Over the last quarter century, a fascinating model of cradle to cradle product design has been unfolding in the New Hampshire North Country.
In partnership with DCI—one of New England’s largest and oldest contract furniture manufacturers—Dartmouth College harvests trees from its own forest through its sustainable forestry program and DCI turns those logs into lumber and then long-lasting hardwood furniture.
We then install this solid maple furniture, fashioned from Dartmouth’s own trees, in the College’s residence halls.
This is a rare and inspired example of local collaboration and hyperlocal supply chains that minimize resource and energy inputs while supporting local labor and economies.
A Model of Circular Product Design
As we’ve written about previously on this website, it’s also a compelling example of circular product design in action.
To quickly recap, the Ellen Macarthur Foundation defines circular economies this way:
A systems solution framework that tackles global challenges like climate change, biodiversity loss, waste, and pollution. It is based on three principles, driven by design: eliminate waste and pollution, circulate products and materials (at their highest value), and regenerate nature.
Designers at the Bressler Group distill circular design down to these three tenets:
- Efficient use of material and energy
- Use of recycled and recyclable materials
- Design for repair, take back, upgrade, and disassembly
Now in its 25th year, our partnership with Dartmouth College continues to evolve as a model of circular design.
A Sustainability Partnership and Process
To illustrate, let’s take a look at the most recent iteration of this sustainability partnership to illuminate the process.
First, Dartmouth identified the project and got it funded. Then our team at DCI assessed the furniture needs and calculated the lumber requirement.
Dartmouth’s staff forester worked with local loggers to pick and gather the trees. Once the timber was harvested, the College delivered it to DCI’s Lisbon, NH manufacturing plant just over the county line.
And it’s worth noting the sustainable pedigree of the trees we received from Dartmouth. They are sourced from the Second College Grant, a massive swath of pristine northern forest gifted to Dartmouth College by the State of New Hampshire over 200 years ago.
According to Dartmouth’s website:
The Grant has long been recognized as a model forest; one which balances wilderness recreation, timber harvesting that provides revenue for student scholarship, and a sustainably managed forest that supports education and research at Dartmouth and other institutions across the northern United States.
Nelson Sweeney, a veteran member of the DCI team who coordinated the project with Dartmouth, spoke to the circular design principles baked into this partnership:
On this 27,000 parcel of forest, Dartmouth practices its highly sustainable forestry program which is geared toward balancing timber growth and timber harvest. This year, as has happened in various years over the past quarter century, a part of that timber harvest flowed right back to Dartmouth’s campus via one of New England’s largest and oldest contract furniture manufacturers—DCI in Lisbon, NH.
Once DCI received these sustainably harvested trees, we backhauled them to our FSC-certified Vermont sawmill to create the lumber.
Engaging Students in the Process
At the same time, Dartmouth’s Assistant Director of Sustainability, Marcus Welker, visited the sawmill with Dartmouth students so they could see their own logs getting cut into lumber.
Also attending was Dartmouth’s veteran forester, Kevin Evans, and another commercial forester. The combined expertise of DCI’s own wood expert, Steve Walker, and the two foresters created a rich learning experience for the students.
From the sawmill, the lumber was transported to our FSC-certified manufacturing headquarters in New Hampshire. There, students saw the final stage of production where rough lumber is milled and assembled into solid wood dorm furniture.
A Deeper Sustainability Story
DCI’s integrated supply chain combined with Dartmouth’s proximity and sustainable forestry creates a powerful sustainability lens for this story. But it doesn’t stop there.
Dartmouth’s furniture was built in DCI’s zero waste factory, which is powered by a renewable energy system. That is to say, DCI uses all its own wood waste to fuel the steam boilers that heat our factory, kilns, and offices. DCI uses no fuel oil at our factory.
We sell the wood that doesn’t make it into the furniture or boilers to local dairy farms for animal bedding or convert it to wood chips for landscaping.
Furthermore, using solid wood furniture ensures that this furniture will last for decades and adhere to the principles of circular design. Unlike furniture manufactured with laminate and mdf, we can refinish, reuse, recycle, and even upcycle solid wood furniture to give it multiple lives.
In addition to all the other ways that solid wood furniture is good for the climate, it’s important to remember that solid wood furniture sequesters carbon dioxide. And when it returns to the earth—whether as a biofuel or through biodegradation—it releases no new net carbon into the atmosphere.
This project for Andres Hall concludes just one of many chapters in this 25-year old evolving story. And although most schools don’t have the resources of Dartmouth, hopefully our partnership can be a model of sustainability for other schools to follow.