By Arwa Lodhi
Is Teak Sustainable?
For centuries, hard-wearing. glossy teak has been considered the gold standard for wood floors, furniture and doors–so much so, that many species of this slow growing plant (which takes 80-120 years to mature) are now endangered and illegal to purchase. Still, it seems fairly easy to buy teak, and many people still ask: is teak sustainable?
The short answer is ‘no’. But there is still one species called Tectona grandis, or ‘common teak’, which is the only form of the wood that’s legal to export, which is one reason teak seems so ubiquitous today. Unfortunately, there is still a lucrative black market for the wood too, but even if you’re thinking of buying legal teak, if you care about the planet, you may want to think twice about it.
Why? First of all, the majority of the world’s supply of teak comes from Myanmar and Indonesia, which means the carbon footprint of exporting the material to main markets in Europe, North and South America is very high.
Secondly, much energy is expended in the processing of the wood. Because teak takes so long to mature, quite often young teak is cut, but this must be kiln dried before being sold, which of course uses much fuel in the process even before the wood is shipped off to market.
Finally, there are specific insects that feed only on teak, so farmers of the wood spray pesticides and various other chemicals to kill off the insects, in order to protect their product. As the insects that live off teak are being killed en masse, this has deeper implications on the entire ecosystem: consider, for example, what happens to the other species that depend on those insects as their food source.
In short, teak simply isn’t eco-friendly. But not to worry–there are plenty of equally gorgeous options that are far more eco-friendly.
For one, reclaimed lumber, including reclaimed teak, is always sustainable. A simple Google check in your area should bring up local reclaimed lumber yards. Secondly, if you are thinking of buying teak outdoor furniture because of the wood’s water-resistant qualities, consider buying rattan or bamboo pieces instead–they’re just as waterproof, but are far more eco-friendly, and are also a fraction of the price. Finally, manufacturing techniques for bamboo are becoming increasingly sophisticated, making this the perfect choice for a glossy floor or refined furniture.
In fact, there’s really no excuse to buy furniture made of recently felled teak–or even wood–given the alternatives above, and considering the heavy carbon footprint of even legally sourced teak wood, perhaps it’s time to start considering this material to be the ‘ivory’ of woods.