Northen Liberties' Greensaw finds inspiration in salvage
Locals Greensaw Design and Build draw inspiration from recycling materials that would otherwise go to the landfill.
For any construction company — at a time when sustainability is more important than ever before — it’s one thing to design green and environmentally friendly projects. It’s another to use recycled materials to create your work.
But, for Greensaw Design and Build in Northern Liberties, it’s important to do both.
It’s a business model that founder and co-owner (the business is now a cooperative with numerous owners) Brendan Jones said came naturally to him and the rest of the company.
“Everybody here is an artist/Dumpster diver,” he joked, during an interview held at Greensaw’s shop, based at 820 N. 4th St.
About five years ago, the longtime builder said he decided to work in a more sustainable way and focus solely on building — his company remodels properties and builds furniture — using recycled materials.
Besides, he said, with recycled materials — like wooden flooring pulled from an old bowling alley or hand-finished wood that once served as a church pew — a customer is often getting a higher quality product and a story to go with it.
“The quality and story matter so much more and its so much more intriguing than something that’s been shipped in from China,” said Jones. “When we are building with this type of material, we step back and take inspiration from that (object’s history).”
Currently, the company is working on renovating two properties on Girard Avenue that will become the state’s first Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design “platinum” certified renovation. LEED is a widely used green building certification system, and platinum is the system’s highest sustainability rating.
Walking through his workshop along with Samir Patel, a Greeensaw craftsman and head of Greensaw’s community outreach efforts, Jones displayed an array of shelving that the team had created using pieces of discarded shipping pallets.
The pallets are fitted together in such a way — a design originated by Wharton Esherick, a famed architect who now has a museum dedicated in his memory in Paoli, Pa. — that when the wood reacts to temperature changes in the room, it swells or shrinks ever so slightly, allowing colored “splines” between each slat to be hidden or appear.
Using recycled materials in new projects, Jones said, can be difficult because of the effort needed to prepare the items that are to be reused. But, he said that for Greensaw, it’s worth it for the added value and reduced impact on the environment.
“We want to use materials with a local value and story behind it,” he said, discussing how the team recently salvaged wood from a mill on Frankford Creek. “It’s wood that would disappear otherwise, or become mulch.”
Locally, the team has been working with representatives from the New Kensington Community Development Corp. to support the Sustainable 19125 initiative and recently helped paint the parking lot at the Shissler Recreation Center. Greensaw is currently using recycled materials to create a shelter for the compost bin for the NKCDC and Philly Compost’s Compost Co-op, which will be placed at the NKCDC Garden Center.
This effort to bring affordable composting to the area will launch on May 12, with a new membership meeting to be held at 7:30 p.m. at the NKCDC Garden Center, located at the intersection of Frankford Avenue and Berks Street.
Patel said the company strives to work closely with members of the community to support the area and to create connections to help the company reduce waste.
For example, he said, Greensaw donates its sawdust to area chicken farmers, and in return, the company receives batches of fresh eggs.
“It’s awesome,” Patel said with a grin.
But, where do they get the recycled materials that Greensaw uses?
Often, raw materials are salvaged from buildings to be demolished.
But, if you’ve seen the movie Avatar: The Last Airbender, you’ve probably already seen some of the materials that Greensaw used for new projects.
“It would be nice if that would have been a better movie,” joked David Wing, co-op member and project manager for Greensaw.
The company works closely with The Resource Exchange, a South Philly business that saves materials used by movie producers and local theaters like the Walnut Street Theater.
The Resource Exchange ensures that the used sets from their productions are recycled and used by companies like Greensaw.
Wing said that Avatar: Last Air Bender, unlike James Cameron’s similarly named, multimillion-dollar film Avatar, had sets that the company was able to obtain and strip down for reuse.
He noted that the more successful Avatar, though it has an underlying environmental message, didn’t see its sets recycled.
“Not a single nail was saved off that set,” said Wing. “We used everything (Avatar: The Last Airbender) had.”
Learn more about the Compost Co-op
are partnering to bring community composting to the 19125 ZIP code.
The first meeting of the new Compost Co-op will be held Thursday, May 12, at 7:30 p.m. at the NKCDC Garden Center, Frankford Avenue and Berks Street.
Three days a week, members can drop off food scraps at the specially built facility at the Garden Center. The Co-op will be open on Thursdays and Fridays from 4 to 7p.m. and Saturdays from noon to 3 p.m.
The facility includes a state-of-the-art composter, the Earth Tub, donated by Philly Compost. It will be sheltered by a structure built by Greensaw Design and Build.
Working memberships are $25 a year. Nonworking memberships are $50 a year.
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