10 Most Sustainable Types of Wood? A Life-Cycle Analysis

10 Most Sustainable Types of Wood? A Life-Cycle Analysis

By
Quynh Nguyen

Read Time:21 Minutes

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Wood is generally a sustainable material, largely thanks to carbon uptake by timber trees. Besides, wood is renewable, though renewal rates vary among plant species. The environmental impacts of using wood also depend on transportation and forest management. So, we have to ask: Which types of wood are the most sustainable?

The 10 most sustainable woods come from Douglas fir, slash pine, Sitka spruce, bald cypress, eastern red cedar, Nootka cypress, western red cedar, black cherry, tulipwood, and basswood. As these timber trees grow tall and often quickly, they sequester carbon, mitigating the climate crisis. 

In this article, we will walk you through the life-cycle of the 10 most sustainable types of wood. Then, we will evaluate their sustainability, potential, and shortfalls. And in the end, we’ll show you tips for buying sustainable wood.

Here’s How We Assessed the Sustainability of All Types of Wood

In general, wood is a sustainable material because of timber trees’ carbon sequestration potential and the carbon offset value at the end of the wood product’s life-cycle. 

“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

However, the sustainability of harvesting wood from trees varies. One way to assess the sustainability of timber used in various applications is to go through their life-cycles and evaluate each stage’s sustainability. This life-cycle assessment (LCA) is a method to assess the environmental impacts of products and materials. Over the years, companies have strategically used LCA to research and create more sustainable products. So, let’s look at the LCA of the 10 most sustainable types of wood.

In this article, we’ll use the cradle-to-grave perspective of the LCA, examining the five stages of each wood’s life-cycle. Where it is relevant, we also use data from cradle-to-gate assessments

These five stages of the life-cycle of wood are as follows:

  1. Growing the trees for timber
  2. Timber production 
  3. Timber transportation 
  4. Usage of wood
  5. End-of-life of wood 

The life-cycle assessment typically covers some or all of the following environmental impacts:

  • Global warming potential 
  • Primary energy demand from resources 
  • Acidification potential
  • Freshwater eutrophication potential 
  • Marine eutrophication potential 
  • Photochemical ozone creation potential 
  • Resource depletion

The global warming potential impact reflects the risk of accelerating climate change through the emissions of greenhouse gases. It focuses on CO2 and other greenhouse gasses (CH4, nitrous oxide, and chlorofluorocarbons) released throughout a product’s life-cycle. This impact is measured in kg of CO2 equivalent emitted per unit of a product—the carbon footprint

“Carbon footprint: the amount of greenhouse gases and specifically carbon dioxide emitted by something (such as a person’s activities or a product’s manufacture and transport) during a given period”

Merriam Webster

Deciding factors for a high or low carbon footprint in wood are: 

  • drying requirements of wooden planks
  • distribution of timber trees 

Because of the tree’s carbon sequestration potential, the carbon emitted during various stages in the life-cycle of wood can be compensated by the carbon captured and stored. The deciding factors for high or low carbon storage in wood are:

  • tree sizes, 
  • tree growth rate, and
  • natural durability. 

Specifically, we’ll zoom into species’ growth rate, tree size, distribution, woodworking properties, and natural durability, as these are the deciding reasons behind the carbon balance of wood. 

These Are the 10 Most Sustainable Types of Wood

These woods are relatively strong and naturally durable. Thanks to their large populations in the US, they can be harvested sustainably and transported to end users at relatively low carbon emissions, compared to, for example, tropical hardwoods. Most importantly, the plain-sawn lumber form of these woods has an environmentally favorable carbon balance (meaning more carbon uptake than carbon emission). 

