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Timber! The startup chopping built environment emissions by upcycling waste wood

One of the largest non-industrial sawmill on the East Coast housed at the Carbon Smart Wood™ Sawmill in MD (Image Credit: Cambium Carbon)
One of the largest non-industrial sawmill on the East Coast housed at the Carbon Smart Wood™ Sawmill in MD (Image Credit: Cambium Carbon)

Did you know that products built with fallen hardwood — aka the dead trees found on the forest floor — emit 26% less planet-warming carbon emissions than traditionally harvested hardwood? When urban and rural cities in the United States lose 36 million trees a year due to storms and clearing for urbanization, there are a lot of trees bound for the landfills that could otherwise be building material instead of newly chopped trees, that when cut, release the carbon they store

That’s why Cambium Carbon, is creating what they call “the world’s most sustainable wood.” The startup is cutting down emissions by diverting waste wood from landfills and repurposing it for tables, floors, and other construction projects. 

Recently, the startup raised $5.3 million in seed funding to grow the business from a seedling based out of Baltimore to a company with a national supply chain for fallen trees, complete with an emerging green-collar workforce. The round was led by MaC Venture Capital, with participation from Blue Pool Capital, Rise of the Rest, and Alumni Ventures, as well as new investors such as Connecticut Innovations and Gaingels. In addition to taking the business nationwide, the funding will also be used to launch new products. 

The startup connects source materials, manufacturers, and buyers to take advantage of the existing market for wood and make it more sustainable. Additionally, Cambium Carbon also includes Traece, a SaaS platform to track, manage, and sell fallen trees, salvaged wood, and deconstructed building materials. According to Cambium, the platform has successfully facilitated over $5 million in transactions for waste wood, which they say demonstrates how ready the market is for a sustainable solution. Wood reuse in the U.S. alone has the potential to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 251 million tons annually.

"A lot of times that material is viewed as a defect and we really like to turn that narrative around and be able to educate people that it's actually something to celebrate and something to enjoy," Paul Timmins, the startup’s vice president of supply said via a publication earlier this year. 

Already, the startup has had big-name customers including Microsoft, National Geographic, and Patagonia in its home city of Baltimore. However, to showcase the versatility of its flagship product, Carbon Smart Wood, it's partnering with renowned furniture brands like Room and Board, Steelcase, Uhuru, and Arbor Wood Co. For every 1000 board feet of Carbon Smart Wood used, 4 trees are saved, the startup calculates. If that wasn’t enough, the startup also reinvests in communities by putting 15% of its profits into forest stewardship to fund initiatives like canopy restoration while facilitating workforce development. 

One example of this is Cambium's first-of-its-kind, public-private partnership model for wood waste capture and job skills training through the Philadelphia Reforestation Hub. It developed a sawmill and lumber yard at a local recycling facility, and by partnering with Philadelphia Parks and Recreation and PowerCorp PHL, the startup was able to help provide paid experiences to un- and under-employed young adults, while diverting 323 logs from waste as of August of this year. 

For this project, Cambium allocated 15% of profits to TreePhilly, an initiative planting trees in low-canopy areas in Philadelphia that aims to have a long-term impact not only by way of the trees but also through the revenue created from urban forest maintenance and regeneration. 

"This funding is a testament to our vision and enables us to scale up our production of carbon-negative wood, offering a sustainable alternative to traditional lumber,” Ben Christensen, the cofounder and CEO of Cambium Carbon said of the round. "We're thrilled to channel this investment towards revolutionizing material supply chains.” 

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