If Not Wood, Then What? Exploring the Environmental Benefits of Wood as a Building Material

In a world filled with building material options, it’s crucial to consider their life cycle impacts on the environment. One of the standout options, often overlooked, is wood. It’s the only truly renewable building material that grows, regrows, and stores carbon during its life cycle. My write-up today explores the environmental advantages of using wood as a building material and addresses the question: If not wood, then what?

The Environmental Benefits of Wood

Wood, by its very nature, is a remarkable material when it comes to sustainability. Here are some key points to consider:

Renewable and Carbon-Sequestering: Wood grows and regrows, trapping and storing carbon during its life cycle. This stands in contrast to many other building materials, the manufacturing of which generates carbon emissions. Wood production also often utilizes waste streams for energy, reducing dependence on fossil fuels.

Salvage and Reuse: Wood can be salvaged, reused, and even upcycled. This extends the storage of carbon for an extended period. Salvaged wood products are highly valued for their unique character and history.

Natural Beauty: Wood, in all its forms, is beautiful and connects us with the earth. Each piece of wood is unique, much like snowflakes. It adds an anti-homogeneous quality to any structure, unlike any other building material.

Eco-Friendly Lifecycle: When wood products reach the end of their service life, they return to the earth organically, either as solid wood or mulch, without leaving a lasting environmental footprint.

Energy Efficiency: Wood decking is not only aesthetically pleasing but also functional. It remains 20% cooler than composite or PVC decking while being a better insulator than concrete, steel, or plastic.

Considering Alternatives

The Dutch Government conducted a comprehensive study in 2014 to evaluate alternative materials. The results may surprise you. When it comes to plastics, even recycled plastic is not truly recyclable. Mixing disparate materials makes separation difficult and energy-intensive. At the end of the product’s life, it often ends up in landfills, where it can take thousands of years to degrade, releasing harmful substances into the environment.

The Impact on Forests

Now, let’s talk about how using wood can affect our big, green friends – the trees. To put it simply, trees are like the lungs of our planet, breathing in bad air and giving us good air. So, what happens if we don’t value these tall heroes?

  1. The Carbon Cleanup
    Imagine trees as superhero cleaners, sucking up a lot of the bad stuff in the air, like a vacuum for carbon dioxide. When we like using wood from these trees, it’s like giving them a high-five. They get to keep doing their job and help fight against climate change.

  2. Deforestation Detective Work
    Guess what? The main reason we lose trees isn’t really because we use them for wood. Only a tiny bit, less than 6%, goes for that. The big trouble, about 85%, happens because people chop down trees to make room for farms. It’s like making space for more food to feed more people.

  3. Finding the Right Balance
    Now, here’s the tricky part. We want to keep our trees safe, but we also need space for farms to feed everyone. It’s like trying to balance on a seesaw. When we see trees as valuable friends for wood and other things, we’re more likely to take good care of them.

  4. Your Role as a Forest Protector
    Here’s where you and I come in – we’re like superheroes, too! When we buy wood, we need to make sure it follows the rules that keep our forests safe. It’s like being a forest protector. By making smart choices and giving renewable wood products more economic value than the conversion of forests to less environmentally benign alternative uses, we’re helping the Earth stay healthy and green.


In our journey towards a greener and more responsible future, the choice of lumber becomes a pivotal decision. Opting for verified, legal, well-managed, renewable, and sustainable lumber is not just a choice; it’s a pledge towards environmental conservation. At Tropical Forest Products, we stand at the forefront of this commitment.

About the Author

Meet Brian Lotz, General Manager of US Operations, Technical and Environmental Compliance Director for Tropical Forest Products and industry Influencer. With over 40 years of experience in the exotic hardwood business, Brian brings a wealth of knowledge that enhances the company’s commitment to sustainability within the imported and domestic hardwood industry. Brian was responsible for spearheading the 38th FSC Chain of Custody Certification for his company in North America, the Fields to Forests Tropical Reforestation Program and the TFP Legal Lumber “Due Care” Compliance Program. As we explore the impact of super-durable tropical hardwoods on multiple industries, Brian’s insight offers a unique lens, underscoring the harmonious interplay between skillful artisanship, biophilic design and sustainable ethos.

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