As you can see from these photos, most of my furniture was purchased in antique stores. I don't know where that old wood was grown, but as I've purchased a few new items from Viva Terra and IKEA in the past few years, I've been mindful to determine their origins.

One-third of the world's land mass is comprised of forests. Huge tracts of land roughly the size of South Carolina are destroyed each year not only as a result of our desire for tropical hardwoods, but also because of our need for palm oil and other inputs that we use in our daily lives. Fortunately, it's now possible to trace a desk or chair back to the place where it was created. It requires some effort, but many companies will list the information in their purchasing policies or environmental statements.

If you're not buying what already exists, take the time to find out if your wood is good: where it came from, if the people who made the items were paid fairly (you can do this at Fair Trade Federation) and the kinds of additional substances that were used in manufacturing (which I'll detail in a later post).

You also have another great opportunity—buying locally. Urban trees can be an excellent source of valuable and unusual lumber for woodworking. The Urban Lumber Company in Springfield, Oregon, uses storm-damaged, dead and hazardous urban trees to create wood products. The Old Wood Co. in Asheville, North Carolina, has a commitment to using reclaimed wood. They make such exquisite pieces I almost wish I had room for more furniture.

Once you get your good wood, treat it well. I'm trying out Daddy Van's Beeswax Furniture Polish. It's a challenge to buff a house full of wood, but I can actually see the emollient soaking into the thirsty furniture and replenishing it. If buffing in beeswax isn't your thing, look for something like Method's Wood for Good cleaner. It has fewer irritants and plant-based ingredients. Traditional wood polish is yet another substance that allows petroleum to seep into our lives.

Off to buff,


Simran Sethi is an award-winning journalist and associate professor at the University of Kansas School of Journalism and Mass Communications. For more information on Sethi, visit and follow her on Twitter @simransethi.


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