Teak wood is continuing to gain popularity as more people realize the many benefits that teak products have to offer. Teak decking and furniture are highly accredited for their unique beauty and impressive durability, but to truly appreciate the wood, it's necessary to understand where it comes from. Knowing about the history and the ethical dilemmas involved in teak wood, will help you to make an educated purchase.
Teak lumber comes from the tropical hardwood tree known as Tectona grandis, native to Southeast Asia. The wood is cultivated in various places around the globe, but about one third of the total production comes from Burma. Historically, teak has been used most often for outdoor furniture, boat decks and other goods that are often exposed to harsh weather conditions for long periods of time.
Today, Teak lumber that comes from Southeast Asia's tropical forests has been labeled by some as "conflict teak" due to its contribution to deforestation and aid to a corrupt government. The sale of lumber and precious stones are typically used by the Burmese government to fund its operations. Since 1962, this government has been led by a military junta that is notorious for its numerous human rights violations. Because of this, the United States Treasury Department has banned the direct importation of teak wood from Myanmar (Burma). However, this has not kept the wood from being sold indirectly in the US marketplace. Because of rumors of the greater durability of Burmese "conflict teak," (compared to plantation teak) it stands in high demand despite the ethical and environmental issues involved. A more environmentally friendly option can be found in the renewable teak plantations that are mostly located in Latin America.
As an eco-friendly (and more economic) alternative to "conflict teak," plantation teak is cultured on the sustainable plantations in Central and South America. Since many areas in these regions provide similar weather and soil conditions to Myanmar, the sustainable teak can be grown without the use of artificial fertilizers or irrigation. Contrary to some rumors, plantation teak is just as durable and almost indistinguishable from Burmese teak. Not to mention, it costs significantly less than the wood imported from Asia due to its close proximity to the United States.
Now that you know the history of teak lumber and the ethical controversies involved in purchasing from the depleted forests in Southeast Asia, you can make an educated decision about where to purchase teak wood for your next big project.