The Ipe Conundrum — Green or Not Green?


For several years, ipe (pronounced EE-pay) decking from Brazilian hardwood trees has been the darling of green builders. This beautiful wood looks like mahogany, and it does not require a finish (and typical finishes are often petroleum-based), as do softer woods. Also, ipe is durable, with a lifespan of 25 years outdoors, compared to 10 to 15 years for other commonly used woods. All these qualities make it very green.

However, these trees most often come out of the rainforest, and the harvesting of them is speeding along destruction of an area of nature that is sometimes referred to “the Earth’s lungs.”

The point was brought home with an excellent Marketplace radio piece about a mayor in New Jersey who defends using ipe for a $3.5 million renovation of an oceanfront boardwalk.

According to New Jersey environmental activist Georgina Shanley: “Unfortunately what they’re using here is uncertified ipe rain forest wood from Brazil. It’s like walking on a coffin.” Rainforest Relief tries to persuade U.S. municipalities not to use ipe for boardwalks and decks, the piece stated. But that can be a tough sell, because it’s so well suited to the job.

The alternative is to use ipe certified by the Forest Stewardship Council to be sustainably harvested. But it will cost more.

Listen to the story here.