Why waste wood?

Rainforest advocate urges use of recycled 'plastic lumbers' in benches, rather than hardwoods
Joe Iannarelli   Business First
When Tim Keating came to Buffalo in July, he surveyed the downtown landscape.

He casually walked from city hall through Niagara Square and ended up near Lafayette Court, all the while taking pictures. Not too unusual for an out-of-town visitor, except for one thing. He was photographing benches.

Keating is executive director of Rainforest Relief, based in Brooklyn, a nonprofit organization dedicated to the preservation of rainforests .

He came to Buffalo to meet with members of the environmental community to talk about the use of tropical hardwoods in waterfront development. Most boardwalks, piers, docks and benches are constructed with tropical hardwoods.
"We are working to proactively engage everyone to assure the use of alternatives to tropical woods in their redevelopment plans," Keating said. "Durability is an issue that folks are looking for and most hardwoods are very beautiful. Illegal logging is rampant where these woods are found. Ecologically, it's a catastrophe."

Most popular
One of the most popular tropical hardwoods, ipe, pronounced "EE-pay," is found in the Amazon. It's an incredibly dense wood and does well in coastal environments. Other popular woods include greenheart, found in Guyana, and ekki, found in Africa. Mahogany and rosewood are also used.
Environmentalists said 98 percent of the biodiversity losses the earth is experiencing is happening in tropical rainforests. Logging is to blame, directly and indirectly, clearing the way for other ventures, but there are alternatives.
"For waterfront construction, we are advocating the use of structural recycled plastic lumbers," Keating said. "Most are made from recycled soda bottles, milk jugs, fiberglass and other materials."
Keating said most of the benches he saw in Buffalo were made from tropical hardwoods.
"Almost every bench that I saw was made out of rainforest woods," he said. "This may not seem that significant, but when you add up every town in America, it's a huge amount of wood."

Draft ordinance
An ordinance is being drafted to minimize the use of tropical hardwoods along the waterfront and other developments. Introduced by Buffalo Common Council At Large Member Charley Fisher, the resolution is in committee.
"Some times municipalities can make an impact by doing their part," he said. "We have a singular and unique opportunity to do our part. We can change our methods of operation and find a balanced approach to an environmental problem."
Rainforest Relief has provided the city with a model ordinance. Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design standards, which requires the use of wood harvested within 500 miles of all projects, are also being considered.
"Given the option of being environmentally conscious at a painless price, people are willing to do it," Fisher said. "We have the most available waterfront of any city in America. We have the potential to bring heritage, culture and history together. It's at the waterfront. This is our way of doing this better, cheaper and environmentally friendly. We can make it beautiful, cost-effective and done with a conscience. We've got to work together. Business is not an enemy. It's an ally."

Varied support
Deforestation of tropical hardwoods fits into a broader sense of environmental activism and awareness, an area sustainability expert said.
"We don't exist alone here," Jay Burney, director of the Learning Sustainability Campaign, a nonprofit organization that promotes dialogue on sustainability issues based in Buffalo. "Sustainability is about recognizing global issues and acting locally. The deforestation of tropical hardwoods does pertain to the sustainability of our planet."
The sustainability campaign has developed media outreach programs, councils, conferences, roundtables and a task force all with a sustainable theme.
"People need to think about the implications of the hardwoods," Burney said. "Rainforest destruction is a thing of great consequence. There are alternatives. Sometimes it takes a little research but taking the time and turning our thinking into action is the result."
Studies have shown rainforest woods are being consumed at a rate that is unsustainable. Burney said this has terrible consequences for the environment and a sustainable future.
"The destruction of these forests occurs because consumers, particularly those in North America, and in communities like Buffalo, are buying the rainforest wood as products and using them with a kind of mindless abandon," he said.
For other environmental organizations, the issue represents a common theme.
"As an organization, we are concerned about the sustainable construction of the waterfront and any other kind of development the city might engage in," said Mike Schade, Western New York director of the Citizens Environmental Coalition in Buffalo. "That extends to the use of other hazardous materials that account for other facets in construction. Deforestation rates increase every day and many of these trees are thousands of years old and support critical portions of native habitats. Hopefully this will pave the way for other sustainable ordinances."
"We are very supportive of anything that minimizes destruction of rainforests," said Lynda Schneekloth, president of the Friends of the Buffalo Niagara Rivers. "They are the lungs of this earth. There are options available. It's a matter of instituting standard operating procedures and commonly accepted practices."
"There is a growing awareness of the environmental advocacy available," said Bruce Coleman, chairman of the City of Buffalo Environmental Management Commission. "There is no shortage of rationale in terms of what is available for alternatives on the marketplace. The easy to grab quick resources have severe implications. These resources can represent everything we value as a natural resource. Taking a stand on something like this important. More and more people are starting to realize what's at stake."
2002 American City Business Journals Inc.

"The earth and myself are of one mind. The measure of the land and the
measure of our bodies are the same..."
                                   -- Hinmaton Yalatkit, Nez Perce chief

          R   A   I   N   F   O   R   E   S   T        R   E   L   I   E   F

             Sparing  the  World's  Rainforests  from  Consumption

      Rainforest Relief works to protect the world's remaining tropical
   and temperate rainforests by reducing the demand for the products
      and materials of rainforest destruction such as timber and paper,
      industrial agricultural products such as bananas, beef, coffee,
                   chocolate and cut flowers, and mining products
                                 such as oil, gold and aluminum.

                         Brooklyn, NY: phone/fax: (718) 398-3760
                                   Portland, OR: (503) 236-3031
                                       Email: relief@igc.org
                         P.O. 150566  *  Brooklyn, NY 11215  USA