When it comes to “going green,” Canadian studio furniture maker John Wiggers qualifies as an early convert and, in many ways, a pioneer. For more than 25 years, the owner of Wiggers Custom Furniture Ltd. in Port Perry, Ontario, Canada, has been favoring veneered construction as a means of higher yields and less impact on the forests. “It is an environmentally responsible approach and helps protect our endangered forests.”

But that is just part of the picture. Wiggers has a long history with sustainable initiatives that include the Woodworkers’ Alliance for Rainforest Protection (WARP) and other grassroots groups that played instrumental roles in the formation of the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) in 1993. For example, in 1990 Wiggers designed and built the Rainforest Desk, auctioned to support WARP. In 1998, he was one of the first furniture makers granted a Smartwood/FSC chain-of-custody certificate. He has held several roles within FSC, including Treasurer and Chair of FSC Canada from 2000-2004. In 2005, Wiggers self-commissioned a design called Solomon’s Desk for auction at the Ebay/World Wildlife Fund “Nature Auction” in support of FSC.  

Because of his expertise, from 2004 to 2006 Wiggers served as a technical advisor to an environmental movie called, “The Green Chain” and was the inspiration for one of the characters in the film. “The Green Chain” is considered by many to be the “Inconvenient Truth” of what’s happening to the world’s forests. The film is being released this month in Canada. (Visit www.iswonline.com for more information about the film.)

In 2008, the company switched to Bullfrog Power, using carbon offset green electricity in all its manufacturing. Bullfrog Power’s green electricity comes exclusively from wind and hydro facilities that have been certified as low impact by Environment Canada under its EcoLogo program. “Our environmental standpoint is that it is our mission to manufacture high-quality custom furniture and architectural millwork using environmentally sound materials and practices,” he explains.

Why He Turned Green
Wiggers credits his inspiration in going green to a conversation he had with his son some 18 years ago, when his son was just four years old. “He was watching his favorite show, which was a cartoon with superheroes battling environmental disasters week after week. This time, the villains were running a machine that was eating the rainforest to make into tables and chairs. My son knew I was a furniture maker and asked if I was one of those bad guys. In that moment of trying to provide an honest answer, I realized that I was not 100% certain of exactly where my wood was coming from. That was the catalyzing point for me to examine my practices and work.”

Using certified veneers and alternative “lesser-known species” has long been a priority for Wiggers. He stocks a wide range of veneer, including unique vintage veneers from the early 20th century, purchased from A&M Wood Specialty many years ago.

What makes a design green? Wiggers points to one of his designs, the Irenic Bed (pictured) and explains the anatomy of its creation. “This particular design has been made using FSC-certified wood that has been sourced from sustainable and well-managed forests. This is a claim that can be verified by annual and independent third-party audits, conducted by the Smartwood arm of Rainforest Alliance under certificate #SW-COC-000055,” says Wiggers. “The wood used to make this bed is a locally sourced domestic species of cherry and it comes from an FSC-certified forest in the American Northeast.”

In addition to sustainable materials, the glue used is non-UF (urea-formaldehyde) and the finish is a low-VOC water-based product that Wiggers describes as doctor-recommended even for those with chemical sensitivities.

Discretely inlaid into the back of the headboard is a small piece of Narra, a wood that carries a special provenance in the world of sustainable forest management. This inlay comes from the last remaining board known to exist of the first wood to be sustainably harvested on the Solomon Islands in the early to mid-1990s. It was originally obtained through EcoTimber in California.

“The bed also qualifies for points under the U.S. Green Building Council’s stringent LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) program,” Wiggers adds.

Going green at Wiggers Custom Furniture Ltd. is a multi-pronged approach, which Wiggers explains in his company’s environmental statement. “Our selection of and use of woods place great emphasis on the resulting impact to trees and forests in general.”

In addition to its use of veneered construction, the company’s satin and high-gloss finish work is based on high solids formulations, which typically rely on catalyzed curing methods as opposed to solvent evaporation. The net result is that far fewer VOCs are emitted into the atmosphere in the form of lacquer thinners and other solvents.

The “Irenic Bed,” one of John  Wiggers’ designs, is made from locally sourced domestic species of cherry from an FSC-certified forest.

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