What is Urban Wood?
There are many words used to describe “sustainable” wood used in commercial furniture. We are here to help clear things up! In this article we define urban wood (the wood Icon Modern most often uses for our custom furniture) and explain other commonly-used terms.
According to the Urban Wood Network, urban wood is salvaged from tree removal operations in cities and suburbs, when trees are cut down due to death, disease, development or other causes. These trees are not grown specifically for their timber but exist for the benefit of the community.
Traditionally, urban trees that are taken down were treated as waste and, at best, used for mulch or firewood. Instead, organizations like the Urban Wood Network connect more people with this local material. Icon Modern purchases this salvaged wood to give it a second life as handcrafted furniture, reducing the amount of wood that ends up in landfill. (See furniture examples below.)
And because each tree grows in its own unique environment, urban wood tends to be richer in character than traditional lumber. Each tree experiences different degrees of exposure to the elements like weather and insects. No two slabs are ever the same (kind of like snowflakes!). Each piece has one-of-a-kind features such as its grain, knots, and color variation. When you purchase a piece of furniture made with urban wood, you are receiving a truly unique piece that tells a story.
Organizations like the Chicago Region Tree Initiative work to replace and increase tree coverage in urban areas when trees are taken down.
Another great source to learn about urban wood: https://cambiumcarbon.com/
“FSC” stands for the Forest Stewardship Council. Founded in 1992, this global organization was started to address rapid deforestation and improve forest practices. They are guided by 10 principles that include indigenous rights, environmental impact, replanting of trees, and protection of wildlife.
When you choose FSC-certified wood, while not necessarily diverting waste from landfill, you are choosing wood that is ethically sourced from forests that are responsibly managed, socially beneficial, environmentally conscious, and economically viable. New trees are planted when others are taken down and are typically grown specifically for future use.
There are three types of FSC-certified wood:
FSC Mix: Products with this certification include at least 70 percent of wood (or paper) from FSC-certified recycled material, with the other 30 percent from controlled wood.
Recycled: All the wood and paper used to produce the product comes from 100 percent recycled content.
FSC 100%: All the wood and paper used comes from FSC-certified forests.
While the FSC has faced issues in the past, studies have shown the efforts of the organization have slowed the degradation of forests and improved labor and environmental conditions in affected forests.
(This is not to be confused with the SFI - Sustainable Forestry Initiative. Though similar in nature, you can read about the difference in this article.)
Some manufacturers will simply say their wood is "responsibly sourced" or "sustainably sourced". Typically this implies that the wood was harvested in a sustainable and ethical way, ensuring healthy regrowth of forests and with consideration for the environment and surrounding wildlife. So it is worth digging a little deeper on their website or reaching out directly to the manufacturer to find out exactly where and how they procure their wood.
A note about greenwashing
"Greenwashing" has become a common topic of discussion as businesses use sustainability as a marketing tool. According to this article, greenwashing is used to describe situations where companies mislead consumers by claiming to be eco-friendly or sustainable as a marketing scheme rather than as a core principle of their business model.
This makes it even more important to take the extra step to learn more about a manufacturer's materials and sourcing.
Reclaimed wood is very specific in nature. Most reclaimed wood comes from old buildings such as barns, factories and warehouses. Other interesting sources are old train box car flooring, truck bed flooring and even wine barrels! (Fun fact: Icon Modern has used all of these in the past!) Reclaimed wood is used primarily for furniture, flooring, architectural details and cabinetry.
There’s several reasons why people choose reclaimed wood. It is extremely durable, having been harvested from virgin growth timber, which grew more slowly, producing a denser grain. Reclaimed wood is one of the most sustainable materials since no trees are disturbed; it is simply re-used material. And finally, reclaimed wood has a history, telling a story through its one-of-a-kind features.
Common species of reclaimed wood include Douglas fir, longleaf pine, hard maple, hickories, walnuts and red and white oak.
And With That…
While reclaimed wood is the most sustainable material of these three sources due to its zero impact on any natural resource, urban wood is also highly sustainable because it diverts material from landfill and is sourced locally, significantly reducing your carbon footprint. FSC-certified wood, while typically grown specifically for its timber, comes from responsibly-managed forests.
It is critical, for the benefit of our environment and future, that the wood we source is coming from forests (including urban forests) that are sustainably managed, regenerative and diverting waste from landfill.