Movement turns abandoned housing into beautiful furniture, fighting climate change and growing jobs in the process
Baltimore-based timber company Brick and Board is far from normal. While fine wooden furniture is often associated with an environmental award, their warehouse is full of wood from urban areas where fallen trees and old buildings could otherwise end up in landfills.
“Much of this wood was harvested during the Civil War,” founder Max Pollock told CBS News’ Errol Barnett. “And a lot of the trees that, as you know, were turned into this wood, probably really started growing in the 1500s.”
Brick and Board sells reclaimed wood and other salvaged materials in, a city with an estimated 16,000 vacant and abandoned properties.
Sometimes these ancient materials could have historical value.
Regarding the antique yellow pine salvaged from crumbling row houses, Pollock said the material “has a grain you wouldn’t find today”.
“It’s a color you wouldn’t find today. And it really, just as important to us, has a story,” he explained.
Pollock has been part of what could be described as urban wood for the past five years.
“It refers to both wood harvested from buildings that would otherwise be thrown away and sent to a landfill, as well as the collection of material that falls in storms,” he said.
Woodworkers across the country are currently building the movement, but there is still much to be done, according to Pollock.
“If you interview 100 people who work in the reclaimed wood field, the truth is that a lot of them look like me. They are white people with beards and flannel shirts,” he said.
However, as Pollock explained, this need not and should not be the case.
“It has always been important to us to democratize these skills a little,” he said. “To try to take people who may not have had the opportunity to go to the store or have had the opportunity to apprentice a carpenter and teach them the material, teach them how to mill that material so they can make a career out of it. “
Donte Godwin, 21, who has been with Brick and Board for about a year and a half, said he appreciated the opportunity in a city where thehovers close to the national average.
“It’s not that easy to get an opportunity here. I was lucky. I had mentors to give – I would not have known about this opportunity if it hadn’t been for them,” Godwin said.
Brick and Board is just one of the private partners in the Urban Wood Project. The initiative is a collaboration between the City of Baltimore, the USDA Forest Service, and others. Their hope is that timber recovery can revive the city.
Sarah Hines, co-leader of the Urban Wood Project, now wants to help cities replicate what she calls the urban wood economy.
“Postal codes like this and similar have high unemployment rates, high poverty rates, high incarceration rates and underlying health problems,” said Hines. “This project can do a lot better by thinking about ways to keep people busy, give people opportunities to avoid waste and plant trees in places that need them badly.”
Jennifer Szeliga, who heads Urban Wood Rescue in California, has a similar mission.
“When you think of a tree … it binds or binds carbon, right, so that is the CO2 that is in the air and that it stores in the body of the tree,” she said. “If this tree is removed and dies and decomposes, it will release all of the CO2 back into the atmosphere and obviously contribute to it. “
Szeliga’s group is funded in part by a grant from the California Department of Forestry and Fire Safety. She said her organization captured 6,770 tons of carbon – that’s about 731,000 gallons of gas.
“We are able to redirect logs that would normally go to the landfill to our garden … and then bring them back to the community,” she said.
However, the process she describes is not an easy one – Szeliga said the process of making a piece of furniture out of a tree trunk is a long and costly process. Building partnerships to help is “important to success”.
One such partnership is with Minnesota-based furniture company Room and Board.
The company is also part of the Urban Wood project and transforms reclaimed wood from Baltimore, Sacramento, Detroit and Minneapolis into sustainable furniture and decorations.
Bruce Champeau, President and CEO of Room and Board, said the effort will be worth it for future generations.
“We have a planet. We all have to look at it as individuals to say how can we make a difference?” Said Champeau.
In addition, the efforts empower communities and encourage employment growth.
“When you take those two things and combine them, it becomes something really magical,” he said.