The Growth of Eco-Friendly Lumber 

A West Oakland company is a national trendsetter in the sale of sustainably harvested wood and salvaged lumber.

Jeff and Marion Hunt have been selling eco-friendly lumber for more than a decade. In fact, their West Oakland business was one of the first in the nation to be certified by the respected Forest Stewardship Council, which ensures sustainable forestry and logging practices around the globe. But throughout the late 1990s and the early part of this decade, eco-friendly wood sales represented just a small portion of the Hunts' business, despite being in the heart of the environmentally conscious Bay Area. However, in the past few years, that has changed dramatically.

Last year, eco-friendly lumber certified by the stewardship council represented about 35 percent of the Hunts' total sales. "It's really growing," Jeff Hunt told Eco Watch. "Enthusiasm has changed a lot, and we've been growing larger and larger." Eco-friendly lumber sales have jumped so much that the Hunts decided last year to change their company's longtime name from Plywood and Lumber Sales to EarthSource Forest Products.

Traditionally, EarthSource's best customers for eco-friendly wood have been cabinet and furniture makers, but the company's retail lumber business on 28th Street near Mandela Parkway has begun to grow as well. In addition to selling lumber cut in sustainable ways, EarthSource carries wood reclaimed from old buildings and salvaged from fallen trees. The company is currently working with the state and federal governments on a salvaged wood project in the northern section of the Delta. The state is removing white oaks that were undermining Delta levees. So far, one of the Woods' largest customers for the white oaks has been the developer of the old Ford assembly plant in Richmond, who is turning them into large dining tables for a new cabaret.

Several years ago, EarthSource also completed a huge wood reclamation project on the ancestral estate of President Andrew Jackson in Tennessee. A tornado had toppled more than 1,200 aromatic cedars on the estate, and the Hunts turned the downed trees into lumber. Earthsource is almost completely sold out of the Jackson estate wood. One of its last customers was a Ventura company that is using the wood to create a doghouse as a gift for the Obama family's soon-to-be-named pooch.

EarthSource sells eco-certified wood for about the same price as traditional wood. But Jeff Hunt said the biggest barrier to increasing eco-friendly wood sales over the years has been convincing customers of the quality of lesser-known, sustainably harvested wood. Machiche, for example, is an excellent reddish-colored hardwood grown in Guatemala. But convincing Americans that it's a suitable replacement for mahogany, or some other more recognizable hardwood, has been a challenge. EarthSource's growth is proof that the challenge is not insurmountable, but until Americans realize that there are other woods suitable for their needs — beyond traditional favorites like mahogany, teak, redwood, cedar, and oak — then eco-friendly lumber sales are destined to remain a niche market, relegated to progressive sections of the country.

The Forest Stewardship Council, a consortium of environmentalists assembled by the Rainforest Alliance in the mid-'90s, certifies wood as being sustainably harvested by closely examining the forestry practices of a large area. Certification rules don't just prohibit clear-cutting. They also don't allow the selective removal of one particular type of tree from a forest or damage to the forest's canopy, because either can alter the forest's natural ecology or severely affect its health. For example, if 20 percent of the trees in a particular rainforest are mahogany, then only 20 percent of the total amount of trees cut from that forest can be mahogany, Hunt explained.

EarthSource gets much of its rainforest hardwoods from Guatemala, because the only legal logging in that country is stewardship council certified. By contrast, major lumber companies have blocked wide-scale environmentally sustainable harvesting in North America. "Weyerhaeuser, for example, doesn't believe in it because they want to be able to clear-cut," Hunt explained. Large lumber companies also have responded to the Forest Stewardship Council with certification programs of their own. They then market their wood as being "sustainably" harvested, even though it wasn't.

Plantation woods also are often advertised as being environmentally sustainable, but they're also typically not stewardship council certified, because they're usually the result of a forest that was cleared to plant a specific type of tree. The Hunts, however, own an interest in a stewardship council certified plantation in Guatemala. A friend owned a large piece of property that a previous owner had planted rubber trees on. When the rubber trees died, the Hunts' friend planted sustainably grown teak.

Comments

Subscribe to this thread:

Add a comment

Anonymous and pseudonymous comments will be removed.

Latest in Eco Watch

Author Archives

  • 40 in 40

    For our 40th anniversary, we compiled a list of 40 of the Express' memorable in-depth reports and the topics we've loved writing about the most.
    • Oct 10, 2018
  • Turning the Page

    My commitment to regaining your trust.
    • Jul 18, 2018
  • More»

Most Popular Stories

  • The Express' November 2018 Endorsement Guide

    We endorse Schaaf, Ezzy Ashcraft, and Butt; along with Fortunato Bas, Thao, Middleton, and Whitaker for Oakland council and Knox White and Oddie for Alameda council.
  • A Guide to Oakland's Ballot Measures

    Six measures on the November ballot include new taxes, tax breaks, changes to existing taxes, worker and tenant protections, and education funding.
  • Oakland Organic Gardener Wins Battle Against Roundup

    Diane Williams fought for two years to stop Oakland Unified from spraying the likely carcinogenic herbicide. And, finally, she was vindicated.
  • Role Reversals in the Oakland Mayor's Race

    In the Oakland mayor's race, the normally staid Libby Schaaf has come out swinging, while one of her top challengers, the usually brash Cat Brooks, is acting more like a Fortune 500 CEO.
  • Richmond at a Crossroads

    The city is on the verge of an economic boom: Will Mayor Tom Butt, a longtime city official, lead it to prosperity, or will the Richmond Progressive Alliance take full control of City Hall?

Special Reports

Fall Arts 2018

Our Picks for the Best Events of the Fall Arts Season

The Queer & Trans Issue 2018

Stories about creating safe spaces in the Queer and Trans community.

© 2018 East Bay Express    All Rights Reserved
Powered by Foundation