Can Tables and Chairs Help Combat Climate Change?

Forests can help to mitigate the worst effects of climate change, taking carbon out of our atmosphere more effectively than anything else.

Can Tables and Chairs Help Combat Climate Change?

9 February 2022 Blog

All Eyes on the Climate

There is no question that climate change will pose the greatest environmental challenge of the 21st century. Global temperatures are rising, deserts are expanding, and heatwaves, droughts, and wildfires have become more and more common. But we have more than human ingenuity standing as a bulwark against this crisis — we have forests. Forests can help to mitigate the worst effects of climate change, taking carbon out of our atmosphere more effectively than anything else. The world is increasingly waking up to the importance of these forests, and coming together around ways to protect them.   

At the Glasgow climate summit (COP26) in 2021, 141 countries committed to collectively end forest loss and land degradation by 2030, and codified their commitment in ‘The Glasgow Leaders’ Declaration on Forests and Land Use’:

“We emphasise the critical and interdependent roles of forests of all types, biodiversity and sustainable land use in enabling the world to meet its sustainable development goals; to help achieve a balance between anthropogenic greenhouse gas emissions and removal by sinks and to adapt to climate change’.

The growing interest in the value of forests has aimed a spotlight on Sustainable Forest Management as a potential strategy to help regulate atmospheric carbon at scale. However, for forest management programs to be an effective tool in combating climate change, it will require the participation and cooperation of suppliers of forest products, the enterprises that use the raw forest products, and the consumers of those products to be successful. This is especially true for the wooden furniture industry, the third-highest user of forest wood globally. 

The Power of Forests

To date, forests are the only proven means of removing and storing atmospheric CO2 at a scale that can meaningfully contribute to limiting global warming. Approximately 2.6 billion tonnes of carbon dioxide, one-third of the CO2 released from burning fossil fuels, is absorbed by forests every year. Forests are the lungs of the world: they regulate ecosystems, protect biodiversity, and play an integral part in the carbon cycle, whilst supporting livelihoods, and supplying goods and services that can drive sustainable growth.

Alongside fossil fuel-related emissions reductions, forests also have great potential to deliver on climate mitigation goals while at the same time providing important benefits to soils, air, water, biodiversity, and development. It’s estimated that forests could provide an additional 30% of the mitigation needed by 2030, and pursuant to the Bonn Challenge, if 350 million hectares of degraded land were reforested, an area roughly the size of South America, this area would have the potential to sequester up to 1.7 gigatonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent annually. 

So what happens to all that carbon when a tree is cut down? Very little. When a tree is cut down, it does not instantly oxidize but continues to store the carbon it took in as a tree. The carbon is only released back into the atmosphere when the wood product is burnt or decays. This is why wood is often touted as a renewable alternative.

For example, a wooden dining room table may be able to store carbon for up to 30 years or more, up until it is discarded.  This is the basic premise of how a carbon sink works, essentially a natural reservoir, like forests, oceans, or the soil, that absorbs more carbon from the surrounding atmosphere than they produce. The unique benefit of forests is that they are able to absorb carbon whilst also supplying valuable products that can be used whilst storing carbon.

Forests under pressure

The impact that the furniture industry has on the environment, particularly when wood from uncertified forests is used to make furniture, is significant. In wooden furniture, the selection of materials, their treatments, and respective manufacturing processes all have considerable influence on the environmental impact of a piece of furniture over a product life cycle.

In fact, the furnishings industry accounts for approximately 12 percent of all man-made greenhouse gas emissions, affecting around 13 million hectares of tropical forest annually. That’s equivalent to losing a forest area the size of England each and every year.

The impacts of the furniture industry are even more pronounced when we consider the case of ‘fast furniture, a term commonly used to describe low cost, mass-produced and poorly made furniture that typically uses low-quality wood of dubious origins, to satisfy the global demand for inexpensive furniture.

Furniture as a way to sustain forests 

Sustainably managed forests are one of our most potent solutions for tackling global warming. Increasing global demand for low-cost timber products supports a multi-billion dollar business of illegal and unsustainable logging in forests worldwide. The world’s natural forests cannot sustainably meet this global demand for timber products under weak forest management practices. 

Sustainable forest management and certification can play an important role in combating climate change and sustaining the livelihoods of the people who depend on forests. It can ensure the maintenance of sustainable sinks for capturing and storing carbon dioxide and help to ensure the provision of forest biomass as a renewable carbon neutral energy source and as a substitute for carbon-intensive materials thereby lowering the carbon footprint.

The climate change issue adds even greater significance to the role of forest certification as a mechanism both to balance the urge to completely lock up forests as a carbon store and to ensure increased market access for sustainable wood products. Furniture that are certified against international standards such as PEFC is an example of how sustainable forest products may be used to balance these two needs. 

Where does PEFC fit into all of this? 

PEFC certification provides the furniture industry with assurance that the wood in their furniture comes from well-managed forests that will be around for generations to come. By choosing PEFC-certified wood, you know you are not contributing to deforestation, but instead are helping to combat climate change and support the UN Sustainable Development Goals.

Read further: What do you buy, when you buy PEFC certified furniture? 

Forests Are Home

In the spirit of helping fight climate change and supporting the UN Sustainable Development Goals, PEFC has launched “Forests are Home”, an awareness campaign to promote the manufacture and sale of sustainably sourced furniture. PEFC endeavours to bring wood suppliers, furniture manufacturers and designers together to demonstrate that effective partnerships in the furniture supply chain can lead to a brighter future for the world’s forests.

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