Wood Anchor is a Winnipeg company with a simple (and yet monumental) mission to run an environmentally ethical and sustainable business that limits the amount of waste headed for landfill. The small team of 6, lead by founder J Neufled have been turning 5000 - 6000 trees per year into usable products since 2005. While the Elm trees are the mainstay, Wood Anchor also harvests other species from the landfill as well as timbers from demolished buildings within Winnipeg and surrounding areas.
A key approach to the companies success is that the designs themselves are sustainable. J and his team put countless hours into creating work that will stand the test of time. Their pieces are functional and well crafted, but the details in the design will allow the work to endure all changing trends in interior or exterior design. The work will always be the focal point and will not need to be replaced. Wood Anchor prides themselves on creating generational pieces.
Running a profitable business with sustainable intentions is delicate balance. J and his staff consistently educate the customer and the general public about the importance of what they are doing and the associated costs that come with creating their work.
Most people assume that because Wood Anchor is using local material, deemed to be waste that the costs of purchasing products should be "cheap". The reality is that the cost is reflective of the unknown processes that the consumer does not see. Salvaging material is labor intensive for a variety of reasons and the cost reflects that accordingly.
"City" trees are more difficult to mill as the tend to grow outward because of the lack of forested competition. Because of this, it takes a skilled and experienced individual to mill the lumber maximizing the amount of usable material obtained.
City trees also contain all sorts of debris that the trees have absorbed as they matured. Metal fencing, rocks, consumer waste, and other items can be found inside. These items are all invisible until milling begins and can cause extensive and costly damage to equipment and machines. As such, the milling process takes more time as the material must be closely scrutinized throughout the entire process.
Reclaimed timbers from buildings, rail cars, etc. all contain some type of hardware (nails, screws, bolts) that need to be carefully removed in order to maintain usable material. Again, the process of removing all foreign contaminants is labor intensive.
Because wood is a natural product it is not perfect. There can be a number of natural defects in the wood, whether it is reclaimed of fresh cut there is potential that man made products may need to be introduced to reinforce the material. Some of the products can contain chemicals (resin/epoxy) that suddenly take away from the environmental intent of the company. This increases the costs and labor involved while potentially determining that the piece unusable.
As Wood Anchor continues it's non linear path to success, there are always additional challenges and concerns. Of the remaining Elm tress in Winnipeg there is a large percentage of them that are nearing The end of their natural life cycle. Our population of mature Ash trees is also facing decimation with the inevitable arrival of the Emerald Ash Borer. There is potential that the amount of trees headed for landfill will overwhelm J and his staff and as such, J will continually flirt with expanding to meet the needs at the risk of degrading the quality of work they produce and straying from the intention of maintaining a sustainable practice.
I enjoyed my time visiting Wood Anchor, meeting J and his staff. It was clear from my first "cold call" asking if I could interview J for a course assignment that he was welcoming and willing to share his vision and thoughts on sustainability.
To my surprise, J did not grow up in a "sustainable/environmental" family. He grew up on a farm and commented that he, "may have witnessed some burning of styrofoam" in his early days. J was married at an early age, had a family on the way, and was looking for work. With a natural passion for working with his hands, J found himself working in the trades but looking to get more out of his work.
While visiting the landfill, J noticed that there were massive piles of cut down trees seemingly wasting away. With a tight budget and a natural nack for being resourceful, J made a casual bet with a friend that he would save the timbers from the landfill and put them to use.
Shortly after the bet was made, J brought his portable mill to the landfill and asked an employee if he could cut some tress and make timbers for a personal project. Alarmingly, he was given permission and he began to work. At some point shortly after, a supervisor caught wind of the situation and stepped in. After a discussion about what J was using the timbers for, J was not only allowed to continue but was given 2 weeks to cut as much as he wanted. We both commented on how surprising this must have been considering you can hardly exit your vehicle at the landfill these days, never mind take something home. It was a little unclear exactly how the next step took place, but J was approached a third time and asked to submit a business proposal to the city for continued cutting privilages.
After a short period of time and submitting multiple forms, documents, and doing interviews, Wood Anchor as it operates today was born. The shop and milling yard is located on city property, just outside of the main landfill site. This provides a contained or quarantined site that minimizes the spread of Dutch Elm Disease.
When J and his crew initially started, both Wood Anchor and the city would only process the Elm's during the winter while the trees were in a dormant state further lessening the chance of spreading the D.E.D. As time has gone on, this practice has evolved and milling is done sparingly during summer months as the number of trees being removed is overwhelming.
After spending time with J and his crew I was extremely impressed with their passion for their work and their awareness of the role they play in true sustainable practices. The Wood Anchor team has created a welcoming environment built on collaboration, creativity, and environmentalism. Despite popular thinking, they have proven that a "sustainable" business is not only viable, it is both financially and spiritually profitable.
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