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
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.