Wood is one of the “greenest” building  materials available to us today! It is a renewable resource that is strong, long-lasting and has a myriad of applications. Even better, while trees are growing they absorb carbon from the atmosphere and store it. At the end of the “first life” of a wood product,  it can often be recycled two, three or more times and, sometimes, even composted. Where wood becomes unsustainable is when it is harvested through destructive logging practices that contribute to habitat destruction, water pollution, displacement of indigenous peoples, and violence against forest workers and wildlife.

Q: How can we as consumers tell if we are supporting responsible forestry practices or not?
A: Through the FSC!

The international Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) is a non-governmental and non-profit organization that works to combat destructive practices by encouraging responsible forest management. FSC has offices in 145 countries, and 384 million acres of certified forest around the globe. The FSC Logo can be found on all kinds of different products from paper to decking – if you see the logo it means that the wood in that product is from an FSC certified supplier.

When a forest is FSC certified you can be sure that it is a forest that is managed for ecological health, sustainable harvest levels, and social responsibility. Ecological health includes protecting the wildlife, water, air and soil. Sustainable harvest levels are ensured by never cutting more than what will grow back.  Social responsibility is attended to  through rules surrounding indigenous rights, labor rights, and multiple benefits. Indeed, FSC has developed a set of 10 Principles and 57 Criteria that all FSC certified companies must follow. As a third party certifier, the organization carries out regular audits of certified companies’ practices to ensure that they maintain FSC standards.

Here’s a cool infographic that illustrates the important role that FSC plays in the global supply of wood for building materials (and other purposes):

Friday, September 28th, we celebrated International FSC Friday. Learn more about the FSC at www.fscus.org.

 

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Deforestation is a major environmental issue – but not only in the tropical rainforests of the world.  Throughout North America, many forests have been degraded and permanently damaged from clear-cut harvesting techniques.  Clear-cutting has a variety of significant negative impacts on local ecosystems wherever it occurs: it leads to the loss of habitat for wildlife species; a loss of jobs and other economic activity once the forest is cleared; a greater possibility of invasive species and other unwanted flora establishing itself on the clearcut site; a decrease in property values; and a decrease in available outdoor recreation opportunities.

Clearcutting can also result in massive soil erosion.  A study conducted at the University of Oregon found that clear cut areas often suffer three times as much erosion due to slides than areas that were never clear cut; and when logging roads are included in these calculations, slide activity is five times greater relative to nearby forested areas. [Click here for the report].  Moreover, a study from Southern University Carbondale in Illinois found that even after 30 years of recovery of a clear cut oak forest, natural occurrence of native oak trees was dramatically reduced and the presence of other species was greatly increased.  Clear cutting didn’t only result in the loss of forest habitat and ecosystem in 1973, when that forest was first harvested – the clear cutting resulted in a permanent (and, arguably, unnatural) alteration to the area’s forest ecosystem. [Click here for the report].

Enter the Healthy Forests, Healthy Communities (HFHC) partnership located in Portland, Oregon.  HFHC is an innovative and collaborative project founded by Sustainable Northwest, an NGO dedicated to building partnerships that promote environmentally-sound economic development in Northwest American communities.

The HFHC Partnership is a network of people, organizations, and small businesses working together to accomplish a common vision: to build awareness of, and demand for, regionally and responsibly-produced wood products that are created in rural communities.  According to their website, the network not only raises that awareness, but “enhances rural capacity to produce and market goods that benefit both entrepreneurs and forest ecosystems.”  The idea is that through creating a sustainable wood economy, we can build a rural Northwestern economy that doesn’t rely on the destruction of forest ecosystems to give people a stable livelihood.

Sustainable Northwest not only supports the enlargement of this network, but also runs a for-profit subsidiary which promotes and distributes HFHC member products into the marketplace. Sustainable Northwest Wood connects small wood mills to green building markets to help promote not only sustainable forestry, but to promote green building and construction as well.  In this manner, HFHC also functions as a marketing service which helps promote healthy forests, and sustainable local economies.

And to back up their claims of sustainability, HFHC relies on the international standard of sustainable forest management: Forest Stewardship Council certification.  HFHC maintains a group certificate for FSC Chain of Custody, tracking wood products from the forest to the consumer.  According to the HFHC, 25 businesses participate in the group chain of custody.

