Most consumers in the market for teak eventually come across these three pieces of “conventional wisdom” about the tropical hardwood:
1.) It’s beautiful
2.) It’s not cheap
3.) It’s imported from a historically-troubled region known as Myanmar (formerly Burma).
What they do not know is that only # 1 is absolutely true. Not all teak comes from the threatened rain forests of Southeast Asia, nor does its sale line the pockets of a brutal political territory.
Since its illegal to import timber directly from Burma, many assume that their teak comes from countries with a slightly less-dismal human rights record. Make no mistake though, many US furniture showrooms are telling the truth when they advertise “Burmese teak.” That’s because Burma exports its timber to neighboring countries, where the timber is milled and then exported again to the US, bypassing US Treasury Department sanctions.
When it comes to teak furniture, we’re currently experiencing the dawn of a sustainable, eco-friendly age. Over time, the high value of teak lumber has encouraged many entrepreneurs around the world to start their own Forest Stewardship Council-certified teak plants, hoping to slash and burn the negative stigma that surrounds the beautiful tropical hardwood. The biggest hurdle: Dirty rumors.
Advocates of Burmese teak claim that plantation teak is of vastly inferior quality and that carpenters who wants to build heirloom grade teak furnishings should support Asia’s deforestation. However, all current research appears to contradict their own-serving claims.
Two leading studies, one by the USDA and another from the Zobel Forestry Associates confirm that the rumors that downgrade plantation teak are mildly superstitious at best, and intentally misleading at worst. USDA researchers R. Sam Williams, Regis Miller and John Gangstad have confirmed that teak grown on plantations in dry tropical zones outside of SE Asia is equivalent, if not identical to the timber grown in old-growth forests in terms of durability.
So if you’re in the market for teak, your choice is clear. You can either choose a elegant, sustainable product that seeks to make the world a more beautiful place – or you can buy an equivalent product that helps Myanmar’s timepress its citizens and clear-cut its tropical forests.