Timber-tracking to Furniture Making: The Sustainable Heart in GreenWoodGlobal.org. Interview with President Scott Landis, by Willi Paul.
Timber-tracking to Furniture Making: The Sustainable Heart in GreenWoodGlobal.org. Interview with President Scott Landis, by Willi Paul.

The GreenWood Mission:
  • Teaches men and women of all ages to become skilled artisans and producers of high-value woodwork.
  • Helps those artisans sell their products in local, regional and export markets.
  • Works with forestry professionals and communities to empower local residents to act as forest stewards and to provide a sustainable supply of raw materials for artisan production and other traditional uses.

What new stories, symbols and myths are you creating/using? How do the old ones get in your way?

Great question! We learn best by stories, and the primary "story" GreenWood is shaping today has to do with the many ways in which sustainability can be achieved by empowering local people to use their resources productively, efficiently and respectfully.

There is no shortage of old myths that get in the way. One of the biggest is the assumption that underpins most of Western culture: that a society built on unbridled consumption can succeed in perpetuity. Until our generation, there has always been another forest, another fishing ground, another resource to be mined around the next corner. But the mask has slipped dramatically on this myth in the last few decades, revealing not just the very real biological and environmental limitations of our planet, but some of the economic and social consequences of our short-sighted indulgence, as well.

A closely related myth is that we can continue to treat some areas of the world as "extractive reserves" for raw materials that can be profitably assembled into high-value products elsewhere. For centuries colonial empires imported mainly logs and other raw materials from the tropics. This enabled them to control their production and--crucially--retain more of the value of the enterprise, which could be invested in their own development. This colonial mentality led directly to the establishment of banana republics, with vast discrepancies in wealth and institutional development between the resource economies of the South and the industrial economies of the North.

Of course, even GreenWood's new story of sustainable culture depends upon there being a market economy where people still buy and sell wood products. But it is one rooted in the rational and controlled management of renewable resources.

How does GreenWood define localization?

I'm not sure what you mean by "localization." GreenWood employs a community-centered, consultative approach that is based on a decentralized, small-scale model of grassroots development. We focus on adapting technology, training and market strategies to local resources. As the planet shrinks, global is becoming increasingly local. We are all in this together.

How would you characterize the intersection of the arts and sustainability in your program? What are the principle values in play here and do these change with different cultures?

GreenWood is mainly about providing tools, technology and market connections to local woodworkers and using these tools and technologies to support sustainable forest management. Occasionally these efforts can be employed to support an existing local art form. But we often introduce designs that are highly adaptable by the artisans we train. In Honduras, for example, we introduced a split-wood, hand-tool tradition that originated in Northern Europe but eventually took root in the regional culture of Appalachia. In the ten years following our introduction of a few basic forms of Appalachian ladderback and Windsor chair furniture, local GreenWood artisans have elaborated more than 40 different furniture designs based on their own aesthetics and the character of their materials and the market. (Many of these designs can be viewed on GreenWood)

The same thing happened almost immediately when we trained folks to build plank boats in the Miskito Coast area of Honduras. The designs we introduced were a hybrid of successful 18th- and 19th-century hull shapes employed on North American rivers. Left to their own devices--and the demands of a local marketplace--the builders we trained began building boats that more closely resembled traditional dugout canoes, which also reflect their own concept of "boat."

I would expect these same forms introduced elsewhere to evolve differently. Design is perpetually evolving and is always subject to cultural and market influences, which are increasingly indifferent to national borders. At the end of the day, the market will determine which designs succeed--sustainable production depends on sales.

What Is Appropriate Technology?

Technology does not follow a linear progression-from crude hand tools to sophisticated machinery. In fact, much hand work is exceedingly sophisticated, whereas machine production is often quite crude. A solid grounding in the use of hand tools almost always provides the best foundation for an understanding and mastery of wood as an organic material and its transformation into a high-value product.