GREEN DEPOT SOLUTIONS

Members of the Health Forests, Healthy Communities partnership have all of their wood products certified under FSC guidelines, and all of the lumber products that we carry at Green Depot are likewise FSC-approved.  Lumber products with a Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) seal are sourced from forests that are managed responsibly and sustainably.  The FSC vets forest managers and lumber production companies to ensure that their methods are sustainable before going to market.  Certification criteria require that logging methods preserve biodiversity, reduce environmental impacts, maintain the rights of indigenous communities and forestry workers, include a long-term forest management plan, comply with laws and international treaties, and that logging practices do not destroy forests, protect the habitats of endangered wildlife, and that profits from commercial forest endeavors are shared equitably with forest communities.  The FSC is non-governmental, non-for-profit, and all lumber producers participate in the program voluntarily.

Green Depot carries FSC-Certified wood, and can provide Chain of Custody (CoC) documentation, ensuring total tracking of the supply chain from forest to mill to processor, distributor, or treater; and finally, to delivery at our warehouses or jobsite.

In particular, check out one of the HFHC products we carry: Butcher Block Countertops, or Madrona flooring!

For green building materials, like eco insulation, as well as many other green products for a sustainable lifestyle, visit http://www.greendepot.com.

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credit: unep.org/wed

Mark your calendars for this Sunday, June 5 – because it’s World Environment Day!

According to the official website for the holiday, World Environment Day is a program of the United Nations Environment Program (the UNEP) created and designated as June 5 in 1973 by the UN General Assembly.  World Environment Day is similar to the American analogue, Earth Day, in that it serves as an annual reminder to keep the environment in mind, and allows civic groups to use the date as a to enhance political action around the environment.

The day has a special historical significance because it marks the first UN Conference on the Human Environment, which is one of the earliest major political events concerning environmentalism, and at the time served as a galvanizing event in the history of the movement.

This year to commemorate the holiday, I’ll be making great use of the beautiful out-of-doors as I travel to Assateague Island National Seashore for a camping and kayaking trip.  While on Earth Day many of us use the holiday as an event for political or community action – for staging rallies or events, or planting trees or doing roadside cleanup – I’m practicing my environmentalism in another way – by getting out into nature and appreciating the pure beauty of it.  And we at Green Depot hope you do, too!

For green building materials, like eco insulation, as well as many other green products for a sustainable lifestyle, visit http://www.greendepot.com.

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credit: flickr user kristine paulus

People always seem to come together through agriculture.  This makes a lot of sense – the advent of agriculture many thousands of years ago gave rise to sedentary communities that were once nomadic and centered around hunting and gathering.  People congregate where there is a project – like farming – to be undertaken together, as a group.

Growing up on a farm, our small town was a tiny slice of rural culture where folks would assemble at the weekend farmers’ market, at the feed store or the agricultural co-op, or at the annual county agricultural fair.

That little slice of agricultural community is something that I’ve sorely missed in New York.  But that doesn’t mean that people aren’t congregating, on a smaller scale, all around the city!

A few months ago, I came across a charming, and moving, story in the New York Times: Chicken Vanishes, Heartbreak Ensues.”  You might have already read it, but it’s a really lovely story of how a community can form around agricultural practice – even if the people in that community didn’t know how much they were coming together while they were doing so!

In the neighborhood of Bed-Stuy, a family was keeping a family of chickens in the front yard of their home, facing the sidewalk.  Having chickens in the front yard caught the attention of the community’s residents, and the author talks to the ability of the chickens to bring folks together: “The admirers came in droves… In a neighborhood fraught with the tensions of gentrification, making people talk to one another, and talk about something other than themselves, is not an insignificant accomplishment. What I’m saying is that these chickens are important in ways that chickens aren’t usually important.  They are Bed-Stuy’s very own peace doves.”

The story goes on to talk about how their prize hen, Getrude, was stolen one night and the tremendous uproar this caused in the community – folks talked about where the chicken might have gone, offered help in finding the thief to the owners, left signs and banners of support on the fence of their property.  Eventually the chicken was returned by a very guilty young man who admitted to stealing the chicken in a drunken dare.  And, wonderfully, the return of the chicken caused a great positive reaction throughout the neighborhood.

Chickens, bringing people together like that, and in a place like New York City – who would have thought?

