Have you ever wondered if wood is a sustainable resource?

Wood – or timber, for that matter – is often touted as the most sustainable building material available. But while this reputation does carry a degree of truth to it, the reality is also not always as straightforward. 


Is wood sustainable?

As a building material, wood has been around for centuries if not millennia. Humans have always loved using wood for shelter thanks to its durability, reliability and availability, among many other reasons.

With the ever-increasing spotlight on eco-friendliness and sustainability in recent years, it's no surprise that wood's status is being brought into question. However, does it really deserve its title of being the most sustainable resource?

The truth is that wood can certainly be sustainable. Contrary to popular belief, though, its sustainability isn't inherent – it hinges on a variety of factors.

What makes wood sustainable?

Wood's sustainability largely stems from its renewability and biodegradability.

Right from the start, trees already provide us with so much. Trees absorb CO2 as they grow, hiding it away in their biomass. If they reach the end of their lifecycle, they will naturally decompose and leech nutrients to the soil – proving yet again their usefulness to the very end.

If they're turned into timber, however, the carbon becomes locked inside for the life of the wood which can last decades or even centuries. This is called carbon sequestration and it's one of the options being explored to combat climate change.

The idea is that carbon sequestration, when given enough time and coupled with sustainable harvesting practices, can help offset carbon emissions enough to make a concrete difference.

Meanwhile, wood production doesn't just have a lower environmental impact than other types of materials, it's also beneficial to our planet.

Wood has a naturally lower embodied energy than other materials, meaning it takes less energy to produce than plastic, concrete, or steel. Its production process also has a carbon footprint that's lower than that of many other materials like steel, iron, aluminium, glass, and rubber. Wood byproducts like bark and shavings can also be used as biofuel and offset the energy required for its production even more.

Finally, unlike many other materials, wood is a resource considered renewable. After all, forests can be replanted. They've been around for thousands of years way before the human species as we know it existed. Even now, wood supplies can be maintained for an indefinite period of time.

That is, as long as the trees are harvested responsibly. Without responsible harvesting, wood can be just as unsustainable as any other material.

Isn't cutting down trees bad?


The question of whether wood can always be sustainable is a difficult one.

After all, it's impossible to deny that the act of cutting down trees alone can be detrimental – if done irresponsibly.

Deforestation is a huge problem worldwide. In Australia, over 40% of our forests have been decimated, including the Toolangi Forest which we watched become a shadow of its old self due to deforestation.

Deforestation is a large contributor to climate change. It leads to habitat loss, decreases biodiversity, and affects local residents in more ways than one.

That's why current sustainable forestry practices are now aiming to balance wood production with environmental conservation – hoping to alleviate the effects of bygone days.

So, if you're wondering if wood will always be sustainable? For now, the answer is that it depends on ongoing conservation efforts in addition to our collective commitment as a society to maintain the health of our forests.

What do we use wood for?

Wood is used for many different things. It's an incredibly versatile material that goes well in all sorts of projects.

For instance, it can be used in paper as well as fuel. It can be used to create walls of houses, furnitures like desks and chairs, and even decorations for aesthetic appeal.

Pros and cons of using wood

Using wood has its pros and cons, just like any other material.


  • Renewable. Wood can be renewable as long as it's sourced responsibly.
  • Biodegradable. Wood breaks down naturally unlike other materials such as plastic and rubber that can take hundreds if not thousands of years.
  • Carbon Storage. Trees absorb carbon dioxide in their surroundings since they use it in the photosynthesis process.
  • Versatile. As mentioned above, there are many use cases for wood and wood byproducts, both as a material and a component for other materials.


  • Deforestation. Typically caused by irresponsible logging practices.
  • Degradation. Untreated wood is at risk of degrading over time.
  • Fire Risk. Wood is a fire risk. Even wild forests face the risk of getting burned to the ground.

Are there wood alternatives that are as environmentally friendly as timber?


To be fair, there are also other building materials that are candidates for sustainability.

Some of the materials that can fit this category are bamboo, recycled metal, and straw bales. Bamboo in particular grows rather quickly and has similar uses to wood.

Of course, right now wood is still the top option, but these eco-friendly options are also viable alternatives.

Is all timber sustainable?

Not all timber is created equal in terms of sustainability. Here's a quick overview of different types of timber and how sustainable they are:

  • Oak Wood - Slow-growing, often less sustainable.
  • Plywood - Depends on source, can be sustainable.
  • Pine Wood - Fast-growing, generally more sustainable.
  • Acacia Wood - Durable, sustainable if sourced responsibly.
  • Maple Wood - Moderately sustainable, varies by source.
  • Walnut Wood - Slow-growing, less sustainable.
  • Balsa Wood - Fast-growing, highly sustainable.
  • Teak Wood - Durable, often less sustainable due to slow growth.
  • Beech Wood - Moderately sustainable.
  • Olive Wood - Sustainable if sourced from pruned trees.
  • Birch Wood - Generally sustainable, fast-growing.
  • Bamboo Wood - Extremely sustainable, fast-growing.
  • Meranti Wood - Varies, often less sustainable.
  • Cedar Wood - Durable, moderately sustainable.
  • Cherry Wood - Moderately sustainable, varies by source.

How to buy sustainable timber?

If you want sustainable timber, you have to know that it's sustainable in the first place. Look for certifications like FSC or PEFC. These are labels given to wood sourced from responsibly managed forests.

You can also opt for local species to reduce your carbon footprint and consider reclaimed or recycled wood for an even greener choice.

These steps may seem simple, but if we can do them together, we're not only supporting sustainable wood production but also reducing our negative impacts on the environment.