Type of woodOverall sustainability
Douglas fir woodWhat makes it so sustainable: Douglas fir trees are abundant in North America (~20% of all softwood reserves). Also, they grow relatively fast and extremely tall, quickly replenishing any timber cut.
Additionally: Douglas fir is one of the strongest western softwood species. It also has a natural resistance to decay.
Sitka spruce wood What makes it so sustainable: Sitka spruce is highly durable thanks to an excellent strength-to-weight ratio. Also, spruce timber is highly available thanks to the large population, the quick growth, and the enormous tree size.
Additionally: Sitka spruce dries quickly, resulting in a relatively low manufacturing carbon footprint. 
Slash pine woodWhat makes it so sustainable: Slash pine and other southern yellow pines are the strongest, by quite a margin, of all US softwoods. Its exceptional strength helps it last longer as carbon storage, extending the environmental benefit from carbon uptake during forestry. 
Additionally: Slash pine has a sustainable population across the southeastern US, largely thanks to the species’ fast growing rate and adaptation to even the more challenging sites.
Bald cypress woodWhat makes it so sustainable: Bald cypress has excellent strength and decay resistance. And because of its natural durability, the wood is seldom treated with preservatives, meaning it can be fully recycled or burned for bioenergy.
Additionally: Bald cypress has a relatively low transporting carbon footprint thanks to how lightweight it is.
Eastern red cedar wood What makes it so sustainable: Eastern red cedar is a sustainable material for indoor wooden furniture because of its strength, antifungal, and antibacterial property. This tree species has a wide natural range, making it possible to source timber within a relatively short traveling distance. 
Additionally: Eastern red cedar’s lightweight quality contributes to a low transporting footprint.
Nootka cypress wood What makes it so sustainable: Nootka cypress has excellent stability, strength, and decay resistance. And because of its natural durability, the wood is seldom treated with preservatives, meaning it can be fully recycled or burned for bioenergy.
Additionally: Nootka cypress is among the strongest US softwoods, making it a durable building material. 
Western red cedar wood What makes it so sustainable: Western red cedar wood is a highly available construction lumber. It also has good rot and pest resistance. 
Additionally: Western red cedar is a lightweight and, once dried, dimensionally stable lumber, which is ideal for various types of building structures. 
Black cherry wood Carbon footprint: Back cherry wood has a carbon footprint of 301 kg CO2-eq, cradle-to-gate. That is lower than all US-native hardwoods of similar density and strength.
Additionally: Black cherry (or American cherry) wood is a very sustainable hardwood for furniture because of the durability of the timber and the fast rate at which the cut wood is replaced in the wild. 
Basswood What makes it so sustainable: Kiln-dried basswood has a carbon footprint of 330 kg CO2-eq (per cubic meter). This relatively low carbon emission is due to its lightweight and easy-to-dry nature.
Additionally: Basswood is light and requires less transporting fuel (per unit).
TulipwoodWhat makes it so sustainable: Tulip poplar or American tulipwood has a carbon footprint of (1 m3 of kiln-dried, 1-inch thick log) of 270 kg CO2-eq—the lowest in all US hardwoods available on a commercial scale. Tulipwood’s lightweight and fast-drying properties help to reduce fuel and energy consumption during harvesting, manufacturing, and transporting. 
Additionally: Tulip trees grow rapidly to a large size, replenishing any timber cut for furniture at a fast rate.

Overall, these woods are all highly sustainable. However, the actual environmental impact of using a piece of wood depends on many factors, including: 

  • the sourcing of the wood, such as the forest management practices in place 
  • the manufacturing process, especially the drying step
  • the distance and mode of transportation

Let’s dive deeper into each type of wood and the stages of its life-cycle and find out how it can be even more sustainable. 

1

Douglas Fir: Strong Material for Various Applications From Widely Distributed Softwood Species

Douglas fir wood comes from one of the tallest tree species on the North American continent. It is also one of the best carbon capture trees on the planet, sequestering 17 pounds of carbon each and every year. 

Here are the life-cycle stages of Douglas fir wood and each stage’s sustainability assessment:

  • Growing of Douglas fir wood: The high carbon sequestration potential makes growing Douglas firs for timber sustainable. This tree species (Pseudotsuga menziesii) can grow as tall as 250 feet and as big as six feet in diameter in old-growth forests. The record for Douglas fir height is 330 feet, more than double the height of a tall black walnut tree. The annual growth rate of Douglas fir is up to 2 feet, which is higher than that of most hardwood species. 
  • Manufacturing of Douglas fir wood: Douglas fir lumber can be air-dried from green to a 20% moisture content. The drying time varies significantly depending on the season and location (20 to 200 hours). Using a kiln takes about 32 hours to dry 1/8 inch-sized Douglas fir lumber from green to 15% moisture content. 
  • Transportation of Douglas fir wood: Douglas fir trees are distributed widely in the US: they populate the largest section of western states. Consequently, their transporting carbon footprint is relatively low, especially compared with imported hardwoods used for similar applications as Douglas fir, such as teak or mahogany
  • Usage of Douglas fir wood: Douglas fir is one of the strongest western softwood species. It is twice as hard per square inch as cedar and, thus, a possibly longer-lasting choice for applications like building structures or heavy-traffic floors. The longer the wooden products last, the more sustainable they are because they store carbon instead of releasing it into the atmosphere. 
  • End-of-life of Douglas fir wood: The end-of-life stage for Douglas fir is sustainable when the wood is reused or burned as bioenergy.

