Some define all-wood products as green because they are more natural than petroleum-based plastics. It's not that simple. Buying environmentally unfriendly wood can accelerate global climate change, threaten watersheds and other resources and waste energy. 

Instead, find sustainable wood from forests that are growing faster than they are being harvested. Also look for solid alternatives, locally sourced wood and reclaimed lumber.

Sustain healthy forests

In general, choose fast-growth species instead of endangered, old-growth wood. But it's not as simple as choosing pine over teak. It's more important to know the source of your wood.

Forests sustain biodiversity, clean air and fresh water. They also slow global climate change by soaking up carbon dioxide. If properly managed, almost any type of forest can thrive and regenerate while also providing lumber, paper and other products. However, the same forests can also be clear-cut for some quick income and profitable alternative uses.

The Forest Stewardship Council logo is the best and easiest way to make sure your wood is from properly managed forests that are growing back as fast as they are being thinned. The respected group works in nearly 80 countries, certifying logging operations that maintain healthy forests and indigenous communities.

Build with grass

Another option avoids wood altogether. Bamboo, which is technically a grass, has received plenty of attention as a sustainable, versatile and strong alternative to wood. It grows about four times as quickly as most softwood trees. However, it also must be sustainably sourced. The FSC doesn't certify bamboo forests. Instead, visit the International Network for Bamboo and Rattan for more information on finding sustainably sourced bamboo.

Reducing transport energy

One problem with bamboo, however, is that shipping flooring and other bamboo products from its Asian sources requires plenty of energy. Another option is to look for wood building supplies and other products on the Sustainable Woods Network website. The group helps consumers find locally sourced wood in 12 American states. The products cut transport energy while also supporting local economies. Many of the suppliers are involved in old-growth forest restoration projects that help improve, rather than simply maintain, forested lands.

Reusing wood

Finally, the best way to use old-growth hardwoods is to reuse the lumber. Reclaimed and salvaged wood is gaining popularity as homeowners look for sustainable options and a unique look. Take care when using salvaged wood. The imperfections of an old barn wall or wine cask add character and an antique aesthetic to the salvaged wood, but they also add problems. Salvaged wood may split easily and can have difficulty retaining fasteners.

Find local salvaged or recycled wood in your state at the Building Materials Reuse Association.

Just because wood is natural doesn't make it sustainable. Consider the species, source and use of the wood. Find products approved by the Forest Stewardship Council and the Sustainable Woods Network, and seek out salvaged wood and wood alternatives.

Steve Graham originally wrote this story for It is reprinted with permission here.

Related stories on MNN: Sustainable forestry: A timeline

How to find environmentally friendly wood
Some lumber is not eco-friendly; the trick is to find sustainable forests and other alternatives.