Question: Elton Group has been a part of the Australian forest products industry for over 70 years. In the time that you’ve been with the business, how have you seen the industry attitude toward sustainability develop?
Elton Group was founded in Melbourne in the 1930s. The current Managing Director Michael Elton, grandson of the founder, was trained by his uncle in Sydney and was sent overseas for training in timber veneers in Germany and Italy. The furniture industry of old was sustainable. Good veneer trees were harvested; the rest were left, and smaller logs were utilised. Furniture had timber legs and short panels - short components. The average panel size was 1.8m - 2.2m. Every part of the log was utilised.
Fortunately, timber veneer is intrinsically an efficient use of timber. Timber veneer was in fact used by ancient civilisations to maximise the yield from highly valued timbers and examples of veneer use were found in the tombs of Egyptian pharaohs. Timber veneer consists of thin slices of timber, peeled or sliced from good quality logs, applied over a substrate – in the old days, common, fast growing species such as pine, nowadays, generally MDF or particleboard.
There is no longer any timber veneer sliced in Australia. Veneer is either imported from overseas or Australian logs are sent overseas for slicing. The 1990s saw a growth of awareness of sustainability and the advent of FSC, followed by the Green Building Council of Australia and the Greenstar rating system, echoing what was happening overseas. Architects and designers were encouraged to undergo Green Star Training and aim for world’s best practice in their designs and specifications.
At Elton Group, we and our suppliers had already committed to focus on the future in terms of sustainability to bring us in line with world’s best practice and make us leaders in our field. We became FSC certified and implemented in-house environmental standards.
Question: How do you hope to see it evolve in this respect in future?
We'd like to see better protection of the forests for future generations and investment in planting new forests. Plantations for commodity timbers would also be beneficial, although they need longer to grow in most cases. Unlike stone, timber is renewable in a human lifetime. Timber is a renewable crop with a very long harvest time, so we need more forward thinking - planning for future generations.
For example, we can use reconstructed veneers rotary peeled for maximum yield from fast growing, common species. We can also slice veneers more thinly and use less MDF in a sustainable world.
Question: All Elton Group veneers are sourced from woods harvested in accordance with the CITES international trade agreement. Are you able to please provide more detail about your overall sustainability strategy?
Unlike most firms in the timber industry we travel regularly to most of the sources that our logs come from so we don't just rely on the information provided by overseas suppliers - we actually see and understand the logs. That's the advantage of being in the Industry for a long time: you know where they come from. With some species, you can even smell where they come from. We use timber that's harvested and replanted, timber that's grown in farmland plantations and old logs that are no longer producing oxygen.
We and our suppliers are FSC (Forest Stewardship Council) certified.
When you choose FSC®, you help support principles and actions that protect our air, water, and overall quality of life. FSC certification of forests and companies means that they comply with rigorous standards, and that forests, communities, and workers are looked after.
Elton Group operates in complete transparency regarding environmental and social responsibility, constantly focusing on excellence in the use of natural resources. Eveneer, Eveneer Prefinished and Alpi Designer Collections take common fast growing timber species and through a process of peeling (to obtain maximum yield) toning and reassembling into a block that is then sliced, are able to reproduce rare or endangered timber veneer species as well as a creating new and exciting colours and patterns not available in traditional timbers. They are all made with Poplar, Lime Wood and Ayous from certified sustainable forests, directly controlled for maximum respect of environmental biodiversity.
Maximum care also goes into safety in the workplace and environmental protection, including an advanced industrial water purification system.
Importantly we are the only supplier of reconstructed veneer with direct control of the entire supply and production chain, from the log to the finished product. Forestry management by means of the chain of custody guarantees legal and sustainable origin of wood, and total product traceability also ensuring the growth of local communities in terms of economics and infrastructure, thus combining the core business with activities of social and environmental sustainability.
Question: Does this extend beyond the sourcing stage and into, say, manufacturing and post-use disposal?
When we do manufacture we're very specific about the glues and substrates used and also the packaging, plastic and mostly plywood from plantation forests. All our crating material comes from plantation grown timber. Our warehouse policies reduce the use of wrapping and encourage the reuse crates and packing materials. In the office our systems support the reduction of paper and any paper that is generated is reused for note taking or recycled. We have also closed off and maintain an area of 800 acres of natural forest in the Otway Ranges for the protection of Flora and Fauna.
Question: Are there any other things that Elton Group is doing to achieve sustainability outcomes that you would like to discuss?
We've put in a passive heating and cooling system that uses 30% less energy than a traditional system and gives us a purity of air with no dust or allergens being blown around. We're constantly on the lookout for new products and substrates to give a lighter environmental footprint in both weight and sustainability.
Through a desire to specify sustainable timbers, we have seen growth in the use of reconstructed veneers. The difference with our reconstructed veneers is that our supplier owns and is responsible for their forests, whereas all other manufacturers purchase their logs on the open market and therefore the chain of traceability can be broken. The production of Eveneer maximises yield from faster growing species and thus protects rare and endangered forests from felling. In addition, the sources of the base timbers used in Eveneer are all certified.
How do you hope to see it evolve in this respect in future?
We’re making some exciting technological advancements in the making of Eveneer. Similar to our EPly PanguaPurePly, adhesives have been developed which contain no added formaldehyde confirms its commitment to ecology and sustainability, offering a solution to the problem of formaldehyde that has been a concern for many years in the wood products sector.
In line with the most rigorous international standards, Eveneer can be produced with zero added formaldehyde. This can contribute to help achieve LEED certification (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design), which sets the standards for the construction of sustainable buildings.