Are you sitting ethically?
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Date: 28 June, 2007

 

'Reusing the wood uses less energy than producing virgin wood, and keeps greenhouse gases locked up.'

 

Every day in the UK, it's reported that at least 3,000 tonnes of re-usable timber from the demolition of old buildings is sent to landfill or burned.

Around 10% of this thought to be tropical hardwood. Suzanne Elvidge finds out what happens to wood that's salvaged

According to the Global Trees Campaign, there is a huge amount of wood waste in the UK, including up to 45% at harvesting, 50% at sawmills and 50% at furniture and joinery manufacture.

Allowing reusable wood to rot in landfill produces methane, a greenhouse gas – reusing the wood uses less energy than producing virgin wood, and keeps greenhouse gases locked up.

A number of people have responded to this by setting up companies to make furniture from the reclaimed wood. One example of this is Ethical Wood Furnishings in Brighton, a company set up by Jennifer Everest and Michael Orr in early 2007.

The idea behind the company began when Michael began volunteering at the Wood Store, at the Brighton & Hove Wood Recycling Project.

Opportunity

Though the Wood Store produces a small amount of furniture, it primarily focuses on wood collection and recycling, and Michael saw the opportunity to produce larger items as well as bespoke furniture.

The look of Michael’s furniture is strongly influenced by the individual pieces of wood. Ethical Wood Furnishings has made coffee tables from old pier decking from Palace Pier, bookshelves from old pine joists from derelict barns and churches, and sculptures from driftwood.

A striking example is the coffee table created from south coast sea defences, where the wood has been sculpted by the sea, sand and wind for up to a century.

“The most beautiful pieces of wood are often those that have been open to the elements, exposed for decades, sometimes centuries with character and history ingrained into the wood,” Jennifer said.

“We try and work with the wood to retain its characteristics, and quirks. Some pieces are so naturally beautiful that we just clean them up, oil them and leave them as they are.

Each piece takes from a few hours to ten days to make, depending on its size, and the type and condition of the wood when it’s collected.

Principles

The costs of the pieces, between £30 and £800, reflect this time and care, but Michael and Jennifer work hard to keep the prices affordable while not compromising their eco friendly principles. The company’s philosophy is ‘Beautiful - Ethical - Honest’.

I asked Jennifer why people should buy their furniture rather than mass produced pieces available for only a few quid from well known purveyors of Swedish flat-packs.

“Our furniture reduces the amount of wood that ends up in landfill. We hand-make each item from handpicked wood, basing the work on the history and characteristics of each piece of wood, and we tailor it to your individual wishes, making something that is personal, unique and exact to customer's requirements."

Other companies that recycle wood include Trunk, based in Gateshead, Reelfurniture in Norwich, Eco Friendly Furnishings in Hebden Bridge and eat sleep live in Nottingham or you can view the National Directory of Reclaimed Furniture Suppliers (PDF).

I really rather fancy one of Ethical Wood Furnishing's coffee tables and I have a birthday with an ‘0’ in it this year … (hint, hint!)

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