Chicken keeping in the city is a growing hobby.  The Huffington Post noted a growing trend of chicken keeping in NYC as far back as 2009.  Indeed, for the aspiring chicken-keeper, Just Food, our own local urban agriculture advocacy organization, runs the City Chicken Project.

courtesy justfood.org and the city chicken project

Funded entirely by member donations, the City Chicken Project offers several resources for city gardeners and farmers who raise chickens.  They publish the City Chicken Guide, run chicken workshops, and have a Just Food City Chicken Meetup in NYC which brings together chicken hobbyists from disparate backgrounds.

And what’s again remarkable about urban chickens are the organizations it brought together – Just Food, the Cornell Cooperative Extension, Added Value, and Heifer International.

Urban chickens get people excited!  It’s a strange animal to cause such allure, but it certainly adds a lot of vibrancy to city life.  And, considering the impacts that the industrial chicken and egg industries have on the environment, urban chickens certainly help improve our sustainability here in the city, as well.

For green building materials, like eco insulation, as well as many other green products for a sustainable lifestyle, visit http://www.greendepot.com.

 

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Check the back of nearly any conventional cleaning product, and you are confronted with an entire paragraph of confusing words for unknown chemicals – sometimes, hundreds of them.  It would take a huge amount of research to know which of those chemicals could be harmful to you, your family, or the environment.

Using conventional cleaning products in small amounts, and in well-ventilated areas, likely won’t cause any harm to the individual.  However, when we clean our homes we typically use a whole range of products for specific purposes – glass cleaners, countertop cleaners, floor cleaners, shower cleaners… the list goes on.  The more chemicals we use in our homes, the more exposure we receive to them, and that can add up over time, week in and week out.

Many conventional cleaners contain volatile organic compounds, or VOCs.  We’ve written before about VOCs in paint.  VOCs are the source of the headache-inducing chemical smell that is produced when using a cleaner at home.  These chemical compounds are used to cheaply improve the performance of a product, but can have serious consequences for human health – they have been linked to neurological disorders and kidney failure in laboratory animals, just to name a few consequences.  VOCs linger in the residue of cleaning products, even when they’re not visible – they continued to be inhaled even after cleaning is finished.  As Grist reports, home air fresheners contain significant amounts of VOCs and have been linked to a 25% increase in headaches and 19% more occurrences of depression in homes where they are used, versus homes where they are not.

Even smaller amounts of cleaner can have detrimental effects on the environment.  Dishwashing detergents often contain phosphates, which soften water and are a cheap way to make dish detergents more effective.   But the environmental cost is substantial.  When phosphates enter the watershed they enrich the water with nutrients that algae feed on, producing huge “blooms” of algae that consume all oxygen in the surrounding water.  Water that is depleted of oxygen – or that is hypoxic – is uninhabitable by most marine life.  The consequence is huge “dead zones” where there is no sea life, apart from algal blooms.  One of the largest and most infamous dead zone is in the Gulf of Mexico, which is fed by nitrogen and phosphorus runoff from the Mississippi River.  While that dead zone is fed largely by agricultural runoff, home fertilizers – and home cleaners – also contribute.

this graphic, from the new york times, depicts the hypoxic zone in the gulf of mexico -- a phenomenon produced, in part, by the runoff of phosphates, often found in conventional cleaners

There are more environmental consequences than hypoxia: conventional cleaners use chemicals that can disrupt the endocrine systems of marine life; some chemicals can affect the alkalinity of water, harming marine organisms; and others contain chemical compounds such as DDBSA that are corrosive to metal and organic tissue, including human tissue.  If cleaning chemicals can produce these harmful effects on marine life, are they products that the consumer wants in their home – that not only release the chemicals into the home environment when they are use (and inhaled!), but linger and offgas for indeterminate amounts of time?

For the sake of personal health and the environment, then, it becomes imperative to use green cleaning products, and other green products that are free of the kinds of pollutants and toxins which poison our bodies and land.

Fortunately, numerous alternatives are available.  Some are more effective – both in terms of cleaning power and in healthfulness – than others.  Some, in particular, are pure greenwash – while they profess to be “all-natural,” they are indeed chemical and potentially dangerous.  There are no federal criteria to regulate products advertized as “all-natural” and packaging can therefore be terrifically misleading.  Some “all-natural” cleaners are made from petroleum-derived products – all-natural because petroleum is naturally-occurring.

