The need for providing sustainable and environmentally responsible materials and practices has spread to every sector of the worlds global economy. One area that has been making strides in eco-friendly technology has been the construction industry. Previously overlooked materials like paint and insulation ended up being hazardous to the public’s health – However, the industry has come a long way in improving the safety of the materials themselves and begun to look at the entire production process, from start to finish, in an effort to reduce and hopefully eliminate the environmental footprint the industry leaves on the planet.
Influential Brazilian entrepreneur and champion of eco-friendly business practices Flavio Maluf, has left his mark on the construction industries growing eco-friendly practices. Maluf is the President of Eucatex and has spent his career instilling sustainability and corporate social responsibility into his business practices. Mr. Maluf was taught the important role of the environment at a young age through the example set by his family’s saw mill. As early adopters and pioneers of sustainable business practices, what began as a small family business that cared about the quality of life for the surrounding community, grew into a globally recognized eco-friendly corporation that we know today as Eucatex.
Founded in 1951, Eucatex is based in São Paulo and uses eucalyptus trees as the raw material for the production of its products. Mr. Maluf insists on preserving his family’s legacy through the continuation of environmental and social projects – a project his family started in 1962 with their initial investment in land management and reforestation. The lumber industry where Maluf’s family got its start has been heavily influenced by his sustainable forestry initiatives. Clearcutting is becoming a thing of the past and many new and innovative methods of cultivating lumber are proving to be profitable and sustainable.
Wood remains one of the most eco-friendly and sustainable building materials and it has been for thousands of years, so long as the forest is properly managed. The major issue affecting the industry today seems to be the lack of a trusted and uniform certification process. Major furniture suppliers, such as Ikea, offer eco-friendly furniture and Eucatex products are available at home improvement stores like Home Depot, but they are still a minority. The demand for wood that is coming from a well-managed forest is strong, but the pace of certification is slow and at times complicated. The Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) is one of the largest and most reputable organizations in forest management. This non-government organization has certified more than 59 million acres of forest in 47 countries. This sounds like a lot, but it only represents about 4 percent of the world’s logging industry.
Many major retailers are unable to advertise eco-friendly wood because there is simply not enough oversite or certifications to ensure that the wood is not being harvested from endangered forests. In response to the slow growth in certified lumber and other wood-based products, the US logging industry has created its own certification system – It is called the Sustainable Forestry Initiative (SFI), but because it’s run by the logging industry, it lacks the credibility of nonaffiliated environmental groups. Maluf feels it is still important to include timber-industry representatives on the board of these groups, but the influence of money needs to be removed.
Most organizations require a series of independent environmental, economic, and social audits of a forest before certification. Third-party auditors visit a forest to check on its overall health, noting relative data like the extent of clear-cutting and the quantities of pesticides or herbicides used. It is important that certifications cover all the important principals for environmental sustainability that Maluf’s family helped to pioneer. Major points should include: obeying the law, protecting the rights of native peoples, reducing waste, preserving indigenous species, contributing to the economic well-being of the local communities, and preserving the forest. This is also one of the reasons certifications is such a slow process.
Reviewing any given logging company can take years and there is no guarantee that the certification will be granted at the end of the process. It is also imperative that the industry provide transparency throughout the supply chain. The FSC for example, has what it refers to as a “chain of custody” certification that tracks wood all the way from the jungle to the store shelf. This type of certification is considered critical to the integrity of any program in order to prevent the creation of legitimate looking documents that cover up the trade of illegally cut wood.
Europe is an industry leader in the sale of certified lumber. Consumers within the European Union can purchase every certified wood-based product imaginable from a 2×4 stud to a piece paper. The certification prosses is making progress in the forested areas of Brazil, Canada, the United Kingdom, and the United States. In the UK for example, over 1.5 percent of the wood products sold are FSC certified. That may look inconsequential, however, it is equal to that of the growing organic food industry. Maluf points out that there are a number of reasons to continue the rapid advancement of certification processes around the globe.
