Is Coconut Wood the most Sustainable Timber?
The key to a sustainable timber is one that is fast growing and short lived. Coconut ticks both of these categories, and many more as we will explore. First, we’ll look at old, slow growers so we may then see the contrast in our better options.
The oldest living tree we know of, named Methuselah, is 4,852 years old. When this tree was born, the human population of the entire planet was less than that of Italy today.
Cedar, Pine, Ash, Beech, Birch, Oak, Teak, Walnut and Mahogany make up some of the most common timbers. They’re durable, yet fairly easy to work with, making them ideal, but the average lifespan for these trees is 286 years.
The global average life expectancy for humans is 71 years, and so a typical tree used for wood is a over 4 human generations. So, when the topic of sustainable forestry arises, it’s hard to understand how the sustainability aspect can be guaranteed and/or accountable. You can replace a felled tree, but you can’t stick around a few hundred years to guarantee nobody else chops it down prematurely.
Now, of course a tree doesn’t have to live its full life to be usable, although as a tree lover, I wish they did. Even the slow growing trees typically reach their maximum heights within 30-60 years. Younger trees release higher levels of oxygen into the atmosphere than older trees, due to a higher rate of photosynthesis required to increase their biomass.
Could it be possible that we could actually increase the oxygen levels in the atmosphere by harvesting trees for timber in a 50-year cycle?
No. Problem is, we need eco-systems to survive. Older trees provide value to the forest in canopy and nesting holes and even entire species of other plants rely on old-growth forests. The wealth of fallen leaves and branches provide homes, breeding grounds, foraging sites and soil fertility. Forests are integrated systems. There can be no old, slow growing trees, without old, slow growing forests.
We tend to respect oxygen production of plants, as we all know we need this to stay alive. Carbon, Hydrogen, Oxygen, Nitrogen, the four most common elements in all living organisms.
But this is a chicken and egg scenario, we need oxygen to live, but we too need life for the production of oxygen.
If you want to increase your chances of using a wood that is sustainable, your best bet is to leave the old, slow growing trees alone. Let them be part of the forest, those same forests that have sustained our planet and the habitability of life on our planet for millennia.
A short-lived tree has typically a 50 to 100-year lifespan. The shortest of all is a peach tree with just 10-15 years of life. Our favorite tree, the coconut, lives around 80-100 years.
Most fruit trees are typically short-lived, but do not provide a useful form of timber. Cherry and apple might just be classified as an exception here.
The fast growers’ properties just aren’t quite right. They’re too soft, too short, too thin and they don’t last long after they’ve been cut. Most fast-growing trees produce soft woods, and any wood worker will tell you they’re not fit for a hardwoods job.
The Coconut Tree
Enter the Coconut, a fast-growing hardwood substitute. Coconut wood remains a softwood, but it is particularly dense for a softwood. When the tree is short it is wide, and when it is tall it is thin, so you can get what you need in dimensions from the variations of tree.
The wood is beautiful, a chocolatey mahogany color, with a stunning grain. Perfect for furniture, home and kitchen wares and can even be used in construction, flooring, walls, surfaces. It gives you what you want from a wood.
But being beautiful and functional doesn’t make it sustainable. Here are the points to consider:
#1. In a tropical climate, these are extremely easily to grow. There is never any need for toxic chemicals or pesticides to help these grow.
#2. They’re not providing the benefits that an older tree might, so by cutting them down before the end of their life span, you’re not taking away something that gives far greater value to the earth.
#3. They are abundant. Actually, across Indonesia and much of Asia there is a problem with too many old coconut trees. We need younger trees to keep up with the demands for fruit and oil from the coconut. The older coconut trees no longer serve much of a purpose to their own eco-systems. As coconut trees age, they become prone to disease and this disease can spread to younger, healthy trees.
#4. Every part of the coconut tree is extremely useful:
Coconut Leaves - Can be used for shelter, making brooms, wrapping rice, or here in Bali as decorative parts of offerings.
Coconut Flesh – Used for cooking, coconut milk, a powerful antioxidant.
Coconut Oil – Delicious to cook with, amazing for hair and skin.
Coconut Shells – Can be turned into bowls, plates, trays, art works.
Coconut Husk – Can be woven into jute fibers o used raw as a cleaning scrub or even made into strong rope.
Coconut Flower – Has medicinal purposes and can help relieve constipation or treat kidney diseases.
Coconut Water – The most refreshing drink you’ll ever find, especially if you’re trying to survive on a desert island!
From the moment the coconut is born to the end of its life and beyond, the coconut has so many purposes, it is so practical, such an incredible resource, and we don’t have to damage anything to use it! There’s no reliance on a centuries long promise for sustainability, it can be witnessed and held accountable.
It is not the tree that is sustainable. It is sustainable by how we grow it and extract its resources. For some odd reasons, there are unsustainable coconut forests out there. Particularly in countries or locations where rainfall is not sufficient to support growth and huge amounts of water must be pumped.
But that characteristics of the life cycle and production of coconut materials certainly lead it to be the most likely and feasible option for sustainable timber and our first-hand experience in the largest coconut producing country in the world, is that it is the most sustainable timber.
If you found this interesting and would like to view some of our sustainable products using coconut checkout some of our favorites:
Coconut Dish Sponge – Raw coconut husk wrapped in a coconut fiber makes the perfect eco-friendly replacement for your typical (likely plastic) kitchen sponges
Coconut Cutlery Sets – The same design as our bamboo cutlery sets, the coconut wood gives a more elegant and classy style.
Coconut Bowls – A polished coconut shell makes a beautiful breakfast or smoothie bowl.
Coconut Soap/Incense Trays – Artistically carved coconut shells make the perfect small trays
Coconut Toilet Brush – An item found rarely made of anything besides plastic. The coconut handle and coconut husk brush turn an ugly feature into a beautiful part of your bathroom.
Finally, if you’re like me and love a good Pina Colada, take a listen to this lovely and confusing tune about the questionable medicinal benefits of putting a lime in a coconut!