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How to choose eco-friendly oak kitchen cabinets

To the average consumer, an oak is an oak is an oak. Yet, much oak hails from old-growth rainforests in Canada and Russia. This type of wood sourcing destroys biodiversity and contributes to global climate change. Other oak has been grown in second-growth forests and is eco-friendly. There are a number of different "earth friendly" certification stickers on oak kitchen cabinets. But how can you be sure that your choice represents good stewardship?

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Oak kitchen cabinets: certifications

Forest Stewardship Council (FSC). The benchmark of certification, wood products bearing FSC certification require evidence of 'chain-of-custody,' which means the product has been sourced ethically from oak tree to oak kitchen cabinets. According to Terry Zinn, Director of Certification at Green Cabinetry Source, with FSC certification you can "track that piece of lumber you're holding to a stump somewhere." Forest Stewardship Council certification is the only furniture and cabinetry certification process to gain points for organizations seeking recognition from the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) program.

Sustainable Forestry Initiative (SFI). Similar to FSC, SFI certification requires 'chain-of-custody,' which suggests SFI does rigorous tracking of sourcing practices in the name of sustainability. The SFI was recently refused LEED acceptance, however; and organizations like Forest Ethics accuse SFI of 'green-washing' business-as-usual.

Environmental Stewardship Program (ESP). A more general certification program, ESP certification indicates a broad array of sound environmental practices, but does not necessarily indicate the wood in your oak kitchen cabinets has been sourced from a second-growth forest. Board members include executives at manufacturers like Masco and Masterbrand, both makers of prominent brands like Kraftsmaid, Adelphi, Aristokraft and others.

The paper-work involved for chain-of-custory certification puts many off, according to Zinn. Of those with ESP certification, he says "less than 5 percent have chain-of-custody certification." Yet, "50 percent have source certification," which means that the forests, but not the labor, are state-certified.

These products bear no stamp alerting the consumer of their different definitions of sustainability. Make sustainable practices the default in your consumer choices; and always ask your vendor which oak is source-certified.

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