As soon as I read this thoughtful feature on Thos. Moser in the March 27 Portland Press Herald, I wanted to share it. I’m always happy to tell the story of our work with Thos. Moser to implement innovations that reduce manufacturing waste and improve the company’s bottom line. However, this article prompted me not to highlight our past work with them, but to let you in on our thinking about how we can encourage young entrepreneurs to see opportunity in the Northern Forest.

blog post VT Farm Table with RobThomas Moser, the founder of this 70-employee furniture manufacturing business, successfully handed off the business to his sons, David, Andy and Aaron. And while it’s wonderful to see a case where the next generation takes the reins of family-owned wood products businesses, that’s not always possible. The region’s current demographic trends point toward a graying workforce. Many wood products business owners are looking forward to retirement, and are thinking about their exit strategies. This presents a unique opportunity for talented young people to take the reigns!

The good news is that we’re seeing younger entrepreneurs enter the wood product manufacturing industry without a family connection. For example, a young couple leads Vermont Farm Table, a thriving business with a facility in Bristol Vermont. We are working with Vermont Farm Table to implement business innovations to ensure their continued success (they are hiring) and we’re encouraged by their tech savvy, innovation and quality craftsmanship. We’re also working with two companies that have successfully transitioned from founders to new ownership: Invironments, a finish cabinetry and millwork shop in Hermon, Maine, and Lyndon Furniture, a fine furniture company in Lyndon, Vermont.  We’re excited to see these successful companies stay  and provide manufacturing jobs in the Northern Forest.

You may have missed the news story over the holidays, but California is currently experiencing the country’s worst environmental disaster since the BP oil spill. Over 150 million pounds of methane have leaked from a natural gas storage facility in California since October, and the problem can’t be fixed for months. This leak especially bad for climate change because methane traps 25 times as much heat in the atmosphere as  as carbon dioxide does. The human impact is more immediate: 2,000 people have been evacuated from their homes because of health dangers and local schools have hazmat suit necessary to touch wood fuel

Natural gas advocates often describe it as a cleaner fuel than oil since it emits less carbon dioxide at the time of combustion. But this disaster disputes the “clean” label. How can  we accept a fuel as “clean” when it has the ability to cause such significant harm? The California leak is from just one faulty safety valve. How many valves must there be across the natural gas pipeline system in the state, or in the US?

No fuel is benign, but some fuels – like wood – are a whole lot less risky than others. Look at the advantages of wood: Bulk wood pellets come from locally harvested wood and are shipped within the region. They aren’t extracted far away and then brought in by pipeline. They aren’t volatile or poisonous. There are far fewer opportunities for things to go wrong along the delivery chain from extraction to manufacturing to delivery to use.

From blogs to The New York Times, much is being said about the carbon impact of using wood for energy—without much distinction between using it for heat or electricity generation. Yet when it comes to carbon, they are worlds apart.

Fully accounting for the carbon impact of using wood as fuel is very complicated, and blanket statements that assume all energy from wood is equal are ignoring critical distinctions between wood as a heating fuel, and wood used to generate electricity.

The Northern Forest Center specifically champions modern wood heat because—in the context of the Northeast—generating heat from wood via highly efficient primary heating systems is a triple winner, producing reliable, local fuel at a stable price; saving money and creating jobs for rural communities; and reducing net atmospheric carbon dioxide over time. Ideally, wood heat is sourced and produced close to where it is used, at a scale that fits within the carrying capacity of the region’s forests.

As you well know modern wood heat presents an extraordinary opportunity for Northern New England and New York. Local heat keeps money in local communities, creates jobs in forestry and manufacturing, cuts heating bills, helps keep forests as forests, decreases carbon dioxide emissions over time, and more.

What you may not know is that the Center’s work is about more than just putting boilers in basements in demonstration projects: it’s really about transforming the region’s energy economy. This vision keeps us going when obstacles arise, and it’s why we’re so intent on helping build a sustainable market for modern wood heating systems.