Jan 10 2012

Sustainable Northwest Wood keeps rural mills humming


From Sustainable Business Oregon, November 18, 2011
By Christina Williams

It makes sense that in Oregon, a state known for its forests and wood products, that builders would want to work with local materials when they pick up their hammers.

But until Sustainable Northwest Wood opened its doors last year, there wasn’t a good way to link builders with the small wood producers from around the Northwest who could deliver lumber that was both locally raised and sustainably produced.

Now the Portland-based distributor is becoming a model for other regions of the country as a way to keep small rural businesses afloat while providing a valuable service for urban builders.

And it’s not just about doing the right thing. Sustainable Northwest Wood, which was incubated at the nonprofit Sustainable Northwest before being spun off, is ahead of schedule on revenue project, despite a lackluster market for wood products.

“The market has been treating us surprisingly well,” said Ryan Temple, president of Sustainable Northwest Wood. “We’re up almost 200 percent from last year to this year and we’re running the business in the black. We got there a little sooner than we thought we would.”

Green Hammer’s Stephen Aiguier and the Build Local Alliance were also instrumental in Sustainable Northwest Wood’s launch.

The business works with 64 locally owned mills and wood products businesses around the region. Its focus is making speciality wood — varieties like juniper, white oak and madrone — available to Portland builders. Temple places orders that these suppliers can process when the mill would otherwise be idle. He advises them on everything from what will sell to how much to charge for it.

“Our success as a distribution yard is wholly dependent on the success of the small forest suppliers,” Temple said.

A lean operation, Sustainable Northwest Wood has three employees and contracts with other Portland businesses to custom finish wood as needed.

Its June to July fiscal year closed out 2011 with $750,000 in sales. Temple expects that to nearly double to $1.2 million in the current fiscal year.

Green building has been a bright spot in what has otherwise been a pretty lousy year for the building industry, a development that hasn’t gone unnoticed. Temple frequently fields calls from the old guard of the lumber sector, asking how Sustainable Northwest Wood is able to source 100 percent of its inventory in wood certified by the Forest Stewardship Council.

Innovations in the green building supply chain will spread quickly once word gets out that there’s money to be made.

As Temple put it: “Eventually what we’re doing that’s innovative moves into the mainstream. From a mission point of view and from a forest and community sustainability point of view, that’s great. From a business point of view it’s a challenge.”

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