Eco Brooklyn has one rule: we don’t buy new wood. We buy damaged wood, salvaged wood, unwanted wood, and overstock from other Brooklyn contractors. We collect it from dumpsters.

But we won’t buy new wood. Period.

It is the thorn in my carpenters’ side. When they are under pressure to perform (which is always), time is tight, and I bring them a pile of dirty old warped wood they are not happy. They curse the nails that break their blades. They grumble at the time spent cutting the odd wood to shape. And they are tempted to blame the wood for anything that goes wrong.

I say “tempted” because they know it will fall on deaf ears. At Eco Brooklyn crappy old wood is never an excuse for taking longer or doing bad work. If you work at Eco Brooklyn you are expected to work better and faster than other carpenters AND turn dirty old wood into great work.

The reason for this was nicely described in an email I got today from a fellow green builder, Tim Keating of Rainforest Relief, a great organization. His comment was part of an discussion some of us were having about CO2 impact.

He says:

The Stern report also indicates that slowing deforestation is the single most cost-effective way to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

Logging has been shown to be the primary factor leading to tropical deforestation. In Surviving the Cut (World Resources Institute), Johnson and Cabarle showed that a logged tropical forests is 8 times more likely to be completely deforested than one remaining unlogged. This was based on FAO data, which itself is very conservative. Two subsequent studies both showed that FAO estimates of deforestation need to be doubled to account for “selective” logging. That is (as RR had been saying for years), 25% of deforestation is directly due to logging (rather than 12) and once the logging roads are there, 70% of logged forests will be completely deforested within a few decades of logging.

The vast majority of high-value tree species logged in the tropics are exported (thus, their high value). That is, the demand for these woods is what is driving the initial high-grade logging. The US is the largest importer of tropical hardwoods by dollar value and currently by volume (although this will soon change as China continues to ramp up imports – but the vast majority of China’s imports are processed and re-exported – much of it to the US).

Somehow, many folks in the US seem to have forgotten Economics 101: supply and demand. Well, actually, only the one side of the coin. Consumers seem to get that if they buy more widgets, there will be more made and more companies making them – and thus the price will go down – but have neglected the other side of the coin of *not buying* leading to making less.

I sure hope everyone on this list is eschewing old-growth tropical hardwoods – even those certified as “well managed” by the FSC and old-growth woods in general (that is, much of the Western red cedar, redwood, cypress, yellow (Alaskan) cedar in trade and much of the temperate woods coming from China (originating from the Russian taiga)).

True recycled plastic lumber (as opposed to wood-plastic composite lumber) sequesters carbon as well as eliminates the need for logging from 5 to 20 times over.


Tim’s focus is on rainforests, but the same is true for all forests. Bottom line: the world has to reduce or reverse their consumption of live wood. This is why we at Eco Brooklyn, including the grumbling carpenters, take wood buying very seriously. We see this as a key ingredient of a green contractor.

Sure we are competing with many good contractors in Brooklyn, but we see this as simply another opportunity to become better. We can build with second hand wood and STILL do better work. We can spend more time cleaning the wood and STILL be competitive financially.

This way we allow the client to help save the world without any sacrifice – which is our goal: to make saving the world the easiest most logical thing to do on all levels.