It’s a familiar scenario. You’re standing in the checkout line at the supermarket watching your goods trundle down the belt toward the cash register when suddenly the checkout clerk asks, "Paper or plastic?" and you’re stuck: Do you contribute to worldwide deforestation by choosing paper, or do you select plastic and resign yourself to living on landfill?
For homeowners trying to be green while yearning for the natural look and feel of wood on their floors, the issues become ever more amplified. After all, if you’re depleting the canopy by using only one paper bag, imagine the implications of 2,000 square feet of wood flooring. That’s a lot of leafy trees.
There’s no reason, however, to hang your head in shame when selecting a wood floor, as architect Eric Corey Freed, an expert in sustainability, gently chides: "Guilt is no way to approach environmentalism. You shouldn’t feel guilty. What you should do is question where the wood for your floor comes from."
No one wants their lovely new floor to be the cause of a rare parrot or toad’s extinction, so it’s nice to know there’s a whole spate of tree-friendly products on the market. "A lot of the woods now are rapidly renewable, meaning they’re either sustainably grown and harvested, or they’re like bamboo—a grass that can be cut and continues to grow, as much as three feet a day," Freed explains.
In addition to the different varieties of wood, there are also different kinds of flooring options, from engineered wood (where thin strips of wood are lain over each other in alternating directions then compressed) to reclaimed wood to wood laminate (plywood with a photo of wood adhered on top)—all of which have diverse levels of green credibility.
Whatever you do, however, once your sustainable solution is installed underfoot, don’t forget to apply an earth-friendly product to its surface. "The worst thing is to have a green floor and then put some nasty oil-based toxic lacquer on it," Freed warns. And feel free to toss your chemical cleansers; all you really need are water, white vinegar, and a mop.
A former editor at Dwell, Amara recently left the glamorous life of a magazine staffer to pursue her freelance writing dream. She has written for Sunset, Wallpaper*, the Architect’s Newspaper, VIA, and Apartment Therapy.