Sustainable flooring brought to life in Portugal’s Montado

The raw material for our Recork sustainable flooring comes from the cork oak forests – or Montado – a vital environmental, social and economic pillar of Mediterranean countries.

The Montado occupies over two million hectares in the West Mediterranean basin, with the majority located in Portugal, Spain, Morocco and Algeria. Around 200,000 tonnes of cork are harvested each year, with roughly half the total volume produced in Portugal, where Recork flooring starts its journey.

A World Wildlife Fund (WWF) report explains the cork oak forests “are one of the best examples in the Mediterranean for balancing conservation and development for the benefit of people and nature. They sustain rich biodiversity and traditional livelihoods, provide opportunities for development in economically and socially disadvantaged areas, and play a key role in ecological processes, such as water retention, soil conservation or carbon storage.”

History of the Montado

Cork oaks are ancient trees that may have been in existence for over 60 million years. They certainly survived the ice age in the Mediterranean Basin, over 25 million years ago. But it was only during the 1800s that the Montado was specifically cultivated for cork production to supply the bottle stopper industry. As a recent case study into the use of the forest explains “some ecosystems are dependent upon the interactions between the natural environment and human factors. Such is the case of managed forests, like the Cork Oak Montado.”   

Bottle stopper production still drives the industry, accounting for 70% of cork’s market value. The use of synthetic stoppers is impacting demand, which may in turn threaten the need to sustain the ecosystem. But numerous other uses for cork are emerging, such as furniture, sports equipment, shoes and of course sustainable flooring.

Life in the Montado

The Montado – which is also referred to as Dehesa in Spain – is essential for maintaining rural population levels. The areas in which these forest systems are found usually have poor quality soil, which limits agricultural potential and results in a lack of local industry. They are at high risk of desertification, but cork forests help to regulate the water cycle and prevent erosion, making it possible for communities to settle. In addition to creating wealth, cork production distributes it and makes these marginal rural regions economically viable.

Cork production in the Montado supports communities directly through jobs in harvesting and manufacturing and WWF estimates over 100,000 people are supported by cork-related business activities.

Harvesting is thought to be one of the highest paid agricultural jobs in the world as it requires several year of training and a deep knowledge of the forest. More than simply a job, harvesting using techniques that don’t damage the tree is a skill passed down through family generations. It combines centuries-old traditions with the modern practices of a sustainable industry of the future.

There are also jobs in factories and warehouses involved in the treatment, processing and storage of cork. These are generally located close to the Montado to minimise costs and carbon emissions associated with transportation. Cork production lines are environmentally friendly with waste and surplus granulated and reincorporated into the production process, and dust collected and burned to generate clean energy.

But cork production isn’t the only economic activity in and around the Montado, there are a wide variety of supporting services that attract investment, raise environmental awareness and provide employment. These include provisioning, with hunting, livestock rearing, foraging for medicinal plants and mushrooms, and production of honey, wax and coal all frequent occupations. Tourism also plays a role, with visitors to the Montado enjoying recreational activities such as bird-watching and horse riding. Finally there are jobs in regulation, with responsibility for maintaining the water cycle and controlling erosion and pollination.

Forest certification systems

Various forest certification systems are in place to protect the Montado and ensure environmental and socioeconomic management standards are adhered to. The dominant forest certification systems are the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) which the main Associations of Forest Producers in Portugal is certified by, and the Program for Endorsement of Forest Certification (PEFC). Project Certifica + is in place to raise awareness of these mechanisms and their significance, as well as to make the certification process simpler and more accessible.

Cork-based products have a real impact on the viability of the Montado, helping to support investment and good forest management practices. We’re proud that our Recork sustainable flooring contributes to maintaining the environmental, social and economic sustainability of these unique ecosystems.

Check out our products page to discover eco-friendly flooring that can positively impact the planet.

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