The cork tree, or the correct classification name, Quercus suber, is an oak tree that is evergreen and is commonly found in numerous countries including Spain, Algeria, France, Tunisia, Morocco and Portugal. You probably are best familiar with it from the cork used to seal a bottle of wine.
It is also a popular plant for many families and homeowners as the tree does grow to be rather big and it is also evergreen. Of course it is also a farming tree and grown in groves to be harvested.
Cork is made from the bark of the oak tree which means that not a single tree is cut down or lost during harvesting. The tree renews itself (the bark) after harvesting and is probably one of the most eco-friendly harvesting processes.
The environmental impact of the use of this renewable resource is minimal (the biggest part of the footprint comes from shipping overseas) and thus a huge plus for the environment.
These cork trees are also home to endemic plants and endangered species. These species include the Iberian Imperial Eagle and the Iberian Lynx.
Because only the bark is harvested, forests are not destroyed and trees are allowed to grow freely. It financially supports communities without doing harm to the environment. Too good to be true?
These trees and the work that comes with harvesting, has become a sure job for many and because of this, people protect it so that their children can also one day benefit from it. It becomes a family business of sorts where the father and the children can gain an income.
Furthermore, because communities can benefit from these trees staying alive, they will protect it as it is a financial income and way of survival.
The tricky part comes in when it comes to the demand for cork. Due to it’s popularity as an eco friendly material cork demand is growing.
This will put it at risk for destruction. If communities cannot benefit from its protection, it will be used for something else, something they can actually gain an income from. We need to understand that without an incentive to actually protect something, these communities will have no source of income. Yet, that is the nature of economics. The good news is that because cork is a beautiful, sustainable material, demand has actually been growing. Cork flooring, cork underlayment and other home uses have been increasing as consumers and home owners are making more eco-conscious decisions.
Using the trees for something other than its bark, might in the end benefit them more. In the long run, this will result in a major loss of forests.
You can also do your part. Buy cork and cork products that come from these sustainable forests and keep those who rely on it for survival, in a positive situation.