The giving tree: Whole Trees

Turning forest waste into building materials
The giving tree: Whole Trees

The giving tree: Whole TreesMost of us don’t give the trees we walk past every day on the street much thought. But that’s not the case for Roald Gundersen, owner, principal architect and co-founder of WholeTrees, a business that turns forest waste into building materials.

Trees, says Gundersen, are fifty percent stronger than an equivalent milled piece of lumber. “So if you can use trees,” he says, “you can have a strong, more durable product.”

The giving tree: Whole TreesUsing trees also means that WholeTrees can source from waste streams of forests. “Currently there’s not a market incentive to take care of forests, so this gives us early returns for forest management,” explains Gundersen.

The added benefit is ensuring the health of the forest. WholeTrees, whose products are certified by the Forest Stewardship Council, worked with the city of Madison on using twelve ash trees that were formerly in city parks for structure and support in the new Festival Foods project on East Washington Avenue. “We sequestered over 120 tons of carbon in the building,” adds Gundersen. “Wood is, after all, an amazing material.”

What is social innovation?

According to Stanford University’s Social Innovation Review, social innovation is a “novel solution to a social problem that is more effective, efficient, sustainable or just than existing solutions” and benefits primarily society as a whole rather than private individuals.

It includes these elements:

Increasing employment, productivity and economic growth

Justice, fairness, environmental preservation, improved health, arts and culture and better education

A social innovation:

Can be a product, production process or technology (much like innovation in general), but it can also be a principle, an idea, a piece of legislation, a social movement, an intervention or some combination of them.

Recognizes the fundamental role of cross-sector dynamics: exchanging ideas and values, shifting roles and relationships and blending public, philanthropic and private resources. Innovation blossoms where the sectors converge.

Can’t be understood, let alone solved, without involving the nonprofit, public and private sectors.

The M List
Madison Magazine‘s M List is a who’s who of organizations and individuals who are having an impact on our local culture and economy. In its third year, the M List recognizes those making strides in the area of social innovation. Last year’s list of innovators were in the food industry. The original M List, in 2013, honored the technology sector. The 2014 M List honored “Foodtastic” entrepreneurs and innovators.

Click here to return to the 2015 M List.