How sustainable is Acacia Wood? We take a closer look

Acacia is a highly sought-after type of wood, with beautiful tones and shades. It is also very versatile, meaning it can be used for a wide range of furniture and flooring projects. The downside is that some types of wild acacia become rarer, and these provide food and shelter for numerous birds and other animals. The question is: Is acacia wood sustainable?

What type of wood is Acacia?

Acacia wood is a genus of trees and shrubs native to Australasia, with similar types of trees being found naturally in Africa as well.

Due to its weather resistant nature, commercial growing of acacia trees has been increasing over the past decades. More than two million hectares of commercial plantations now exist, and it has become more available to furniture makers in particular.

It is known for being extremely good at withstanding different climates, which makes it excellent for growing globally. The acacia is the hardest of all woods, making it extremely durable. The wood is made up of multi-directional fibers, meaning the fibers are located towards each other. The drawback is that it is very hard to process when dry.

It is however prone to cracking during processing, so it needs to be dried out in a particular, gentle way to avoid damage. But when this process is over, it is as we’ve said, very durable.

How sustainable is the growing of Acacia Wood?

The acacia wood plays an important role in maintaining animal biodiversity. This is particularly true for the hymenoptera insect family of bees and wasps, as the flowers on the acacia contains a lot of pollen and nectar.

Acacia can adapt to all kind of soil, even the poor soils found in arid areas. It enriches the soil by capturing nitrogen from the atmosphere, thus making it easier for other plants to grow around it. The root system can run up to 45 feet in radius, and that enables it to support soil retention in an exceptional manner. That makes it very interesting in the context of global warming.

Where is Acacia Wood grown?

The acacia wood comes from a variety of different acacia trees and shrubs, which are natively found in Australia. Due to the hardiness and the fact it is not particularly invasive, it is now grown in Asia, the Pacific Islands, Africa and even parts of the Americas.

It is particularly well suited for dry climates, and can sustain droughts better than most plants, which is crucial in the fight against desertification. This is particularly a cause for concern in Africa, and the acacia family of trees have been extensively planted to help in this battle.

Is manufacturing of Acacia Wood sustainable?

Compared to other types of wood, acacia wood is very much sustainable. The manufacturing process requires a drying out process that is tougher than most comparable wood, but acacia wins because it is so durable. To put it simply: The longer you keep a piece of furniture made with acacia, the more sustainable it will be. And as we move to living in sustainable cities, this becomes ever more important.

The other benefit is that despite it being a very durable wood, it can be shaped extremely well during the drying-out period. That means you can use a lot more of it and not waste parts of it that needs to be removed during this time.

The fact that it doesn’t leave much left when you shape it, means it captures more carbon and keeps it within the piece of furniture or the flooring.

Acacia Wood for Furniture

Acacia wood is highly elastic when it is freshly cut, making it very easily shaped before drying out. When dried however, it is durable and can last forever. One of the key aspects of sustainability is not having to buy new things, and acacia fits the criteria needed. But you do need to take care of it. If you do, it can last decades.

Another upside is that acacia is something that can be reused and recycled multiple times, especially from larger pieces of furniture.

Acacia Wood for Flooring

Acacia is becoming increasingly popular for use as flooring. This is due to the hardy nature of the wood, and floors can come with warranties for up to 50 years.

As most wood flooring, acacia comes in three forms:

  • Solid Acacia flooring. This is thick flooring made up only of acacia and is produced in solid wood.
  • Engineered Acacia flooring. Engineered flooring refers to flooring that is either standard or hand scraped and combined with a plywood base and a wood wear layer on top.
  • Laminate Acacia flooring. This is flooring made of a composite base with a clear protective wear layer on top.

Because the Acacia tree is shorter than most flooring alternatives, the planks will be smaller. Consistency between planks is also harder to keep, so it might not be for everyone. But it gives a rustic feel that we think looks stunning.

You need to make sure the acacia flooring is properly dried when used in a dry climate home in order to avoid post-installation shrinking.

End-of life Acacia Wood

There are several scenarios for wood products at the end of their life cycle. This is true for all furniture made of wood. The degree sustainability of this depends on just how it is used at this stage.

The wood can end up in landfills, where they will not decompose. This means that the acacia wood keeps its role as carbon storage.

However, the most sustainable way is to reuse the wood by upcycling it into new furniture or by using it as recovered hardwood flooring. Taking parts of old acacia wood and using it with new can save 75% of potential CO2 emissions compared to buying brand new.

This is not just due to the acacia wood itself, but also because new products will have to be shipped around the world.

The last scenario for end-of-life acacia is burning it. This generates biomass energy, which compared to coal and natural gas is very much a better option.

Smaller items made from acacia wood are generally made from by-products, meaning the impact on the environment is minimal.

How can you buy sustainable Acacia Wood?

There are certain certifications that enables you to know if the acacia wood was grown sustainably.

These include:
Forest Stewardship Council

The Forest Stewardship council is a non-profit organization that promotes responsible management of the world’s forests. They run numerous programs globally, focusing on making sure the global network of wood usage is maintained at a sustainable level.

They fight tropical deforestation and makes sure the wood does not come from exploitation of people or the forests themselves.

Their Chain of Custody certification tracks the FSC certified material from the forest where it was grown, all the way to the end-consumer.

The FSC has been criticized for not doing enough. Greenpeace International did not renew its membership due to not meeting human rights standards, as there are groups that were certified, but have worked with criminal regimes.

Programme for the Endorsement of Forest Certification

The PEFC certifies wood on a national level in more than 50 countries worldwide, and these work on an independent level with oversight from the central organization.

It is the largest of its kind in the world, covering 300 million hectares of forests.

However, numerous NGOs have criticized PEFC. Some believe there are currently no certification that does a good job of covering the entire production chain of forest management.

Even if both are criticized, they are much better than uncertified wood, which is much more likely to be sourced from areas you do not want to buy from.

Cost of Acacia Wood

Compared to other exotic hardwoods, acacia is moderately priced. The upside of this cost is the incredible durability of the wood.

One square foot of solid flooring will cost between $3 and $8 per square foot, while dining tables can run you into the thousands. Although you can get them for just a few hundred dollars, depending on size.

The attractive and rich wood grain coloring is also a big selling point, and compared to similarly looking woods, it is priced quite reasonably.

Acacia Wood compared to Teak

Teak and Acacia Wood are similar types of wood, but they are priced quite differently. Acacia is quite easy to get your hands on these days, and while this is also true for teak, not all chains will carry it because of its cost.

Acacia does not change in color over time, while teak and the natural light brown color will fade over time. The teak does however not require coating, while acacia does.

Teak, perhaps because of its price, has a reputation for being more exclusive. It all depends on what kind of look you want from your wood. However, teak is the more durable of the two, and needs less maintenance to last long. But both are very good and can last you a lifetime.

One of the most important things however is that acacia is more sustainable and eco-friendly, because of it being highly renewable and easy to grow.

Why is sustainable wood important?

Buying sustainable wood is important, as our forests are the lungs of the planet. Deforestation is a massive problem globally, and we need to fight this. Changing to acacia wood, which can grow just about it any condition is a great option to reduce your carbon footprint and make sure the forests that are here can grow sustainably.

To sum it up…

Acacia wood is one of the most sustainable types of wood you can get your hands on. It’s durable, affordable and it looks very good. It is more expensive than the most common woods such as oak and maple, but compared to the durable hard woods, it is the cheaper option.

So, if you are planning on investing in new furniture or flooring, you can’t really go wrong with acacia wood.