Douglas fir is a beautiful and long-lasting softwood. These fast-growing, towering conifers account for a fifth of North America’s total softwood reserves—a healthy and sustainably managed stock for timber harvesting. It is a particularly hard softwood with a high strength-to-weight ratio and some resistance to decay. 

2

Sitka Spruce Wood: Locally Available Timber From Fast-Growing Conifers

Sitka spruce has an excellent strength-to-weight ratio, making it a durable softwood for applications requiring strong yet light material. Plus, Sitka spruce trees grow in abundance in US forests. 

Here are the life-cycle stages of Sitka spruce wood and each stage’s sustainability assessment:

  • Growing of Sitka spruce wood: Sitka spruce (Picea sitchensis) is one of the fastest-growing tree species in North America. In ideal conditions, young trees’ height may increase by 5 feet yearly. They also grow large and tall: a Sitka tree can weigh more than 300 tons and have an impressive height of 300 feet. Their size signifies a high carbon sequestration potential as carbon accounts for nearly 50% of the dry weight of a tree. 
  • Manufacturing of Sitka spruce wood: Sitka spruce dries fairly quickly: air-drying green 1-inch lumber of Sitka spruce to a 20% moisture content takes 40 to 150 days. Fast-drying wood tends to have a lower manufacturing carbon footprint because kiln-drying is the most carbon-intensive step in lumber production.
  • Transportation of Sitka spruce wood: Thanks to the abundance of Sitka spruce in the US, the transport footprint of this softwood lumber is lower than imported hardwoods. 
  • Usage of Sitka spruce wood: Sitka spruce has an outstanding stiffness-to-weight ratio. Thus, it is a long-lasting material for construction projects like residential housing frames. 
  • End-of-life of Sitka spruce wood: The end-of-life stage of Sitka spruce is sustainable when the wood is upcycled for other projects or burned for bioenergy. 

Spruce is highly available, thanks to the large population, the quick growth, and the enormous tree size. The excellent strength-to-weight ratio of Sitka spruce is behind its durability. This timber can last many years in various applications from construction to musical instruments, maintaining its carbon storage role. Also, Sitka spruce dries quickly, resulting in a relatively low manufacturing carbon footprint. 

3

Slash Pine Wood: Exceptionally Strong Material From Fast-Growing Conifers 

Slash pine (a type of southern yellow pine) is considered one of the most sustainable woods because its exceptional strength keeps it lasting longer as carbon storage, extending the environmental benefit from carbon uptake during forestry. Slash pine’s fast growth rate and abundance also set it apart, in terms of sustainability, from other southern yellow pines like shortleaf species (requiring long rotations) or longleaf species (an endangered species). Loblolly pine is comparable to slash pine but slightly less hard. 

Here are the life-cycle stages of slash pine wood and each stage’s sustainability assessment:

  • Transportation of slash pine wood: Slash pine trees of the two varieties, standard and south, grow within a large range across the south and the east of the US. Consequently, the transporting footprint of slash pine is relatively small, especially within the region. The standard slash pine subspecies can be found as far north as Virginia and as west as Texas, while the south slash pine subspecies grow from center to south Florida.
  • Usage of slash pine wood: Slash pine is a durable timber material because, like all other southern yellow pine, it is hard, dense, and possesses an excellent strength-to-weight ratio. Slash pine is even harder than some hardwoods like basswood or cottonwood. Because of its strength, slash pine can be used in building applications such as beams, poles, and frames that bear a lot of weight. While slash pine lumber holds, it keeps its carbon storage role (instead of releasing carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, further warming our planet). 
  • End-of-life of slash pine wood: Because of slash pine’s strength, it can be used in its natural form in household and construction projects. Natural pine wood can be disposed of sustainably in biomass or upcycling projects. 

