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  PlanetArk 12 Jun 07
Are You Eating Dinner on a Piece of Rainforest?
Story by Sylvia Westall

LONDON - Love your new dining room table ... but did you ask the salesman whether it's made from chopped up rainforest trees?

A growing number of furniture shoppers are doing just that when they buy new home decor, concerned about the effects of shrinking rainforests on global warming and the extinction of rare species of flora and fauna that inhabit these forests.

"There's a lot of inexpensive places where you can get furniture from, but I ask myself - where is it being manufactured, where does the wood come from?" said Stephanie Zhong, a 38-year-old designer from Los Angeles.

"If people were more aware of it, they would choose to be a little bit more informed about what they are sitting on, the table they are working at," Zhong added.

Around 8 percent of timber entering European Union countries in 2004 was probably illegal and could have landed up as tables and chairs sold across Europe, according to estimates by World Wide Fund for Nature researcher James Hewitt.

Experts say the best way of clamping down on illegal logging of rainforests in Asia, Africa and Latin America is to educate consumers in the West to make sure they buy furniture made from sustainable sources such as plantation wood.

If consumers ask about the sources of wood before they buy furniture then prices might come down and there will be no financial incentives for locals to cut down these unique and irreplaceable tropical forests, they say.

"I think that people probably don't think about it on their own, but if they were presented with a clear choice ... they would choose the sustainably sourced option," said Joanna Southernwood, an environmental adviser in Britain.

To this end, the Forestry Stewardship Council (FSC) issues a logo for furniture made from approved plantation wood as opposed to wood from rainforests, which are ruined forever once chopped down even when loggers attempt to replant secondary forests.

Identifying growing consumer demand for sustainable furniture, Swedish furniture giant Ikea has set itself a goal of ensuring that at least 30 percent of its wood comes from FSC-approved sources by next year.

"People ask where does the product come from? What kind of wood is it made from? Is it coming from tropical rainforests?" said Sofie Beckham, a forestry coordinator for Ikea.

But some green shoppers say that mass-produced, "disposable furniture" sold by large-scale outlets like Ikea, which last a few years and is then replaced with new fashionable decor, leaves an unnecessarily large environmental footprint.

Shoppers concerned about the environment should instead opt for long-lasting furniture made from approved or recycled wood, they say.

"Sustainability is also about buying pieces that are built to last, pieces that you will keep," said Zhong.

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