Teak is a tropical hardwood typically used in the construction of both indoor and outdoor furniture and furnishings. It naturally contains oils that protects it from exposure, and resists pests and termites. Unsurprisingly, teak is in high demand around the world, which means sustainable practices for teak cultivation will have a large ecological impact as that demand continues to grow. Teak has natural characteristics that lend itself to sustainable plantation cultivation, implying that understanding sustainable teak farming starts with understanding teak. Historically, Indonesia has allocated a significant amount of land to plantation teak, so naturally we will also look to Indonesia to examine the current state of sustainable teak farming.
Teak belongs to a category of hardy plants known as pioneer species. These types of plants can survive in damaged ecosystems, and actually restore biodiversity by beginning a chain of ecological succession. Their adaptation to poor soils means that teak does not require implementation of fertilizers and artificial nutrient supplements. The main concern with plantation teak is the destruction of old growth teak, and therefore the loss of a naturally superior hardwood. However, studies conducted by the USDA Forest Service have found that plantation teak is comparable to old growth teak in terms of hardness, warp resistance and surface checking. The implication being that plantation teak grows almost the same as its natural counterpart, without degrading the species.
Just because teak is naturally suited for sustainable farming, does not mean that it is grown sustainably by default. It has been the responsibility of the Indonesia’s state-run teak production company, Perum Perhutani, to utilize teak’s characteristics to maintain sustainable plantations. Since the revocation of their “Certificate of Rain Forest Alliance for Sustainable Forest Management” by the Rainforest Alliance in 2002, Perum Perhutani has put in effect efforts to get back into the good graces of the sustainable forestry movement. Generally, minimizing poor management techniques by strengthening local management of protected areas and implementing responsible waste handling, target the human factor in the environmental impact. Other efforts utilize teak’s hardy, natural characteristics to improve plantation environments. These efforts include conserving water and soil usage to minimize forest erosion, and maintaining biodiversity to increase ecosystem quality and to avoid forest monocultures. Fortunately, teak thrives under these conditions.
The demand for teak continues to drive the growth of plantations. Teak’s success as a plantation hardwood means it can continue to provide a high level of quality hardwood with a low level of environmental impact. As teak becomes more locally available in dry-tropic regions across the globe, costs for importing teak and teak products will reduce, making it more commercially viable. This will hopefully promote the idea that sustainable plantations are worth our investment for the environment and our wallets.
Mike Bowman is an amateur furniture maker, freelance writer, and home improvement enthusiast. He has been fascinated with green living and environmental sciences since he first learned about sustainability and alternative energy research in college. He writes for his family business Tansu.net, an online retailer of sustainably-farmed teak furniture from Indonesia that looks great and helps keep your home green.