Obviously we love Urban Wood. Wood working, chainsaw carving, gorgeous tables made from city trees make our hearts go pitter patter.
But have you ever stopped to think about the global impact of using green waste as a resource instead of adding it to the waste-stream where it most likely won’t be utilized for it’s highest potential? Or, it may actually add to the problem rather than being a part of the solution?

Here at Street Tree Revival, we are committed to being a part of the solution and we have a very special guest joining us on our next episode of Stay Dusty, we’ll have a conversation with Oscar Araiza, former Director of Strategic Projects in Low Carbon Technologies for the National Institute of Ecology and Climate Change in Mexico.

Urban Wood: A Global Perspective w/Oscar Araiza

 

Who is Oscar Araiza

The INECC is a research institute for the Mexican government; its function is to generate studies so that policy-makers have the tools to make climate change policy.

When Oscar was the Director of Strategic Projects in Low Carbon Technologies for the INECC, his job was to carry out studies on low carbon technologies, especially for the transport and energy sectors, the two sectors that have the most greenhouse gas emissions in Mexico. They have more opportunity to decrease their emissions.

An easy example of a low carbon technology are fossil fuel alternatives. In the case of energy, solar would be an example. In the case of transport, hybrid and electric vehicles would be an example.

The #1 machine for carbon sequestration is a tree; nothing absorbs more carbon faster than a tree. Noting that the ocean also has sequestration properties. But trees also give us oxygen, which the ocean does not do. Trees also give us shade and fruit, two other gifts. 

 

The Importance of Urban Forestry

Oscar did have to plan for urban forestry development in Mexico as part of this job; planting is heavily regulated there. There is no real urban forestry industry in the same way as there is in the United States. In Mexico, this work is up to local governments, but they don’t have the specialization and resources to reuse urban wood the way we do here. Most trees end up in the landfills. 

YouTubers have made a pact to get millions of dollars for trees. The Arbor Day Foundation has gotten a ton of money this year. Planting more trees is awesome, but what happens at the end of life cycle? We need to have systems in place in order to handle this material and recycle it properly.

Oscar believes it was destiny that we connected. He has a personal project where he bakes rye bread; he had to purchase some ingredients close to Anaheim. The GPS took him on a route right past some beautiful pieces of wood in an exhibit room. Oscar stopped in his tracks and there he entered Street Tree Revival. He was so excited to see our stock. I was working with some clients, so Oscar spoke to other staff members, asking lots of questions about where this wood came from. We eventually talked, and Oscar told me about a sustainability certificate he received at UCLA, wondering if he could collaborate with us. I told him of course, obviously! And here we are! 

 

Urban Wood In construction

Oscar also has experience in construction. What happens on big construction sites is they often remove trees. We have been talking about how to reuse some of that wood. These trees take CO2 from the atmosphere, releasing oxygen and storing the carbon. Because of this process, if we don’t reuse the trees that anyone cuts down, the stored carbon will eventually be released from the dead trees. 

Mexico mainly uses concrete, brick, and steel in both residential and commercial construction. In the United States, there is more variety in the design and materials used to build residential buildings, and there are more good standards for this process. 

In the life cycle assessment, there are studies that measure the environmental impact that one product or process has. Wood requires less energy to produce, but in the life cycle assessment, it’s shown that wood has less impact on the environment than other construction materials. More points are given for the use of recyclable materials. Urban wood thus can be very useful in construction. Oscar does think that urban wood can eventually be used for structural materials such as plywood. 

 

Keeping trees in communities

There are some groups, including Dovetail Partners, who have been doing studies with the U.S. Forest Service. One statistic is if any community had the forethought to set up and capture this forest material, we could capture nearly four billion board feet or about 30% of annual hardwood consumption. 

Menlo Park in the Bay Area has strict rules on their trees. If you cut a tree that is 10 inches or bigger, that is considered a heritage tree. The community has set these guidelines, so it’s beautiful and filled with trees. Other communities set guidelines without following through. At Street Tree Revival, we do our best to plant two trees for every tree that we cut down; last year, we planted over 18,000 trees.

A way to join in this revival is to participate in a community tree planting event. STR plays a big part in Arbor Day and tree planting events that happen in our community. Amplify the Urban Forest is an awesome event we are currently planning, where we are going to plant 2,000 trees in one day with 30 different communities. Reach out to us if you’re interested in getting involved! 

 

The gift of Life

Oscar’s favorite gift given to us from trees is life, the habitats created inside and supported by a tree. (I was going to say the macadamia nut, so Oscar’s is better for sure. I also love vaporub.)

He believes that we are working hard to achieve the three pillars of sustainability in our business. The three pillars are to have environmental, social, and economic benefits. While certifying can be important, Oscar doesn’t believe it’s necessary as long as you are actually implementing the practices in your head and your heart.

    • It is very clear what STR is doing to benefit the environment; we are giving more life cycle to a landfill through the use of urban wood and stored carbon. 
    • In terms of social benefits, we are working in the local communities to help them. We also support our employees through allowing them to unionize and providing them a good workplace. 
    • In terms of economic benefits, there are profits, which can be used as an investment to grow and support our social and environmental improvement efforts.

 

The urban wood movement is unique to North America; not many large or mid-sized manufacturers have adopted this until now, but companies are starting to realize this is a viable option. Taylor Guitars in San Diego realized that this is the right thing to do. Stradivarius made a violin out of the trees in his backyard, so Taylor wanted to know why they couldn’t use the trees in their front yard. Taylor is doing an ebony project in Cameroon where they might not harvest the trees for 160 years, truly thinking forward. They are also using shamel ash, a tropical wood native to Mexico, from Riverside, which was brought there in the 1930s, to build guitars. They get super large and grow out of the space they have, messing up sidewalks and catching diseases, so it’s great to cut them down and reuse them.

 

For fun!

If Oscar is on a deserted island, the six seeds he’d take with him are:

    • Corn
      • He’s Mexican. He has to.
    • Beans
    • Olive 
    • Macadamia 
    • Fresno
      • This is a tree in Mexico that is the ash that Taylor is using. 
    • Sequoia

My six seeds of choice are:

    • Mappa burl 
      • Very popular online right now. This comes from the black poplar tree, populus nigra. Most poplar trees are pioneer species. Our area manager in San Diego was telling me that pioneer species break down into the top layer of soil and provide nutrients to help other plants grow.
    • Texas ebony
      • The darkest wood native to the United States. I have never cut it before, and I really want to.
    • Chinese pistachio
    • Macadamia 
    • Mango 
    • Big Coast redwoods

 

Additional Resources