Slash pine and other southern yellow pines are the strongest, by quite a margin, of all US softwoods. These woods can take more bending and compression than all other softwoods, plus some hardwoods, from the US forests. Like other southern yellow pines, slash pine wood makes long-lasting material, especially in heavy construction. Thus, it stores carbon for a long time (instead of releasing carbon dioxide back into the atmosphere). Slash pine trees also grow and replenish the timber quickly, making it possible to harvest the wood without harming the forest. 

4

Bald Cypress Wood: Durable Material From Adaptive Native Species

Bald cypress is a unique coniferous species that loses its needles during the winter (hence the name “bald”). These trees can thrive in wet, swampy areas throughout southeastern states. 

Here are the life-cycle stages of bald cypress wood and each stage’s sustainability assessment:

  • Manufacturing of bald cypress wood: Bald cypress is a slow-drying softwood, partly due to the high moisture content of this swamp species. (The air-drying time from green to 20% moisture content is about 100 to 300 hours.) It signifies a high manufacturing footprint because kiln-drying is the most carbon-intensive step in lumber production. 
  • Transportation of bald cypress wood: Because bald cypress timber is light and locally available throughout the US, its transportation footprint is lower than heavy imported woods. 

Bald cypress lumber from old-growth trees can last a few decades outside. Even cypress lumber from younger trees has a lifespan of around 20 years outdoors. 

Using long-lasting wood is sustainable because it means storing carbon in the wood for an extended amount of time. 

  • End-of-life of cypress wood: Because of its natural durability, the wood is seldom treated with preservatives, even for exterior usage. Thus, bald cypress lumber can be fully recycled or burned for bioenergy. Both scenarios are sustainable. 

Bald cypress is a sustainable wood because it is light yet strong and has excellent resistance against elements (insects and rot). It is also locally available lumber, meaning that sourcing and transporting bald cypress have relatively low carbon footprints. 

5

Eastern Red Cedar Wood: Light Yet Strong Softwood From Widely Distributed Conifers 

Eastern red cedar is one of the most common timbers sold under the cedar label, though it is more closely related to junipers. The trees are smaller than western red cedar (or the giant arborvitae), but the wood is much harder. Eastern red cedar has a Janka score of 900, though its western counterpart only has a Janka score of 350. 

Here are the life-cycle stages of eastern red cedar wood and each stage’s sustainability assessment:

  • Growing of eastern cedar wood: As eastern red cedar (Juniperus virginiana) trees grow, they sequester carbon and help to mitigate the climate crisis. They act as a carbon sink during their long lifespan (up to 900 years). Meanwhile, eastern red cedar has a medium growth rate: the annual height increase averages 1 to 2 feet.
  • Manufacturing of eastern red cedar wood: Eastern red cedar is dimensionally stable; thus, less energy is wasted on shrinkage, checking, and warping during kiln-drying. 
  • Transportation of eastern red cedar wood: Eastern red cedar is the most widely distributed conifer of tree size in the eastern US. Its wide native range means the timber can be sourced and transported locally or within shorter distances. Also, eastern red cedar is a lightweight timber, making it more energy-efficient to transport from forest to home. Consequently, transporting carbon footprint per unit for eastern red cedar is relatively small. 
  • Usage of eastern red cedar wood: Eastern red cedar is often used for wardrobes and dressers because it contains a natural antifungal and antibacterial agent that can protect clothing. It is also a hard softwood, much more than its western counterpart, helping it last longer in homes and maintain the carbon storage role. 
  • End-of-life of eastern red cedar wood: The end-of-life stage of an eastern red cedar product is sustainable because the wood can be fully reused or burned as bioenergy. 

Eastern red cedar is a sustainable material because its strength, antifungal, and antibacterial properties make it generally durable in home environments. This tree species has a wide natural range, making it possible to source timber within a relatively short traveling distance. Its lightweight quality also contributes to a lower transporting footprint.

6

Nootka Cypress Wood: Strong and Decay-Resistant Softwood 

Nootka cypress wood comes from medium-sized, long-lived conifers native to the west coast of North America. This Cupressus nootkatensis species belongs to the cypress family but is also commonly called a cedar, as in Alaska yellow cedar or yellow cedar. 

