Am I Green Enough?
A recent project inspired guest blogger Erik Wolken of Works in Wood to consider what it means to be a green builder of custom benches and custom “green” furniture. Rather than following an abstract – or expensive – definition, he found a practical, useful solution:
I recently made two outdoor benches for a small town nearby. Nothing complicated, just big, chunky, sturdy benches made from cedar I bought from a local mill and built to last many years in the wind and rain. Doing this project made me think about those trendy words, “green” and “sustainable,” and how they apply to me as a builder.
In today’s market, many new materials and recycled products claim to be green and sustainable and are visually quite exciting. I would love to use cool stuff in a piece of furniture someday, like bamboo, which can be manufactured in different ways, recycled beams from an old factory, or plywood made from wheat. But alas, all of the above are expensive, and I have yet to convince a client to select them for a piece. Does this mean I’m not a green maker? Am I part of the problem and not the solution?
My bench project gave me some perspective on this matter. I built something for a local town, from locally sourced materials, that would last decades, and most of the money spent stayed within my community. All in all, I would say that should score pretty high on the green and sustainability scale. So should I now pat myself on the back and call myself green worthy? The answer is unfortunately more complicated than that. Most of my work does not meet the standards set by the bench project, but it has compelled me to come up with a definition of green I can work with.
For me the best definition is a personal one that reads more like a laundry list than one written in stone. I use local wood whenever possible. Short of that, I try to use mostly eastern hardwoods. I avoid exotic materials unless the client demands them, but I then add an environment surcharge that I donate to a forest stewardship fund. I try to use less toxic water-based finishes and non-toxic milk-based paints. As I learn more, I expect to add more to my laundry list. The bottom line for me is building work of the highest quality designed to last for lifetimes.
When I sold my very first piece of furniture, my clients proclaimed that it would be in their family for generations. That is a powerful statement of sustainability in a disposable society where things are destined for the landfill almost from inception. While not as sexy as using bamboo or recycled wood, building furniture to last generations is my main contribution to creating a better environment. I am still reluctant to pat myself on the back and call myself a green maker – there is still plenty more I could do for Mother Nature – but I am part of the solution.