So, we should choose green cleaners because they are kinder on our health, our homes, and our environment.  And we should ensure we choose green products that are legitimately green, and not just greenwash.  There are, fortunately, truly ecologically-sound alternatives available to the consumer.

These products, contrasted to their conventional counterparts, are plant-derived, rather than petroleum-derived; they are biodegradable, meaning they won’t linger in waterways and contribute to hypoxia; and they are effective, meaning the consumer does not have to sacrifice performance for health and environmental benefits.

Green Depot carries a huge catalogue of green products, and produces its own line of green cleaners (locally-produced in the New York City area).  They are even refillable at our station on the Bowery – meaning you won’t even have to recycle your old bottles.

photo credit to flickr user hypoxia&eutrophication.

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Installing a new wood floor? Instead of traditional hardwood, you may want to consider an eco-friendly alternative: bamboo. It may be hard to imagine that reedy green plant growing wild in your yard making a good flooring material, but some varieties of bamboo (when mature and properly dried) are as hard as oak–and some are even harder.

Photo: chefranden at Flickr.com

Green Depot carries bamboo flooring by Foundations, a New York state-based company that offers click-together “floating” strand boards, as well as traditional tongue-and-groove solid-strip options, both in prefinished and unfinished varieties. Foundation’s strand planks are made of the Moso variety of bamboo, which proves to be two times harder than red oak when subjected to the industry-standard Janka ball test. And Moso isn’t a natural food supply for a pandas, so harvesting it even in the wild doesn’t endanger their habitat.

But why else is bamboo such a good choice? The reasons are many, beginning with bamboo’s rapid renewability, which makes it one of the greenest of green products used in building. A tree takes 80 to 120 years to grow to a size where it can be harvested for hardwood flooring planks, but a bamboo plant reaches maturity in only 3 to 6 years with minimal (if any) fertilization or pesticides, and it renews itself without replanting. This means it requires not only fewer natural resources to thrive, but less labor, as well. And bamboo can easily grow up to a foot a day, so it’s not just fast, but plentiful.

Photo: Ajari at Flickr.com

Bamboo is also a boon to the natural environment itself, in a number of ways. Mature bamboo has a very complex and dense root structure (which, incidentally, is why is can be so hard to get out of your garden), which goes a long way to avoid soil erosion in areas where it’s planted. Furthermore, a bamboo forest absorbs up to twice as much carbon dioxide as trees.

From a social responsibility perspective, as well, bamboo is winner—600 million people worldwide depend on income from it, and the industry employs nearly 6 million people in China alone. And as it grows in popularity, those numbers only expand.

Then there’s affordability, which ties back to bamboo’s ability to renew itself rapidly. The laws of supply and demand are at work here: A product that springs back into place quickly and with so little effort and expense can easily be kept in abundant supply, so prices for it can be lower, even in times of great demand. And its durability gives it another layer of affordability, as many kinds of bamboo flooring can go for long periods without refinishing or replacement. Several brands, including Foundations, coat their pre-finished planks with multiple layers of a water-based, zero-VOC, aluminum oxide-infused polyurethane that doesn’t off-gas at all. Nice!

And that’s not even touching on the design options bamboo flooring offers. Bamboo is available in any number of colors, many of which can be achieved using eco-friendly methods. Heating bamboo makes it darken to a rich amber color without the use of stain, and bleaching it in non-toxic hydrogen peroxide gives it a birchlike white-blond color. Its natural tone is a warm golden hue that lies somewhere in between the two, and bamboo can be colored with traditional wood stains to take it to anywhere from a medium chestnut brown to a near-black ebony.

Bamboo’s narrow-strand structure allows it to be pressed into planks in a number of different formats, unlike wood, which of course comes naturally bound into wide pieces (tree trunks). Some bamboo flooring manufacturers even offer planks made of mixed dark- and light-colored strands, for an unusual streaky look. Still others turn the plant’s fibers the short way, so the cut ends of the stalks are what make up the visible surface. The effect is a sort of small-dot pattern that is unique to bamboo.

As a side note, Green Depot also carries Plybam, an excellent companion to bamboo flooring. Plybam is plywood made entirely of bamboo instead of wood veneer, and it’s perfect for use in cabinetry, furniture, paneling or any other project that usually calls for plywood. Its edges have a multidirectional pattern that offers an alternative to plywood’s striped edges, and is attractive enough to make edge veneers a thing of the past.

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