Monday, February 22, 2010

Am I Green Enough?- Erik Wolken

Bench by Erik Wolken

I recently completed a project for a small town near me to make a couple of outdoor benches. Nothing complicated, just big chunky sturdily built benches made from cedar I bought from a local mill and put together to last many years in the wind and rain. The whole process of doing this project got me to thinking about those trendy words flying around these days, green and sustainable, and how they apply to me as a builder.

There are lots of new materials and recycled products out on the market to work with now, many of which claim to be green and sustainable and many of which visually are quite exciting. Bamboo and all of the different ways they have been able to manufacture it, is cool stuff and I would love to use it in a piece someday, as well as recycled beams from an old factory or plywood made from wheat. But alas all of the above are expensive and I have as yet been unable to convince a client to use them in a piece of furniture. So because of this am I not a green maker. Am I part of the problem and not the solution?

My little bench project helped me to gain some perspective on that matter. Here I was building something for a local town out of locally sourced materials built to last decades and most of the money stayed within my local 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. Not all of my work meets the standards set by the bench project. In fact most does not. But it has caused me to think and compelled me to come up with a useful definition of “green” that I can work with.

For me the best definition is a personal one that reads more like a laundry list than a written in stone definition. I try and use local wood whenever possible. Short of that I try to use mostly eastern hardwoods. I stay away from exotic materials unless the client demands it and then I put on an environment surcharge which gets donated to a fund for forest stewardship. I try to use less toxic water-based finishes and non-toxic milk-based paints. As I learn more, I expect will add more to my laundry list. But in the end, the bottom line for me is building work that is of the highest quality construction 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 recycled wood or bamboo or recycled plastic bottles, building furniture to last generations is my main contribution to helping create 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.

-Erik Wolken, Fine Wood Artist member.

To see more of Erik's work, please visit his gallery-

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