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A GREEN WORLD-BEATER
THAT IS TRUE TO ITS ROOTS

by Roger Wolens; Founder/Managing Director of The Green Organisation

In 25 years of presenting Green Apple Awards to thousands of companies for helping the environment, one winner always stood out in my memory.

This was an Englishman, newly retired, who decided to spend his spare time collecting and deconstructing broken pallets to recycle them into bird boxes.

He then sold them at weekend markets to raise funds for the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds.

That in itself was enough to win a Green Apple Award – but he earned more for the RSPB in his first year of retirement than he ever earned for himself in any year of his working life.

So what is it about wooden pallets that inspires people – because my favourite story now is about a more recent winner; another man who saw potential where others saw only rubbish.

And if you never believed in fate before, the following story might give you second thoughts.

The man is Ian Burden, an Australian who was lured to Vietnam on the promise of a garden furniture business opportunity that never transpired. But on his travels he was amazed to see the huge number of discarded wooden pallets that littered the port of Saigon.

His amazement turned to shock and disbelief when he learned that when the timber was eventually collected it was either burned or sent to landfill.

He had wide experience of making wooden toys – but no experience of working with recycled wood. Fortunately, no-one else had that experience either and Ian immediately saw the potential of recycling the unwanted timber into attractive furniture and other artefacts – and that’s when his environmental journey began.

“Why cut down a tree, when there’s wood lying on the ground” became his mantra.

He set up his own company factory near Saigon, PGT- Reclaimed, and from that start in 1998 the company is now world leader in designing and manufacturing furniture from recycled and FSC certified timber.

Over the 20+ years of production, their methods have saved around 600,000 trees which would normally have been needed to produce their tons of furniture shipped all over the world.

The website describes the extensive range as ‘rustic’, but the quality and finish is much higher than that label might suggest.

The wood is kiln-dried, with the fires fuelled by off-cuts: nothing goes to waste.

The 1500-strong workforce, including sub-contractors, is fully trained in traditional crafts to provide the unique, original, hand-made and characterful products. No two pieces are identical as old nail holes and other features are retained for character, which is where the catch-all ‘rustic’ description comes from.

But innovation plays a big part too, with PGT-Reclaimed developing its own water-based finishing techniques; and they pioneered the light skin wood finish that is so popular today as it highlights the texture and detail of the different grains.

But Ian does not take all of the credit for this remarkable journey that led to PGT-Reclaimed being crowned Green World Champions in 2018. His wife, Yung, plays a very big part in the running and development of the company.

Vietnamese, Yung originally had her own travel company and Ian became her most popular client – so popular that they married two years after meeting.

To paraphrase Princess Diana – there are three of them in this marriage.

Ian and Yung make a lovely and loving married couple, but they are both equally devoted to the environment generally, and trees in particular.

And that is a genuine heartfelt concern, not just a profitable commercial decision as with some companies.

In fact their commitment and belief goes much deeper, extending to the culture and welfare of their highly-trained workforce who cheerfully sing the company song each Monday to remind them why they are doing what they do. And work conditions are second to none, with the factory regarded as the best in Indochina.

So next time you see a broken pallet, think of the man who made them into bird boxes – and think of the couple who help to furnish the world with them and make an enormous positive impact on the environment at the same time.