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Feb. 4, 2021, 1:07 p.m. EST

Good Company: Is Room & Board’s ‘Urban Wood Project’ the Future of Furniture?

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The material “has a story that you don’t find in new wood,” Pollock says. “Somebody lived in and built with this wood. It has all of these human connections.”

WHAT’S THE GOOD?

Marshall says there’s much more benefit beyond diverting wood from landfills. 

“A huge part of the model in Baltimore is job creation,” she says. “These are sustainable jobs that can’t be exported.”

As the initial program in Baltimore was getting off the ground, the USFS worked with outside impact investing firm Quantified Ventures (also based in Maryland) to build the business cases around urban wood from deconstructed buildings and urban forestry operations. These business case analyses examine not only the economic model for urban wood, but also the other benefits that can flow from these systems, including creating jobs for underemployed people. The result was an 80-times return on the initial investment by sparking further investment from the city and state. 

“It’s easy to get people excited about it because the data is there to support it,” she notes. 

Earlier this year, the Urban Wood Project expanded to Sacramento, Calif., working with the Sacramento Tree Foundation to source reclaimed wood for “cookie” style coffee tables, which get their name from their circular shape (coming from the body of the tree). The first 100 pieces of this collaboration were recently released. 

Using data from a 2018 study funded in part by the USFS, Room & Board estimates that for every 10,000 board feet repurposed, 33 tons of carbon dioxide is sequestered from the atmosphere. This equates to 13 metric tons of carbon dioxide saved through the initial Sacramento releases. 

Additionally, Room & Board was a founding member of the Sustainable Furnishings Council (an advocacy group and certification program). 

WHAT’S NEXT

Although the first few years of the project have presented significant scale, sales only represent 1% of what the company sold in 2020. Wilson notes that finding more consistent sources of desirable reclaimed wood will be a challenge, at least in the short-term.

“We’d love to find a great source for fresh cut, dimensional lumber as that’s where the volume is,” Wilson says. “We’ll sell a higher volume of something with clean lines [as opposed to the ‘cookie’ tables] and we want to create a supply chain with trees turned into that kind of lumber.”

Beyond that, he hopes to expand the program to more cities while the USFS continues educating city and state leaders about how an urban wood system needs to be designed to nurture growth, positive momentum, and sustainability.

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