In his experience certification acts to greatly increase the industry standards for forest management; it sets a benchmark for all forestry organizations and their surrounding communities. Certification also creates tangible economic benefits for businesses. As the public and private sector continue to enforce stricter requirements on environmentally responsible practices, earning a certification gives the entire timber industry access to new markets and a stronger, more diverse customer base, which translates into higher revenues. Certification also builds stronger bonds between businesses and customers. Eco-friendly practices and products give your brand credibility, since customers can be confident of the responsible origins of your products. Protecting forest ecosystems and fighting climate change provides a sustainable business model for an enduring company.
Flavio Maluf Discusses Environmental Impact
Wood remains one of the best building materials on the market. It is pleasant to look at, easy to work with, renewable, recyclable, carbon efficient, low-energy, high-performance, and most of all, sustainable. The energy required for new construction in any given year represents approximately 5 to 10 percent of global carbon emissions. The energy required for heating, cooling, lighting and ventilating structures is responsible for around 40 percent of global carbon emissions. Maluf recognizes that the construction industry and policymakers need to adopt more environmentally friendly materials and methods in order to achieve the required level of carbon emissions necessary to combat the effects of global warming. Lumber is one of the most sustainable and environmentally responsible construction materials when compared to other options. Certified timber is an essential step forward, along the path to a more sustainable building industry. Independent certification is the only way to guarantee the use of environmentally appropriate forest management practices in the production of wood for construction. Sustainable materials are essential for companies participating in the green building industry, but they also help to ensure compliance with regulations in a rapidly changing timber industry.
Concrete and steel are still the most common construction materials used around the globe. Maluf is working to change this. He sees the ecological problems associated with the production of both. For instance, steel production is 24 times more energy-intensive than the production of wood, while concrete emits 0.14 tons of CO2 per cubic meter. Wood on the other hand actually works in reverse to some degree – it absorbs approximately 0.9 tons of CO2 per cubic meter, storing the carbon for the duration of its lifespan. This means that harvested timber stores the carbon while more trees are grown in their place, creating a net carbon reduction.
The CO2 emissions of various building materials can change drastically over the life of a structure. While wood-based construction materials like timber, plywood, particle board and hardboard absorb carbon, other construction materials like gypsum, limestone, bricks and metal create a significant amount of carbon emissions during their life cycle. Wood also has the advantage of being recycled which gives it the potential to greatly extend its carbon sequestration capacity. These are just a few of the ways wood-based construction materials like those at Eucatex are helping the construction industry reach its sustainable goals and remain compliant with the many environmental regulations they face.
When managed properly wood remains a renewable material, while the majority of construction materials like metal, concrete, and PVC are not. The global supply of many of these materials is rapidly shrinking, particularly petroleum-based plastics. The industry is facing an impending crisis as dwindling reserves of non-renewable resources simply cannot keep pace with the rapidly growing demand. The United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) has concluded that when it comes to resource availability, sustainably harvested wood is the preferred construction material over similar products made of non-renewable material. This is because the residues and byproducts from the forest and wood industry do not pollute the environment.
In addition, like the recycling plant built into Eucatex’s famous saw mill, they can be re-used as raw materials or renewable fuel. Plus, as more lumber becomes certified and forests are managed responsibly, the sustainability of wood can be ensured. On the other hand, the FAO concluded that the residues of many petroleum-based plastics are environmental pollutants and the materials are not able to be reused after the life cycle of the structure has ended.
To further advocate for the use of wood-based products as a viable solution to sustainable construction, Maluf points to a 2010 study published by the Canadian Wood Council. Their research compared the overall environmental impact of three similar houses: one built primarily with wood, one with concrete and one with steel. They found that over the course of 20 years, when compared to the wood house, the steel house used 26 percent more energy, emitted 34 percent more greenhouse gases, produced 24 percent more air pollution, created 4 times more water pollution, and left behind 8 percent more solid wastes. The concrete home used 57 percent more energy, emitted 81 percent more greenhouse gases, produced 47 percent more air pollution, created 3.5 times more water pollution, and left behind 23 percent more solid wastes.
