Room and Board: McKean Media Cabinet

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Michaela Cooney
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In general, and especially with this product, Room & Board is very much focused on being socially sustainable. They are working to leave communities better than they found them and are making a conscious effort to use sustainability sourced materials. But particularly in the area of environmental protection, there is some work left to be done.

What it's made of:


The material that makes up this media cabinet is reclaimed wood from vacant Baltimore rowhouses. It is from eastern old-growth forests whose trees were used in building projects in the city more than a century ago. They use this beautiful old wood instead of cutting down newer forests and contributing to deforestation. It doesn’t come without a cost though. Each one of these cabinets goes for around $3,500, making them inaccessible for the average consumer. The cabinets also use natural steel which is forged in the US from 99% recycled content.

How it's made:


This piece of furniture is part of the company’s Urban Wood Project By 2018, Room & Board had launched almost a dozen products made of reclaimed yellow pine under the branding “Urban Wood Project: Baltimore. Room & Board has a partnership with the USDA Forest Service and Humanim, a Maryland-based nonprofit that creates job opportunities for people with barriers to employment through the development of social enterprises. Details is Humanim’s venture charged with deconstructing the vacant buildings where the wood comes from. 75% of Details’ employees have been previously incarcerated. From 2016 to 2018, not one employee returned to prison, taking them out of the cycle seen in the rest of the neighborhood, where typically, “73% of citizens returning from prison to Baltimore reoffend within three years.”


Before Humanim began this work, the wood being used was simply thrown away. Wood equals 10% or more of annual waste in the US and out of the 70.6 million tons of wood waste generated in 2010, 42% comes from demolition activities. Instead, by deconstructing old rowhouses in Baltimore as opposed to demolishing them, the wood is saved and used to make products like this, as well as being used around Baltimore itself. And deconstruction creates 6 to 8 additional jobs for every 1 job created by demolition.


Brick + Board, another Humanim venture, processes and sells the wood on to Room & Board. 

Room & Board sends much of the Baltimore wood to rural communities in Virginia, Pennsylvania, and Vermont, as well as in Baltimore itself through a contract with Open Works, a newly opened maker space in Baltimore with a contract services and teaching shop, dedicated to “rebuilding Baltimore’s once-formidable manufacturing economy.” This product is specifically labeled as being made in Pennsylvania. 


They use some hybrid delivery trucks though they didn’t give an exact number and make clear that during delivery, packaging is removed and recycled or “disposed of properly”, though they don’t give more specifics than that.

Who makes it:


Room & Board looks to give back to its community and protect the environment. They donate to the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and are a founding member of the Sustainable Furnishings Council. The company is also giving back to the Baltimore community through financial support to Parks & People—for park creation and maintenance in place of abandoned rowhomes and vacant lots.  


They believe in furniture with “staying power” that is “sustainable by design”. They have a list of some of their manufacturing partners and artisans, but not all. 


One source mentioned that they have committed to transparency in material sourcing, minimizing carbon emissions, and removing unsustainable materials and harmful chemical inputs from all furnishings, among others. I couldn’t, however, find evidence of their specific work to fight harmful chemicals, other than that they follow California’s Transparency Act and thus have to disclose any such chemicals to the consumer and none were listed on the product page. Minimizing carbon emissions really seemed to boil down to trying to better shipping geographically and adding a few hybrid vehicles to their fleet.