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Are We Caring For the Environment?

Environmental issues are becoming increasingly important worldwide, and we all have a duty to do our bit to protect our future by being as ‘green’ as possible. As we develop a furniture making business we must realise what impact we are having on the environment, and what we can do to keep carbon emissions to a minimum, as well as recycling wherever we can.

There is however, a compromise to be reached between manufacturing efficiency, affecting product cost, and what clients are willing to pay for the end product.

Before the industrial age, furniture was handmade. Trees were being cut down, planked into boards, air dried and turned into furniture all with the use of hand tools. It took two men (one of them stood in a pit) with a long saw hours to convert a tree trunk into boards, which now takes minutes with the right machine, one man with the skill to use it, and a little petrol, diesel or electricity (and hopefully gas conversions will be coming soon). The question is whether the end user is willing to pay the wages for two men to saw the wood up or pay a great deal less but put some carbon into the atmosphere?

Since the industrial revolution, we have developed machinery to speed the making process up, to a stage where the human hand does not even come in contact with wood (if indeed ‘real’ wood has been used). Thankfully, we are not, nor will we ever will be in this market. Our machines are not that specialised and we use our hand skills to make a solid piece of furniture that will become an antique. However, our woodworking machines still use electricity, which is not as ‘green’ as doing it all by hand. Our clients would not pay for labour intensive furniture. Even places such as China and India are getting away from the cheap labour methods of production, and are beginning to use more advanced mechanisation as their countries develop. This, at the same time as cutting costs to the consumer, also increases profits for the manufacturer and/or retailer.

We have to be economical (note ‘eco’) with electricity and fossil fuels without being ridiculous. Do we use a horse and cart to deliver a new four poster bed? Or do we use diesel or gas in low emission vehicles, combining deliveries to several customers, so that we are on the road as little as possible?

Customers are asking for beeswax or natural oil finished four poster beds, which is more environmentally friendly than pre-catalyst lacquers. The latter does give better protection against heat and water, but does have an impact on the environment by atomising (sprayed on) chemicals into our atmosphere. One solution that polish manufacturers are working on are water bourn lacquers, not solvent (cellulose for pre-catalyst) lacquers, but at present, we have found the ‘greener’ polish is less acceptable to the customer as the colour does not look as natural when used to produce an antique or reproduction finish.

As a business seen as consuming trees furniture makers may not seem very ‘green’, but by using locally grown timber from sustainable sources we can be as environmentally friendly as possible. Government funded schemes and grants have been introduced in parts of the UK encouraging and aiding the regeneration of local woodlands, and promoting the use of local materials from properly managed woodland, rather than using foreign hardwoods from rain forests.

Virtually all of our furniture orders are made from local oak and ash, with hardly any orders coming in for mahogany, a great difference from twenty years ago. Customers are quite rightly concerned with where the timber is coming from, and mahogany like many other foreign hardwoods are out of fashion for the foreseeable future.

The Wood-Mizer sawmill can be used, and as the name suggests, has been developed to get the most out of the raw material with minimum waste. The bark and sapwood from the outside of the tree is dried and cut up for firewood, and sold locally. Small offcuts from the workshop are cut up for kindling wood, and we are at present trying to turn wood shavings and dust into winter fuel to keep us warm.

To save our ecosystem means we need, and are taking responsibility of our personal and business activities. By adapting our actions accordingly we do our share of planet saving, while maintaining a good quality, reasonably priced product that our customers are happy with, and one must remember that happy customers keep companies in business.

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