Some people believe that global warming is linked to human industrialization, and release of greenhouse gasses such as CO2 and methane. Others believe that warming of the earth is part of a natural cycle, independent of anything that people do. Regardless of what you believe, here is an interesting look at the developing “carbon economy”, and how your furnishings can sequester carbon in your home or office.
Calculating the carbon footprint of your furnishings
|Pottery Barn||Stone and Cottonwood|
|Harvest and Milling||4||4|
Trees, and therefore wood, are made mainly of carbon, water, oxygen, and hydrogen. There are also small amounts of nitrogen, phosphorous, and many other elements. When trees are cut down and made into boards and other lumber, they dry out quickly. If you were to pick up a nice, dry board of cottonwood, the weight that you would feel would be mainly that of the carbon it contains (90%). So, when you purchase a new table that weighs 100 pounds, you have actually purchased 90 pounds of carbon.
In addition to the 90 pounds of carbon that are actually in the table, we also need to consider how much CO2 was released by all of the activities that people undertook to get a tree from the forest, make it into lumber, make the lumber into a table, and deliver it to your home. Let’s consider that you are considering a table from Pottery Barn at the mall, and from Stone and Cottonwood. Both tables contain about the same amount of carbon, and they both cost about the same amount. However, the amounts of CO2 released into the atmosphere during the creation and delivery of those two tables are quite different.
Most of the furniture from Pottery Barn is made in Malaysia or China. If your table comes from Malaysia, it is made from Malaysian trees. It takes about 1/5 of a gallon of fuel to harvest, process, and transport the lumber from the forest, to the furniture factory. That is about 4 pounds of CO2 for the atmosphere. During the processing of the tree into a table, about half of the tree becomes wood waste in the form of sawdust from milling, smaller branches left to rot in the forest, and cut off pieces during shaping and assembly of the table. So, for the 90 pounds of carbon in the table, another 90 pounds of carbon are wood waste. Each atom of carbon in the waste combines with 2 atoms of oxygen as the waste rots, or is burned, resulting in 330 pounds of CO2 (yes, more than triple. The oxygen atoms each weigh a little more than a carbon atom, and there are 2 of them for each atom of carbon in CO2). The table is then packaged up in cardboard, and sent to Los Angeles on a container ship. Cardboard is made from wood pulp, and requires about 2 pounds of CO2 into the atmosphere for each pound of cardboard in the box. The box from a PB table weighs about 25 pounds, resulting in another 50 pounds of CO2. Shipping on a container ship to Los Angeles, and then by truck from LA to Denver results in another 60 pounds of CO2 into the atmosphere. The table is then delivered to your home from the local warehouse, and you happily take it out of the box and assemble it in your dining room. Beautiful! But, what to do with the cardboard box? Of course, you recycle it, so that it can be turned into a new box. That process is more efficient than making a new box from scratch by 50%, so recycling the box only puts another 25 pounds of CO2 into the atmosphere. Therefore, all together, the Pottery Barn table with 90 pounds of carbon (representing 330 pounds of CO2) requires 4 + 330 + 50 + 60 + 25 = 469 pounds of CO2 into the atmosphere.
The Stone and Cottonwood table requires much less CO2 to get from the tree, to your dining room. In order to process the local trees into lumber requires about the same 1/5 gallon of fuel as the same job does in Malaysia, or 4 pounds of CO2. Since our designs utilize the natural curves of the trees, we are able to use 80% of the tree in our furniture, instead of 50% in Malaysia. The 18 pounds of sawdust and cut off pieces represent 65 pounds of CO2 into the atmosphere. Perhaps we can be forgiven for this waste, as we burn the sawdust and cut off pieces to heat our workshop. Beyond that, there is really no carbon cost for the Stone and Cottonwood table. Therefore, the 330 pounds of CO2 represented by the Stone and Cottonwood table only require 69 pounds of CO2 emissions to get into your dining room.
Without all of the accounting to cloud the issue, here is how the decision on which table to have in your home affects the CO2 emitted into the atmosphere:
Pottery Barn: 469 – 330 = 139 pounds of CO2 into the atmosphere
Stone and Cottonwood: 69 – 330 = -261 pounds of C02 kept out of the atmosphere
The decision about which table to have in your home ultimately comes down to a difference of 400 pounds of CO2 into the atmosphere, or not. To some people, this matters.