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All Wood Is Not Created Equal: Interview with Dapwood's Gregg Mich

11 Mar. 2013 Posted by Hannah Mich
Forest Stewardship Council, Hard Wood, Wood Furniture, Dapwood, plywood, bamboo, green wood, eco-friendly wood, rainforest

What woods are the most eco-friendly for making furniture in your opinion? And Why?

I firmly believe that hardwoods from FSC certified forests are our best option today. They don’t clear cut the forest and endanger the environment.

What does FSC-certified mean?

Forest Stewardship Council (FSC), an international nonprofit organization whose program sets out to balance economic needs with environmental and social concerns. It is custom tailored to a specific region so what practices are followed in Europe are not necessarily what is done in the rainforest. It is a very complex issue but I feel that FSC is a firm step in the right direction.

What does “secondary species” mean? Are they eco-friendly wood?

Secondary species are typically woods not as well known as the commonly available woods most of us have seen. The idea of using secondary species is to ease the pressure on “primary” species. I personally do not believe this is at all a bad idea but we have proven that at least in the United States we can responsibly manage our forests.

To further explain my point, the following is taken from U.S. Forest Service’s Draft National Report on Sustainable Forests – 2010 : “Forest area in the United States stands at 751 million acres, or about one-third of the Nation’s land area. Forest area was about one billion acres at the time of European settlement in 1630. Of the total forestland loss of nearly 300 million acres, most occurred in the East between 1850 and 1900, as broadleaf forests were cleared for agriculture. For the last 100 years, the total forest area has been relatively stable, while the U.S. population has nearly tripled.” Managed U.S. forests are truly sustainable and we want to support this effort.

What about furniture made from “reclaimed wood”?

I think this is a wonderful idea. Reclaimed wood often has a fascinating “history.” This gives the wood character - nail holes, scratches, saw marks and dents. Using reclaimed wood also keeps it out of the landfill where it is lost forever. Dapwood would love to produce beautiful furniture with reclaimed wood but most of the construction in the Southwest has used, not surprisingly, native woods- typically softwoods. Softwoods are beautiful in their own right and if used correctly can make some beautiful furniture. However, supply of reclaimed wood is very sporadic. So we focus on hardwoods.

What is the main problem(s) with using bamboo, particleboard, and plywood for making furniture? Are they not as eco-friendly as they appear?

Particleboard and MDF (Medium Density Fiberboard) have their uses but I don’t believe it is in quality furniture. Those products are basically made from sawdust, wood chips, shavings, etc. Adhesives are used to bind the tiny pieces together and huge hydraulic presses the mixture into flat sheets. My concerns with using MDF or particleboard in furniture are two fold. One, there is a lot of glue needed to bind those small pieces together so formaldehyde emission is a potential threat. Thankfully some manufacturers are now using environmentally sensitive adhesives to address this issue. The other issue is this sheet of MDF or particleboard now requires a “skin” placed on top of it to make it look like wood. This skin could be real wood or a photo of wood. I don’t know about you but I have two young sons who are very active. If they ding or scratch solid hardwood, it can be sanded and touched up to look like new again. You can’t do that with a skin that is approximately 1/64 of an inch. Lastly, it just is not as strong as hardwood.

Plywood also has its appropriate uses, typically as kitchen and bathroom cabinets. But again, for quality furniture, it just doesn’t measure up to the real stuff.

As for bamboo, it is not grown commercially in the United States and involves extensive processing that we feel makes it less of a “green” product. You can find out more about bamboo on our website here.

What is the approximate life of furniture made from hard wood? How does this compare to the durability or lack there of in the above woods?

Does anyone watch Antiques Roadshow besides me? They often appraise chairs, armoires, cabinets and so on that are older than 300 years. If people take simple care of hardwood furniture, it will last a lifetime and then some. Consumers buying furniture made from other materials will likely end up sending it to a landfill when it breaks after a short amount of use. If you look at the medium-term costs of buying quality furniture vs. disposable furniture, the quality furniture is a much better value…and better for our environment.

Why are stains, varnish and paints used on wood furniture not eco-friendly? What are eco-friendly alternatives?

Stains have been developed by large paint companies to give the illusion that a lesser-priced wood is something else. For example, a cherry stain on a piece of pine does not make it cherry. Solid cherry has a beautiful grain pattern that will patina over time to produce a rich, warm shade. My main concern with using stains, varnishes and paints is their ingredients. Ask for a MSDS (Material Data Safety Sheet) for a particular product. You will find that most are filled with Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs) that off gas. Plus the materials that do not evaporate off are often very toxic. I don’t want to have it on my mind that kids would be exposed to that. Additionally, I don’t want our employees exposed to that.

What we use and promote are simply natural oils without any sort of metal dryers or petroleum products. Our color pallet is what Mother Nature provides us. Oak is a wonderful tan, maple is almost white, cherry is a great rose and walnut is a rich, chocolate brown.

What are some other tips you can offer consumers when shopping for eco-friendly wood furniture?

Ask hard questions of the maker. If they dance around the question go somewhere else. They are likely not divulging something.
Look for solid woods. Stay away from woods found in the rainforest- they are needed there.

Find out what type of finish they use. Many terms such as Danish Oil or Varnish are very general terms and can be full of toxins.
Ask where the product is made and research if they have a track record of human rights violations.

Look for furniture that will last. Tossing out broken, un-repairable furniture is extremely wasteful.

What should consumers look for in eco-friendly companies? [i.e. certifications, etc]

Honestly this is a very difficult question for me. I have been trying to find an association and/or certification that can meet our high standards of sustainability. I am sorry to report that I have found a lot of green-washing out there. However, I do feel that Benefit Corporation or companies B-Corp Certified are the wave of the future for businesses. These companies go beyond what a typical company is legally required to do. Benefit Corporations have a balanced triple bottom line of profit, people and planet. The companies have to pass an impartial 3rd party evaluation that ranks the company on an exhaustive list. These results are open to consumers that can see in detail what the company stands for and how they implement the triple bottom line. 12 states have passed legislation for Benefit Corporations. New Mexico has a bill that passed the House and is now being heard in Senate committees. Hopefully in the foreseeable future, the bill will make it to the Senate floor and pass for the governor to sign. If it passes, you can be assured Dapwood will be one of the first New Mexico companies to become a Benefit Corporation.

About Gregg Mich.
After growing up in Southeastern Wisconsin and graduating from the University of Wisconsin-Madison, Gregg moved to Minneapolis to see just how cold it can get. One Minnesota winter was enough. So, Gregg and his soon-to-be wife looked to the West for a new adventure, which led them to the beautiful “Land of Enchantment”- New Mexico.

Gregg helped build an international high tech manufacturing corporation. But thirteen years later, the entrepreneurial bug bit hard and the opportunity to lead Dapwood to the next stage was set. Gregg’s passion for building sustainable products in America was finally made possible through Dapwood. In his free time, Gregg enjoys traveling and camping with his wife and two young sons.

[ Disclaimer Akin To Green LLC was not financially compensated for this interview and blog.]


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