that's still a long time to go.

Stay impactful,

Wenge wood is beautiful and durable, making it ideal for many projects, from furniture to flooring to musical instruments. The demand for this tropical hardwood from Africa is so high that wenge tree species have been exploited for many decades. Consequently, the forests where these tree species are found have seen much wildlife displacement and biodiversity loss. So we had to ask: How sustainable is it to buy products made of wenge wood?

Wenge wood is generally a sustainable wood thanks to its carbon sequestration and storage. However, the widespread illegal logging, its adverse impact on wildlife, and long transportation distances make this tropical timber less sustainable than timber from local temperate forests.

In this article, we’ll walk you through the life-cycle of wenge 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 wenge wood. 

Here’s How Sustainable Wenge Wood Is

Because of wenge wood’s durability and unique chocolate brown color, it is the hardwood of choice for many projects, including fine furniture, parquet flooring, and musical instruments. 

However, the population of these tree species has decreased significantly in the last few decades due to exploitation, making wenge timber increasingly unsustainable. Still, it is important to note that wood is better for the environment than plastic, especially when sourced from sustainably managed forests.

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 wenge wood, we assess the life-cycle of projects like flooring or 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 wenge wood. 

The life-cycle stages of wenge wood woodEach stage’s sustainability
Growing of wenge wood woodGrowing trees for harvesting wenge wood is sustainable because of the potential for carbon sequestration, i.e., capturing and storing carbon.
Manufacturing of wenge wood woodTurning wenge wood into furniture or flooring can have a relatively low carbon footprint when wood waste is utilized to make by-products or biomass pellets to offset the carbon emissions during harvesting and processing. Significant reduction in carbon emissions can also come from using fossil-free energy. 
Transporting of wenge wood woodTransporting is a carbon-intensive stage in the life cycle of wenge wood furniture due to the emissions associated with operating the hauling vehicles that take timber to sawmills and factories, then furniture to stores. As wenge wood furniture in the US would come from Africa, transporting wenge wood products has a higher carbon footprint than furniture made with regionally available wood.
Usage of wenge wood woodUsing wenge wood furniture can be sustainable thanks to the carbon capture during the products’ long life. 
End-of-life of wenge wood woodThe end-of-life stage for wenge wood furniture is sustainable when the wood is reused or burned as bioenergy.

We’ll say that it is possible to find sustainable wenge wood for your floor or furniture. However, the actual environmental impact of a particular product 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 of Wenge Wood

Growing trees for harvesting wenge wood is sustainable because of the potential for carbon sequestration, i.e., capturing and storing carbon.

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

Wenge wood is a tropical hardwood from a tree species called Millettia laurentii and several other closely related tree types. These species have a medium growth rate. Some Millettia laurentii samples in Cameroon, for example, were recorded with an average diameter growth rate of 0.18 inches (0.45 cm) per year

How Sustainably Does Wenge Wood Grow

Wenge wood’s sustainability lies in the potential for carbon sequestration and carbon storage. 

  • Carbon sequestration: As wenge wood trees grow, they absorb CO2 from the atmosphere while releasing oxygen. They act as a carbon sink during their lifespan. This means that they are taking greenhouse gases out of the atmosphere, helping to mitigate the climate crisis. And they can store a lot as they grow big and tall, reaching 90 feet in height and 4 feet in diameter

The main problem that raises alarms about the sustainability of harvesting wenge wood is the population reduction of these tree species.  

  • Reduced population: The high demand for wenge wood drives unsustainable and illegal logging practices in Central Africa. The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) put wenge tree species on its red list, labeling them as endangered because their population has reduced more than 50% in the past three generations. The reasons for the drastic reduction are a decline in the species natural range and exploitation (i.e., illegal logging, unsustainable logging, and fraud activities) 

Where Is Wenge Wood Usually Grown

Wenge wood trees grow natively in Central Africa, spreading across Cameroon, Angola, and the Democratic Republic of Congo. These tree species can be found in evergreen and semi-deciduous forests, tree savannah, and in open forests of Marantaceae.

Harvesting wenge wood from natural forests can result in biodiversity loss. One example is when loggers only cut down the biggest and tallest trees. That pattern would cause a reduction in the genetic diversity and quality of the trees within the stand, leading to gradual degradation of tree quality. Cutting down wenge wood trees also disrupts the forests’ wild animals, which depend on the forest for food and shelter. 

Because some wenge wood trees grow in rainforests, home to a wide range of animal and plant species, such biodiversity loss has a very high ecological cost

Illegal logging and unsustainable logging of wenge wood are rampant in native forests where wenge tree species grow. From Cameroon to the Democratic Republic of Congo, wenge trees are cut down in protected areas without permission and exported using fraud documentation.

The only way for consumers to tackle problems caused by illegal logging is to source sustainable woods. We will point you in the right direction with wenge wood at the end of this article. 

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

Turning wenge wood into furniture or flooring can have a relatively low carbon footprint when wood waste is utilized to make by-products or biomass pellets to offset the carbon emissions during harvesting and processing. Significant reduction in carbon emissions can also come from using fossil-free energy. 

The first step of manufacturing wenge wood furniture involves cutting down trees and turning them into lumber in a sawmill. Sawing is an electricity-consuming step. 

The next step is to dry lumber and turn 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. Wenge wood dries slowly, and often a kiln is needed. 

If fossil fuel is used to operate a kiln, it adds to the total carbon emissions. However, burning wood waste (biomass) generates energy that could replace fossil fuels. Luckily, at least 90% of all thermal energy used for kiln drying in the US hardwood sector comes from biomass (instead of fossil fuels). 

How Sustainable Is the Transportation of Wenge Wood

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

As wenge wood furniture in the US would come from Africa, transporting wenge wood products has a higher carbon footprint than furniture made with regionally available wood, like maple or pine.

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 Wenge Wood

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

Wenge wood is extremely durable, thanks to its natural oils and structure. It is also naturally resistant to abrasion, rot, and termite attack. Furniture and flooring made of wenge wood can last for decades when being dried and cared for properly. 

When wenge 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 Wenge Wood

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

There are a few scenarios for wood products – furniture and flooring at the end of their life. 

They can end up in landfills and don’t decompose. In this case, they’d keep their role as carbon storage. 

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. 

In another end-of-life scenario, products like a wenge wood table can be burned for biomass energy displacing coal or natural gas in generating electricity.  

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

How Can You Buy Wenge 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 wenge 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 and flooring made with wenge wood as long as the material comes from sustainably managed forests. However, because wenge wood comes a long way from Africa, you should check the means of transportation and their sustainability factors. And, as a rule to most consumer products, use any wenge wood furniture for as long as you can, upcycle the material to extend its usage, and arrange for it to be recycled fully.

Stay impactful,



Sources

Did you know that the internet is a huge polluter of the environment? But fortunately not this site. This site is powered by renewable energy and all hosting-related CO2 emissions are offset by three times as many renewable energy certificates. Find out all about it here.

Three Related Posts

One Unrelated Post