In some communities GreenWood's work relies on the simple hand-tool technology used in our original furniture. In other places, our production incorporates gasoline-powered band saw mills or electricity. The key to appropriate technology is not whether it employs motors to power machinery-sometimes it does, often it does not. The key is to establish the best possible balance between producing high-quality woodwork, earning a good living and preserving a natural forest environment. Appropriate technology is simply the tool (or tools) we use to get there, and it will have many different faces. For GreenWood, all of these factors combine to foster self-reliance and sustainability-for the artisans we train, the communities they inhabit and the forests on which they both depend.

Are we working hard enough at finding replacement materials for wood? Examples?

Replacement material usually means plastic, which is far from sustainable in its production or disposal. I would rather focus on using wood more efficiently, managing our renewable resources responsibly and finding productive uses for a much wider variety of wood species and grades than are currently valued in the marketplace.

GreenWood believes that the best way to preserve forests is by providing incentives for the people who live there to protect and manage those forests. Most forest communities understand that their survival is intimately connected to the health of their forests through the water, wildlife and other environmental services they provide. The sustainable harvest of trees--and the responsible use of wood--can provide a key element in helping people remain and thrive on the land.

Tell us about your state-of-the-art, timber-tracking program in the Río Plátano Biosphere Reserve of Honduras? What are the end goals?

Harvested trees are marked by foresters, according to a management plan based on current inventories and long-range projections for growth and regeneration. Our timber-tracking program employs a PDA (hand-held computer) to record the GPS coordinates of each harvested tree in the plan. When a tree is felled, this digital information is embedded in a series of barcodes that travel with the wood throughout its transformation into a high-value product. At every step in the tree's conversion to finished product, a new barcode is assigned (and physically attached), establishing its relationship to the original parent tree in the management plan.

The end result is that the final product--in the case of our pilot project in Honduras, a Taylor guitar--will receive a barcode that the end user can employ to find out about the origins of the wood in his or her guitar. The final delivery system is still under development, but it is likely to involve a sticker or hangtag that will direct consumers to a website. After entering the barcode number on the website, consumers will be taken (via Google Earth) to the location where the parent tree was harvested. The website will provide links to technical information (management plans, permits, certification documents, etc.) as well as personal stories about the harvesters, their communities and the role these forests play in their lives and their future.

We are starting with the mahogany harvested for use in Taylor guitar necks. Ultimately, we expect this program to incorporate many more of the woods used in each instrument--a virtual tour of the tropical and temperate forest communities where each guitar originated.

What are some of the common experience threads that your FOGS share?

Our FOGs (Friends of GreenWood) have an enormous diversity of background--in business, nonprofits, furniture design and construction, publishing, environmental preservation and fundraising. Some of the things they share --apart from their support for GreenWood --are a longstanding and demonstrated commitment to the environment and to creative, profitable artisan enterprise.

Are you bored, overwhelmed with -- or crazy-insane about -- "climate change" these days?

None of the above. Climate change is real and crucially important, but there are plenty of other reasons for us to do what we do: preserving critical ecosystems, biodiversity and livelihoods. Climate change adds greater urgency to an already imperative mission.

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ComForNet is a free, Internet-based, community-forest network-an interactive forum for sharing the hard-won skills and experience of community forest owners and managers throughout the world. From time to time, we will bring you news of a success story (or a noteworthy failure!) from the world of community forest enterprise.

ComForNet's focus is clear: To exchange practical, innovative information that small community producers can use to achieve the highest possible return for their products in the marketplace. Our stories are written by or about real people in real communities who are engaged in a real effort to build a sustainable livelihood out of renewable forest resources. We invite you to read and respond to the articles you find in ComForNet with comments and questions or-best of all-stories of your own, which can be shared with other enterprising spirits in the world of community forestry. We hope you find our new network as exciting as we do-your participation in ComForNet is what will make it a success.

Connections -

Scott Landis, President
80 Academy Street | South Berwick, ME 03908
scottl at ttlc dot net
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