Responsible Wood Alternatives: From Extraction to Production & Design – April 19, 2006

April 19, 2006

When: Wednesday, April 19th, 6:30-8pm
Where: Hafele Showroom on Madison Park (25 E. 26th St.)
Speakers:Tim Keating, Executive Director, Rain Forest Relief
Bart Bettencourt, Bettencourt Green Building Products
Tim Keating from Rainforest Relief and Bart Bettencourt from Bettencourt Green Building Supplies are teaming up for a lecture on responsible wood alternatives. Rainforest Relief works to end the loss of the world’s tropical and temperate rainforests and protect their human and non-human inhabitants by reducing demand for the products of rainforest logging, mining and agricultural conversion, through education, advocacy, research and action. Bettencourt Green Building Supplies is dedicated to providing quality green building materials to designers, architects, contractors and homeowners on the East Coast. Bettencourt provides elegant and appropriate alternatives to many of the environmentally damaging choices currently available in the industry.


We’re embarrassed that a progressive metropolis like New York City is the largest consumer of tropical hardwoods in North America. To help spread the word about alternative wood materials and to remind people that our society, and our city, continues to support deforestation practices, we proudly hosted Tim Keating of Rainforest Relief, and Bart Bettencourt of Bettencourt Green Building Supplies. These speakers presented two ends of the sustainable wood spectrum: how the consumer demand for tropical hardwood is destroying our ecosystem, and how to identify and purchase eco-friendly alternatives in the area.

Tim Keating’s work with Rainforest Relief is exhaustive, alarming, and something that more New Yorkers should be familiar with. Most of us don’t pay any attention to the mahogany doors at Barnes and Noble, or the benches, made from Brazilian walnut that we sit on in local parks. To meet the demand for these invaluable woods, importers are contributing to the decimation of tropical rainforests, and in turn, we are facing the most rapid mass extinction on earth.

To give you some numbers, 50-90% of biodiversity exists exclusively in rainforests (50% being generous). We are destroying 2 ½ acres of rainforest per second, and about 400 species per day. The majority of that (70%) is due directly to logging and road construction to obtain wood for everything from truck flooring to pencils. At the rate we are going, all unprotected tropical rainforests will be wiped out within 40 years. That leaves 3% of the rainforest standing.

Okay, so now that we’ve introduced you to a very sobering reality, we’d like to illuminate people like Bart Bettencourt, who design and sell sustainable wood options for us New Yorkers. Bart is at the helm of Scrapile, a company that designs awesome furniture comprised of scrap wood, and Bettencourt Green Building Supplies. The latter is a Brooklyn-based company that serves as a resource for cabinet, furniture, and flooring alternatives made out of bamboo, coconut palm, and reclaimed agricultural fibers. While you may conjure up images of grass mats when you think of ‘bamboo flooring’ (I did), the samples that Bart passed around were beautiful, dense, and felt just like wood. He mentioned that the majority of these materials cut, sanded, screwed, held up, joined, and reacted to finishes just like regular wood, too.

Another excellent alternative is recycled plastic lumber, which is more durable, requires less maintenance, and is more environmentally friendly than wood products. Wood makes up much of our national waterfront infrastructure (think pilings, piers, and boardwalks), and has a relatively short lifespan, especially when immersed in water.

Recent advanced-aging tests that found that recycled plastic lumber had no significant deterioration over the course of 50 years. If you’d like to see this material in action, visit the Tiffany Street Pier in the Bronx.

If you’re not in the position to purchase these materials, you still have options. Salvage furniture off the street, or buy secondhand. And if you must, aim to buy wood that is domestic and certified by the Forest Stewardship Council. Most importantly, do your homework and choose to support companies that are environmentally friendly and responsible.

-Shawna Michaud

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