Here are the life-cycle stages of Nootka cypress wood and each stage’s sustainability assessment:

  • Growing of Nootka cypress wood: As Nootka cypress (Cupressus nootkatensis) trees grow, they absorb CO2 from the atmosphere while releasing oxygen. They act as a carbon sink during their long lifespan. Nootka cypress can live as long as 3,500 years

As a carbon sink, Nootka cypress trees pull greenhouse gasses out of the atmosphere, helping to mitigate the climate crisis. Trees store as much carbon as 50% of their dry weights. Thus, a tree stores more carbon as it grows taller and bigger. Nootka cypress trees can reach 120 feet in height. 

  • Transportation of Nootka cypress wood: Along the west coast of the US, it’s possible to source Nootka cypress wood at a relatively short distance, lowering the transportation footprint. 
  • End-of-life of Nootka cypress wood: Because of its natural durability, the wood is seldom treated with preservatives, even when in contact with the ground. Thus, Nootka cypress wood products can be fully recycled or burned for bioenergy. Both scenarios are sustainable. 

Nootka cypress is a sustainable wood because of its excellent stability, strength, and decay resistance. Products made with this material can last for a long time, keeping the role of carbon storage. 

7

Western Red Cedar Wood: Light Wood With Low Transporting Carbon Footprint 

Western red cedar is timber from the tall and big conifers that grow in abundance in the US—the giant arborvitae. This timber is highly available. Its natural properties make it a long-lasting material for applications like the floors in your home. Western red cedar is more durable than many US softwoods and hardwoods. 

Here are the life-cycle stages of western red cedar wood and each stage’s sustainability assessment:

  • Growing of western red cedar wood: Western red cedar (Thuja plicata) trees have a high carbon sequestration potential, thanks to their large sizes (200 feet in height and 4 feet in diameter) and their long lifespan (over 1,000 years). In North America, western red cedar trees are abundant and sustainably managed. Thus, timber harvesting doesn’t harm the forests.
  • Manufacturing of western red cedar wood: Western red cedar is dimensionally stable; thus, less energy is wasted on shrinkage, checking, and warping during kiln-drying. 
  • Usage of western red cedar wood: Western red cedar is relatively soft and prone to denting. However, it can be used for applications that don’t bear much weight or pressure and, thus, it lasts longer.
  • End-of-life of western red cedar wood: The end-of-life stage of western red cedar is sustainable because the wood can be fully reused or burned as bioenergy. 

Western red cedar trees have a high carbon sequestration potential. Therefore, western red cedar wood can have a negative carbon balance, as greenhouse gas emissions during production are smaller than carbon dioxide sequestered during forestry. For example, the net carbon balance of 100 square feet of no-stain western red cedar outdoor flooring is -13.39 kg CO2-eq (cradle-to-grave). Also, cedar timber has a relatively low transporting carbon footprint because it is light and available locally within the US. 

8

Black Cherry Wood: Durable Hardwood From Fast-Growing Trees 

Black cherry wood has a carbon footprint of 301 kg CO2-eq, cradle-to-gate. That is lower than all US-native hardwoods of similar density and strength.

Here are the life-cycle stages of black cherry wood and each stage’s sustainability assessment:

  • Growing of black cherry wood: Black cherry (Prunus serotina) trees grow at fast rates of 2 to 4 feet per year. They act as a carbon sink during their long lifespan, helping to mitigate the climate crisis. 
  • Manufacturing of black cherry wood: Kiln drying 1-inch-thick black cherry lumber takes up to 120 hours and has a relatively low carbon footprint of 42.7 kg CO2-eq. Manufacturing carbon emission of black cherry is similar to willow wood and smaller than many other dense hardwoods like hard maple, hickory, red oak, and white oak
  • Transportation of black cherry wood: Black cherry grows abundantly in the wild throughout the US, resulting in a lower transporting carbon footprint. Thus, it is a sustainable alternative to imported tropical woods like mahogany or teak.
  • Usage of black cherry wood: Black cherry wood is long-lasting carbon storage because black cherry, especially its heartwood, is very durable and resistant to decay. Regarding usage, it is a very sustainable option, more so than hardwoods like maple.
  • End-of-life of black cherry wood: The end-of-life stage for black cherry is sustainable when the wood is reused or burned as bioenergy.

Black cherry (or American cherry) wood is a very sustainable hardwood because of the durability of the timber and the fast rate at which the cut wood is replaced in the wild. 

9

Basswood: Light and Easy to Dry Timber From Sustainably Managed Forests 

The harvest of basswood is equal to or lower than growth, which is a telltale sign of this wood’s sustainability. This timber is a popular wood choice for applications like musical instruments. 

