Green Scene: Making the Outdoors Greener

Vintage garden swing

Going green has been a mainstream movement for some time now. Strolling through grocery stores, furniture showrooms and even department stores, we are all bombarded with the latest “green” must-haves. However, since the “green” brand seems to be appearing on everything from shoe shiner to blow dryers, how is one to gauge the true value of a product’s greenness?

Vintage garden swing
Vintage garden swing

As Americans begin gearing up for the warm summer months they will discover many garden furniture brands claiming to be “eco-friendly,” “green,” or “sustainably harvested.” Unfortunately, few of these products have been rigorously audited to verify such claims. To help consumers make informed choices when purchasing garden furniture, the National Wildlife Federation has released its third annual Garden Furniture Scorecard. The scorecard catalogs retailers selling Forest Stewardship Council certified garden furniture—the most rigorous system for distinguishing wood products in the market.

According to the National Wildlife Federation’s survey of major retailers, this year consumers can expect to find a wider variety of styles and prices of FSC-certified wood garden products. The National Wildlife Federation expanded the number of companies invited to participate in its third annual Garden Furniture Scorecard from 13 to 16. Several retailers, including Cost Plus World Market, Crate and Barrel, The Home Depot, Lowe’s and Pottery Barn, all scored 4 stars or better, indicating that more than 70 percent of their tropical wood garden furniture is from responsible sources. Notably, this is the largest group of retailers that have attained a score of 4 stars or better, meaning a higher percentage of their wooden outdoor furniture options are environmentally friendly. In addition, several retailers with lower scores have already indicated ways in which they plan to improve their offerings for next year.

The U.S. is the world’s largest single importer of wooden furniture from tropical timber-producing countries, with garden furniture representing about one-fifth of the wooden furniture market. U.S. imports of all tropical wood products have increased four-fold over the past decade. As a result, the once biologically rich forests of countries such as Indonesia, Malaysia and Brazil are being depleted at an unprecedented rate.

Several species of neo-tropical birds that summer in the U.S. and Canada depend on threatened tropical forests in Latin America. A major cause of deforestation is the legal and illegal logging of remaining primary forests to meet the global appetite for tropical wood products.

According to the National Wildlife Federation, consumers who want assurance that their garden furniture is truly green should look for and ask for products with a Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) logo, which means the wood is traceable to a sustainably-managed forest. An FSC distinction assures that wildlife and forest ecosystems are conserved through rigorous environmental and social standards that an independent company audits on an annual basis.

As wood products, FSC-certified goods reduce greenhouse gas emissions and save energy at all steps of production. The manufacture of metal or plastic garden furniture requires greater quantities of fossil fuels and releases more carbon than the crafting of wooden furniture. In fact, the amount of carbon a tree collects from the atmosphere and stores during its natural growth processes exceeds the amount of carbon emitted when that tree is harvested and made into furniture.

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