A separate life cycle assessment comparing the environmental impacts of solid wood, linoleum and vinyl flooring materials revealed that flooring made of wood has the lowest energy use and CO2 emissions. Wood outperforms other materials in most environmental impact categories. Research suggests that increasing the amount of timber in buildings by replacing materials like concrete and steel can reduce greenhouse gas emissions by as much as 86 percent.
It is not just for environmental reasons that people use wood for construction. Wood can speed up the pace of construction because when you are building using lumber, you are less susceptible to the weather than other materials. This means that there is potential for reduced time and cost in the construction of a building. Wooden structures can also be pre-engineered offsite. This allows builders to use the highest levels of quality control and accuracy, which in turn makes construction more efficient. As mentioned before, wood construction is naturally well insulated cutting down on the heating or cooling costs of a building, making it a common choice for energy-efficient buildings.
Another reason for this is because wood absorbs moisture from the air when the humidity level in a space is high, then releases it when the humidity level is low, keeping spaces more comfortable. Wood-frame buildings are easy to change and modify, giving them the ability to adapt to new needs, further extending the life span of the structure. Unlike other building materials used wood can be reused in other buildings or wood-based products, sometimes fetching a higher price than its newly produced equal. Due to its natural flexibility, wood is more earthquake safe than concrete. Plus, wooden products do not emit any harmful vapors, making it the healthiest choice for any structure.
Wooden structures have a very long life span and technology continues to push their limitless potential. A recent study of buildings demolished in the United States found that 63 percent of the wood buildings demolished were over 50 years old and the majority of those were more than 75 years old. The study also outlined the purposes for the demolitions and showed that the main reasons were not related to structural failures. In fact, the vast majority of demolitions were the result of increasing land values and lack of suitability for current needs. The study showed that wooden structures were very capable of meeting the longevity expectations of US builders. The Canadian Wood Council also backs up these findings and believes that with proper care and maintenance, wood buildings can last indefinitely.
Flavio Maluf produces many wood-based products from his sustainable operations. One of the most famous is his beautiful line of eucalyptus wood furniture, which has become a status symbol for homeowners in Brazil. Some research indicates that there is a link between our perceived well-being and the use of wooden objects and furnishings in our interior spaces. Our natural response to wood is extremely positive and people tend to like rooms with many wooden details. There is a lot of data to support the belief that wood can help to create healthy environments. Not only does wood possess non-toxic qualities to support good physical health as mentioned earlier, but it creates aesthetically pleasing environments that support good mental health as well. Wooden rooms are commonly described as natural, warm, inviting, comfortable, and relaxing. This is leading more consumers to include natural materials like wood in their interior spaces and furnishings.
Mr. Maluf has proudly kept the production processes for all of the company’s products environmentally friendly. When the company began operating in the 1950s, sustainability was a novel idea, since protecting the environment was not yet part of the social consciousness and there were not many regulations in Brazil at the time. The Eucatex Group continues to expand its environmentally friendly practices and is even the first business in South America to incorporate a recycling plant inside its factory. This recycling plant moves the company towards a sustainable future by using leftover wood chips to create energy for the factory.
Flavio Maluf concentrates much of his time and energy on the promotion of environmentally friendly wood-based products to help the construction industry attain sustainability. As president of Eucatex he puts into action all of the lessons he learned from the family business in regards to the environment. The way in which he operates his business takes into consideration social, environmental and economic concerns when it comes to Eucatex’s values, culture, decision making processes, and operations. His main priority is maintaining the eco-friendly production of products from the forest all the way to the factory.
Read our other post about Flavio Maluf and his commitment to sustainability here: