Wood is one of those timeless materials that has been used since the dawn of time. It was used to make the first plates and forks, it was used for heating, cooking, food and shelter. Today, it is also used to make the framework of houses, to cover facades, interior walls (the panelling is coming back in force!), floors and to manufacture furniture. The latter is sustainable, renewable, organic and biodegradable, so it is perfectly ecological and suitable for a slow deco. Wood is a material that still evokes nature and warmth and is a guarantee of quality. It is a material that you never get tired of and that gives a soft and cosy atmosphere to a room.
Unfortunately, wood has been a victim of its success and we are now hearing about deforestation and pollution related to its treatment and transport. In this article you will find ways to choose an eco-responsible piece of furniture or select wood for interior and exterior layouts!
Choose wood as an ecological material
Bringing an exotic tree species from the other side of the world has a significant ecological carbon impact.
Origin, processing, packaging and treatment carried out locally are to be favoured. It is recommended to use a wood species specific to your region (fir and larch in the Vosges, chestnut in the Ardèche for its rotproof qualities for example) in order to reduce the ecological impact linked to transport. At a minimum, recommend wood from France and Europe. Also be careful where the wood is treated (some French wood is treated in China for cost reduction reasons!).
More and more craftsmen are using ecological wood from felling in the surrounding forests and often use wood for waste.
Raw or ecologically processed
Furniture and parquet treatment products (against fire, insects, fungi, mites, etc.) and finishing products (lacquers, resins, paints, varnishes and patinas) are mostly harmful. They emit VOCs (Volatile Organic Compounds) that pollute the air in your home up to 5 years later. Their repercussions on our health are direct (cancers, leukaemias, respiratory problems, various irritations, asthma, allergies…). The most famous, formaldehyde, was declared a “definite carcinogen” in 2004 by the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC).
It should be noted that wood is naturally composed of formaldehyde, but in much smaller quantities when it is raw than when it is treated or decorated.
However, there are ecological treatment and finishing products such as beeswax to patinate and nourish wood, boron salt as an insecticide, linseed oil to replace lacquer and varnish, ecological and healthy paints, etc.
Ecological heat treatments of wood
The most ancient is certainly the Japanese method of Shu-Sugi-Ban or Yakisugi which consists in burning wood. The process gives it a pretty almost black hue, and above all, protects it from bad weather, UV, mould, insects, and even fires!
A more recent method invented by René Guyonnet is the retification method. This is a heat treatment carried out in the factory. The wood is conducted at high temperature (between 200 and 260° C) in an inert atmosphere for 10 hours. This treatment makes it resistant to fungi, insects and moisture. Retification is only possible with spruce, poplar, fir, fir, beech, maritime pine and Scots pine and only allows dark shades.
These methods are perfect alternatives to chemically treated outdoor and indoor wood. They are also used for garden furniture, bathroom furniture and kitchen worktops among others. To treat your wood, you can also find ecological mixes ready-made in stores and on specialized websites.
Labelled or recycled
FSC (Forest Stewardship Council) or PEFC (Pan European Forest Certification) certified. These eco-certifications ensure that the extractive forest is managed responsibly to limit deforestation, at least in theory. Only the FSC 100% is a sufficient guarantee of confidence, the FSC Mixed is to be banned because it constitutes a mixture of wood managed sustainably with an unknown wood. The FSC label is more suitable for exotic woods, while the PEFC criteria are more applicable to European and North American forests. However, there is no label attesting to the local origin of a wood. Moreover, these two labels are highly criticized, but they are the only ones that exist to date. They are therefore a minimum criterion, because in their absence one can only imagine the worst. However, Greenpeace considers that PEFC does not attest to anything because it is too lax, and only trusts FSC. Experts note that these two labels have allowed companies to self-regulate over the past decades, even if it is not perfect. To go further: Cash Investigation – Razzia sur le bois, les promesses en kit du géant du meuble
As a reminder, in addition to reducing the quantity of wood available, deforestation also leads to poor air quality. Trees “recycle” CO2 through photosynthesis, in other words they purify our air. That is, young trees recycle more because they are necessary for their growth. However, today we produce more CO2 than plants are able to absorb, it is the greenhouse effect.
Beware of wood derivativesPolymer wood, chipboard, melamine, OSD (Oriented Strand Brand), plywood, medium or MDF (Medium Density Fiberboard) emit VOCs (volatile organic compounds) which are strongly discouraged. These are chips, sawdust, wood flour glued together. Some claim they are ecological because they use wood waste. However, the glue used contains many toxic products that release VOCs that are dangerous to your health. There are now healthier OSB and MDF boards on the market that are made with solvent-free adhesives.
Slow wood, yes ! But which ?There are many types of wood. If only from Europe, you can find among others oak, maple, beech, fir, larch, chestnut, walnut, acacia, spruce, birch, pine, lime tree… ! Each wood species has its own properties depending on its density. This should be taken into account according to the intended use.
Resistance to fungi and insectsOak, chestnut, acacia, Douglas pine, larch, cedar and cypress are naturally resistant to insects and fungi. They are ideal for use in house facades, for example. These species are also the most ecological because, thanks to their natural resistance against insects and fungi, they require little or no treatment.
Wood hardnessA floor must be chosen according to the characteristics of the wood species and the characteristics of the room. Oak, for example, is particularly resistant and suitable for the parquet floor of a living room or a transit area.
Moisture resistanceIt is evaluated according to five classes (it is preferable to choose a wood of class 3, 4 or 5 in a bathroom such as acacia or chestnut).
The different wood species also have different shades that will have a visual impact on your interior. As one chooses a paint, it is important to ensure that the colour of a wood is chosen. Lighter woods such as oak provide more light, while woods such as walnut or cherry are darker and warmer. Note that you can play on the natural colour of a wood species by treating, waxing or glazing it!
You will find many tables on the internet to help you choose your wood species according to your project. The document from the Brussels Institute for Environmental Management is the only one I found that incorporates ecological criteria: read.
Where to find sustainable and healthy wood ?
- The second hand via Leboncoin-type sites: whether for furniture or wood as a raw material for your projects, second-hand networks are gold mines.
- The carpenter closest to you: he will be able to sell you wood if necessary to carry out your tailor-made projects. If you have a custom-made project carried out, it is up to you to ask the cabinetmaker to use wood that is labelled, local and treated in a sustainable way. He will be able to advise you and find the right supplier.
- Leroy Merlin, Castorama,… all the major brands offer labelled wood: you have to keep an eye out for it because labelled wood mixes with non-labelled wood, VOC-emitting composites (medium, OSB…) and other toxic treated wood… The major brands remain a possible alternative for small budgets.
- To go further on the furniture side and have healthy and ecological brand tracks, I invite you to read the article I wrote for the blog La Révolution des Tortues : Pourquoi et où acheter des meubles d’occasion et/ou écologiques ?
WE LOVE WOOD…
Second-hand or recycled
Second-hand furniture has an irreplaceable charm, a special soul, which will make your decoration warm, authentic and unique. Rendez-vous on flea markets, garage sales, Emmaus, recycling, but also online. You will find many online flea markets, dedicated Instagram accounts, and of course my favorite: Le Bon Coin.
Full look cupboards (and without handles)
We flee Ikea and her ready-made solution (the Ivar furniture in particular) and get our hands dirty. This will allow you to invest in real solid ecological raw wood that is labelled and potentially local, without glue (and therefore without VOC emissions). You will be able to make it tailor-made and therefore perfectly adapted to your interior.