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International Wood - Designing for Good -Different Designs, Creating Impact Where it Counts

Different Designs, Creating Impact Where it Counts


Architects, designers and specifiers have clients flirting with plans to build new houses, office buildings, renovate kitchens, baths, or simply adding decks. With budgets ranging from frugal to lavish, these clients look to the architect and design (A&D) community to earn the best return on investment.

The choices are endless for specifying and designing, but there’s only one choice that fits the bill for durability, sustainability and beauty – wood. Wood is the undisputed best “green” choice on the market. The question then is not whether to use wood, but how best to incorporate it into your project. Which species? Which grade? Knowledge of what is available leads to innovation and maximizes the impact of your creativity. Very often, the best choice may be a species grown outside the USA. Imported wood species can meet or exceed any design requirement. But one of the most striking reasons to specify imported wood may surprise you: It is a choice that has positive implications far beyond the wood.

Collaborative Benefits
P.Terry's Burger Joint in Austin Texas makes extensive use of garapa wood. (photo courtesy of East Teak/Photographer Matt Mladenka)

Forestry plays a leading role in sustaining forests and providing economic enrichment. There is growing evidence that the best way to protect tropical forests is to encourage international trade in wood products.

The A&D community can help ensure that international forests are sustainably managed by specifying imported wood in their projects. Specifying imported wood not only provides your customers with exciting colors and unique patterns, it maximizes the positive impact that trade brings to forest dependent communities. The World Bank noted, “More than 90 percent of the 1.2 billion people living in extreme poverty [are] dependent on forests for some part of their livelihoods.” When communities and countries value their forests for commercial trade, they won’t cut them down to grow soybeans, cocoa or palm oil trees.

There is a proven link between trade, poverty alleviation and sustainable forest management. Trade in wood products is an important component that has helped cut world poverty in half since 1981. Less poverty translates into emerging economies with improved quality of life, health care and education. You can expand your designs with imported wood species confident in the knowledge that you are making a great difference for these at risk communities.

“Green” Means “Go” for Imported Species

Given all of the new federal regulations such as the Lacey Act in the United States and similar legislation in the European Union, wood producers overseas pay great attention to legality requirements and sustainable forest management. Importers are doing the same. They use a range of tools such as audits, certification and other due diligence methods to ensure their wood was legally procured. Operating under the requirements of the Lacey Act, legislation which forbids trade in illegal material, imports have acquired additional credibility from the U.S. government and the marketplace.

As an added benefit, architects and specifiers have access to a significant number of different certification systems in the marketplace. All of these programs share a common denominator: To certify and verify legality and sustainability.

Some consider the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) the “gold” standard primarily because LEED only accepts forest products certified by the FSC. That may soon change as the U.S. Green Building Council is currently reviewing their rating system. The FSC is not widespread in community forest operations and in developing countries in general. If your clients are demanding certified, take the time to educate them and bring your supplier partner to the table as there are likely a whole host of certification programs that may fit the bill.

For example, other leading certification programs on the market today include an alphabet soup of options. The Malaysian Timber Certification Council (MTCC), Program for the Endorsement of Forest Certification (PEFC), Sustainable Forestry Initiative (SFI), Timber Legality & Traceability Verification (TLTV), Verified Legal Origin (VLO), the Tropical Forest Foundation’s (TFF) Legal Verified with Chain of Custody® (CoC), Tropical Forest Trust (TFT), GREENGUARD, among many others. And don’t forget, there is also plenty of non-third party certified wood that is legal and sustainable. U.S. hardwoods also fall into this category.

It’s OK to be Different

Armed with the positive facts about imports, you can now find the perfect wood species for any project. There is virtually an imported species and product for every application at various price points.

Importers, woodworkers and suppliers stand ready to assist you in finding the best wood species for a project. Becoming knowledgeable of a wood species attributes, availability and workability ensures your project’s success from the start. Begin by seeking out suppliers who are affiliated with a trade association. In the U.S., the International Wood Products Association (IWPA) is the only trade group that represents importers and their supply chain. IWPA members also conduct pro-active due diligence on their suppliers to ensure legal and sustainable requirements are met, and have very specific information on the precise origin of wood.


Don’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good when it comes to selecting grades. Sometimes buying the top of the line is necessary, but “perfect” may be found in lower grades in terms of character.

The right look and feel can often be found in mid-range grades of imported wood. Their beauty is often enhanced by knots and growth marks. Proof of this is the growing market for reclaimed wood. Grades signal the number of natural characteristics in a board, not the board's total quality. Using more random lengths and a wider grade range mimics what naturally comes from a tree and the forest at large. Using a wider grade range in your project not only differentiates your designs from others, but it is the environmentally conscious approach to design.

Unique Species, Remarkable Projects

The remarkable projects that come from the creative minds of the A&D community are made real when combined with the perfect material - wood. The forest gives us thousands of species globally, yet many remain underutilized. Using a lesser-known species brings freshness to design and has the added benefit of relieving the strain on the more popular species such as oak, maple, ipé, teak, and mahogany.

P. Terry's Burger Joint in Austin, Texas features garapa wood. Photo courtesy of East Teak/Photographer Matt Mladenka.

 Breaking away from the herd and using unique LKS, or “alternative species,” also generates increased economic returns to forest dependent communities and further advances sustainable forest management. LKS are being incorporated into modern and traditional designs with great success.


One remarkable project that melded the use of garapa (Apuleia leiocarpa) into a modern design was implemented for P.Terry’s burger joint in Austin, Texas. Lead architect Micah Land said, “The harsh Texas weather demanded a durable, appealing wood product. Garapa was chosen for its very rich, distinctive tone and high strength characteristics. Mesh budgetary concerns and performance data, it was an ideal addition to P.Terry’s palette.”

Choosing wood with more character gives value to the client, sustainability to the resource and creates impact to the design. Using alternative species helps promote sustainable forest management in developing countries and increases the return that forest dependent communities receive. Your design does make a difference, but in more ways than you originally thought.

Copyright© 2010 by the International Wood Products Association. Published by Bedford Falls Communications, Inc. and circulated to an audience of 20,000 architects, designers, distributors, manufacturers, and users of imported wood products in North America.

Alternative Species

The International Wood Products Association has identified several lesser known species from around the world that have significant potential in the U.S. market. Lesser known species represent interesting alternatives to well-known species for applications such as decking, flooring, moulding and millwork. Technical information on these species can be found at the U.S. Forest Products Laboratory in Madison, Wisconsin or visit the IWPA list.


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