Environment

Do you worry about the Planet? Choose Cork

Is the environment a matter of concern to you? If you always seek to contribute to a healthier Planet, both as a citizen and as a consumer, you will enjoy reading this article. In simple terms, by choosing cork made fashion products you’re defending the Montado (cork oak tree forests) and by doing so you’re protecting the Planet. It’s as simple as that. Let us explain why.

What is cork and where does it come from?

Cork is the bark of cork oak tree (Quercus suber) and it is extracted for the first time when the tree completes 30 years of age and then every nine years. Cork oak trees are magnificent species found mainly in southwestern Europe (particularly in the Iberian Peninsula) and in northeastern Africa.

Portugal stands out as the country with largest Montado areas in the world and it is also the world’s greatest cork exporter. 80% of this exported cork is used to produce stoppers. Cork oak trees are predominant in the vast Alentejo plains and in Algarve, in southern Portugal. The cork oak Montado represents 21% of Portugal’s forest area and it is responsible for approximately 50% of the world’s cork production. This is a delicately balanced ecosystem and it is protected by Portuguese. Recently, the country submitted the application of Montados to become World Heritage and UNESCO is expected to decide on its approval by 2018/19.

Cork oaks are classified as Portugal’s National Tree since 2011 and its logging is forbidden and sanctioned in all national territory. But it is equally important to mention that harvesting cork does not damage the tree; on the contrary, it improves the health of cork oaks, which can live up to 200 years. After each harvest, the tree produces a new cork layer with the same quality as the previous one.

Cork: 100% eco-friendly material

Yes, cork is renewable (it grows back after each harvest). But it is also recyclable. From cork stopper recycling, for instance, it’s possible to produce building materials (cork is an exceptional insulator) as well as materials for automotive or airspace industries, among others. Cork is also 100% biodegradable.

Fortunately, the environmental awareness of mankind has developed a lot in recent years, mostly due to global warming related concerns. Nowadays, most of us are aware of the importance of our daily decisions for the future of the Planet. The fashion industry, whether by choice or by consumer pressure, also feels the need to find materials that are sustainable and eco-friendly.

And in this matter, cork is different from any other material and it is unrivalled. It is 100% nature, a green alternative to synthetic products. Nevertheless, being a 100% natural product doesn’t mean that cork has any less quality than the other materials. It’s actually quite the opposite. Wearing a cork bag is wearing nature, but the properties of this material are unique and impressive (read more about this in Cork: get to know the properties that bring it close to perfection).

Being extraordinarily flexible, cork has the potential to replace the pollutant products traditionally used by the fashion industry. In fact, it is already doing so. It’s an eco-friendly alternative that, besides its amazing properties, has two additional benefits to be considered by everyone who care about the Planet: its extraction has an infinitely smaller environmental footprint when compared to the production of plastics; and even in the cork manufacturing process itself, all waste is used to make other materials. As Lavoisier said, “nothing is lost, everything is transformed”, and this motto is especially true when it comes to cork.

At Montado, cork is our raw material of choice: it’s part of our culture as Portuguese and it is the heart of our brand. We’ve been working in the fashion accessory industry for 40 years. By creating Montado, we started to create eco-friendly fashion and to contribute to a better world. And we’re very proud of it. We owe it to this amazing material that we passionately work with – cork.

Cork harvest helps to fight global warming

Cork oak forests are an extraordinary example of a good balance between environmental protection and economic development. In other words, they are a magnificent example of sustainable development, which should be the base for future economy. Do you know how many trees are cut down to extract cork or to produce cork fashion articles such as ours? Zero. Zilch. None. And that is very significant.

The environmental importance of the Montado is great and it can be addressed from many perspectives. Let’s start by global warming. It is estimated that every year, cork oak forests absorb around 14 million tons of CO2, a precious contribution to reduce greenhouse gases released into the atmosphere, the source of climate change.

Those who don’t know the Montado may think: all the more reason why you shouldn’t be removing cork from these trees! But that’s not a problem, on the contrary. It has been proven that the process of natural regeneration that occurs after the cork stripping does not only improve the health of these trees but it also improves their ability to retain CO2 – after the extraction of cork, cork oaks can retain 5 times more CO2! Impressive, right? Also, products obtained from cork maintain the ability to hold Carbon Dioxide!

The Montado preserves the soil and prevents desertification The cork oak tree forests play a crucial part in soil preservation and they represent a factor of the utmost importance to prevent desertification in Portugal.

Let’s not delude ourselves, there’s no environment without economy nor economy without environment. The definition of sustainable environment points exactly to this reality. And cork perfectly combines both of these aspects: it’s economically viable and environmentally responsible. As a successful agroforestry system, it contributes to improve the quality of life of populations who depend on it and it prevents the depopulation of a harsh and arid territory.

On the other hand, by returning nutrients from the deeper layers of the soil to the surface through fallen leaves, the trees increase the volume of organic matter on the soil, which is essential to fertilize it, to increase water retention, and to regulate the hydrological cycle. Also, the treetop of the cork oaks contributes to prevent erosion. With its evergreen foliage, these cork oaks tree crowns are also responsible for the creation of a microclimate, reducing extreme temperatures and increasing the duration of seeding seasons.

Considering the climate in these regions and the poor soil conditions, there is no alternative to cork that is equally sustainable. Entire villages depend on the wealth that it creates and distributes.

A hotspot of biodiversity

The Montado is also a hotspot of life. According to World Wildlife Fund (WWF), “it supports one of the highest levels of biodiversity among forest habitats, as well as the highest diversity of plants found anywhere in the world”. So what’s the best way to preserve this rich fauna and flora? Choosing cork products whenever they exist as an alternative to synthetic ones.

Compared to paradises like Amazon, the African savannah or the Borneo, the fragile Montado is considered one of the 35 most important world ecosystems for preservation of biodiversity. Over 200 species of animals and 135 species of plants find in it the ideal conditions for their survival. Some of those species are rare, others are endangered, such as the Bonelli’s Eagle, the Imperial Eagle, the Black Stork and the Iberian Lynx, the most endangered big cat specie in the world.

In the Montados there are over 160 bird species, as they find in the evergreen tree crown of cork oaks a hiding place throughout the year, as well as shelter during nesting season. This is also the ideal habitat for 24 reptile and amphibious species, as well as for 37 species of mammals. Moreover, millions of migrating birds use the Montado as a temporary habitat.

But the richness of the Montado is even more impressive when it comes to flora. Just think about this: about 50% of the plants that can be found in the Montado’s are endemic plants (around 12,000). This puts it in third place on a world scale in terms of endemic plant ratio.

In conclusion

By choosing cork products you’ll be feeding a beneficial and virtuous cycle for the economy and for the Planet. You’ll be protecting a fragile ecosystem that is crucial for people, animals, and plants – an example of sustainable development, of a future we hope to be near.

Specifically, you’ll be contributing to fight global warming, prevent depopulation and desertification, preserve biodiversity and contribute to improve the wellbeing of many people who depend on this economic activity. And remember: no tree is put down by the cork industry in Portugal. None.

And don’t forget one other important thing: cork is soooooo beautiful!:)

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