Here are the life-cycle stages of basswood and each stage’s sustainability assessment:

  • Growing of basswood: Basswood (Tilia americana) trees grow at medium to rapid rates, averaging 2 feet per year. They have high carbon sequestration potential as they grow large and tall (120 feet in height and 4 feet in diameter). 
  • Manufacturing of basswood: Basswood is a fast-drying hardwood. This property contributes to a low drying carbon footprint (38.5 kg CO2-eq for one cubic meter). It is also a soft hardwood, softer than softwood species like southern yellow pine. Thus, it is easy to work with, requiring less energy for machinery. 
  • Transportation of basswood: Basswood is lightweight and thus, has a transporting carbon footprint among the lowest of all American hardwoods
  • Usage of basswood: Because basswood is relatively soft, it might dent easily. Still, it can last for many years as carbon storage, provided it has proper care. 
  • End-of-life of basswood: The end-of-life stage for basswood is sustainable when the wood is reused or burned as bioenergy. 

Kiln-dried basswood has a carbon footprint of 330 kg CO2-eq (per cubic meter). This relatively low carbon emission is due to its lightweight and easy-to-dry nature. Most importantly, basswood is highly sustainable because of these trees’ carbon sequestration potential.

10

Tulipwood: Highly Sustainable Timber From One of the Tallest US Hardwood Trees

The tulip or yellow poplar trees are the tallest hardwood trees in North America. The timber is used widely in various applications, especially American tulipwood, which is another popular choice for applications like musical instruments. 

Here are the life-cycle stages of American tulipwood and each stage’s sustainability assessment:

  • Growing of American tulipwood: Tulip trees (Liriodendron tulipifera) grow to a large size in a short time, sequestering carbon and helping to mitigate the climate crisis. Because of the abundance of these very tall hardwood trees in the US forests, it only takes 1.82 seconds to grow 1m3 of American tulipwood
  • Manufacturing of American tulipwood: The carbon footprint of drying tulipwood (one cubic meter, 1-inch thickness) is 25.6 kg CO2-eq, lower than all commonly traded US hardwoods. This is due to this timber’s rapid drying speed
  • Transportation of American tulipwood: Tulipwood is lightweight and thus, less fuel-consuming during transportation. It has the lowest transporting carbon footprint of commercial US hardwoods
  • Usage of American tulipwood: Tulipwood is moderately durable. It is dimensionally stable once adequately dried and can last up to a decade.
  • End-of-life of American tulipwood: Tulipwood can be upcycled to lengthen the carbon storage role or burned for biomass energy, displacing coal or natural gas in generating electricity. 

The carbon footprint of tulip poplar or American tulipwood (1 m3 of kiln-dried, 1-inch thick log) is 270 kg CO2-eq—the lowest in all US hardwoods available on a commercial scale. Tulipwood’s lightweight and fast-drying properties help to reduce fuel and energy consumption during harvesting, manufacturing, and transporting. Also, tulip trees grow rapidly to a large size, replenishing any timber cut for guitar bodies at a fast rate.

How Can You Buy More Sustainable Wood

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 ash 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

Improperly managed logging (including illegal activities) can cause many problems for forest equality and diversity. One example is when loggers only cut down the biggest and tallest trees. That pattern can cause a reduction in the genetic diversity and quality of the trees within the stand, leading to gradual degradation of tree quality. 

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 biodiverse forests in tropical climates is more significant (and sometimes less properly recorded) than in temperate, well-managed logging forests. 

Our World in Data: Decadal losses in global forest over the last three centuries

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

The ten most sustainable types of wood are as follows: 

  1. Douglas fir
  2. Slash pine
  3. Sitka spruce
  4. Bald cypress
  5. Eastern red cedar 
  6. Nootka cypress 
  7. Western red cedar
  8. Black cherry 
  9. Tulipwood
  10. Basswood

These woods are sustainable because they renew fast and spread widely across the US. Their timber is generally durable, lasting long without needing replacement. 

To make it even more sustainable to use these woods, follow these steps:

  • buy reclaimed wood if the option is available,
  • keep the wooden products for as long as possible, and
  • at the end-of-life of a wooden product, upcycle the wood to extend its usage and arrange for it to be recycled or properly disposed of.

Stay impactful,



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