Pulling wood from a river

What species of wood do you use?

Many different species of wood are used to build Tropical Salvage products. Thorough and efficient use of natural resources is a core and guiding principle of Tropical Salvage work, so we use whatever salvageable wood we come across that can be re-purposed to craft furniture. During our twenty years in business we have used over one-hundred and fifty species of wood in production. When we started, one of our greatest challenges was to figure out how to kiln-dry, shape and combine the dozens of different tropical hardwoods, in order to create furniture that is eco-friendly, durable and attractive. Through trial and error we have acquired a unique body of knowledge.

How do you know that all of the wood really comes from salvage?

Mainly, we salvage the wood ourselves. Tropical Salvage wood-salvage teams work in Java year-round seeking out and salvaging wood to supply our furniture production. In 2009 we began contracting supply from independent wood salvage crews in Borneo. These wood salvage operations are well documented, legally licensed, and fueled by a vast river-salvage source that accumulated over seventy years from wasteful lumber harvests.

Finding discarded wood in a river

Where is the furniture made?

Tropical Salvage is crafted in a town named Jepara, located in North Central Java, Indonesia. Jepara is known throughout the world as a place that generates well-built wood furniture and intricate wood carvings.

Do you use a non-toxic finish?

Our clear damar finish is a natural, non-toxic resin that lasts well. The formula is simple: we mix damar resin with denatured sugar cane alcohol - 94 percent sugar cane ethanol and 6 percent methanol.

Green Seal’s “Choose Green: Wood Finishes and Stains” contains a lot of information about the health and environmental impacts of wood finishes.

Is Tropical Salvage fairly traded?

Tropical Salvage directly employs about seventy people in a town named Jepara, located in north central Java, Indonesia. The company subcontracts work to scores more workers: salvage wood component shapers, sisal and rattan weavers, coconut palm homeware artisans and stone carvers, etc. Employees work thirty-six hours a week, with an hour off for lunch each work day and half-days off on Fridays in order to attend prayer services at their mosque. Employees’ wages are twenty percent above industry standard and we cover family health care, as needed. Each year during the fasting month of Ramadan, Tropical Salvage employees receive a two-week paid vacation. The benefits to working at Tropical Salvage are recognized and respected in Jepara, but Tropical Salvage aims higher. Profit sharing and retirement savings for employees are goals we will pursue as conditions allow. We are inspired by our friends and associates in Jepara. Like so many of the world’s marginalized populations who are competing for few opportunities and diminishing resources, they deserve more than fate has offered. Tropical Salvage works routinely to assist at alleviating fate’s imbalance.

Is the wood FSC-certified?

The Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) and similar certification bodies were formed to assure buyers, through chain-of-custody verification, that their wood was sourced from sustainably managed, socially beneficial forests or plantations. By and large, this certification frame does not apply to Tropical Salvage, because our wood does not come from forests. None of our wood is sourced from cutting down trees, period. (In fact, it is important to us to communicate to consumers that our principles diverge sharply with FSC and other certification bodies in that we are certain that, at this threshold in history where ecological integrity is everywhere threatened by human impacts, it is rational, and imperative to maintaining future quality of life for all, to legally prohibit any and all tree harvests from the world’s remaining fragments of biodiverse and carbon storing primary tropical forests.)

We pay close attention to the impacts of our wood-salvaging operations, practicing best principles in wood acquisition and use. Our salvage projects receive support from both the communities where they occur and from the government offices that judge our work within a legal context. Tropical Salvage often creates value from material that previously was not perceived to have value and it does so without causing negative social or environmental consequences. This fact tends to generate support for our work.

We have talked with the FSC and the Rainforest Alliance. Many of the woods we salvage would be certified under a variety of different standards. Recycled wood, such as deconstruction salvage, could be FSC-certified, while our river salvage, landslide salvage, lahar salvage and plantation cull wood could be certified under a standard of Rainforest Alliance. At present, we are choosing not to pursue any of these certifications, because the costs are high and the certification standards do not address all of our salvage strategies. There is frankly no other business model in the global wood industry that operates with the same environmental and social circumspection as Tropical Salvage, and so no protocols have been crafted to address the model.

Entombed wood


How does my purchase contribute to conservation?

By using river-salvaged woods, once lost or cast-off during wasteful lumber harvests, we reduce impacts on forest habitat and prevent the woods from biodegrading and thus adding carbon to the atmosphere. Further, Tropical Salvage employs people in wood salvage business activities who might otherwise earn livelihoods from illegal logging, illegal mining, and illegal poaching – activities that can deplete forests and rare animal species. And, very importantly, Tropical Salvage organizes and invests in tropical forest restoration projects. One of our “Essential Trees” projects in Java demonstrates the fast rate at which arrays of endemic seedlings are capable of reestablishing forests in lowland tropical environments where soil is rich with volcanic minerals and nutrients that are perennially spewed and spread by Java’s twenty-one active volcanoes. Ten years ago, about a half mile from Tropical Salvage’s production warehouse, we bought and began reforesting one hectare of land bare of trees except for a few fruit trees. We planted a thousand trees that were a combination of twenty-five native tree species, including trembesi, waru, rengas, mei, bunggur, jackfruit, mango and durian. In only ten years the trees have grown impressively. They’ve created habitat for a rich array of insects, birds, reptiles, amphibians and small mammals, as well as contributed to the most dynamic forest carbon storage that occurs on earth.