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Can End-of-Life City Trees Ease Our Dependence on Natural Forests? Taylor Guitars Says Yes And This Is How

Taylor Guitars builds local partnerships and cultivates a relationship with urban forests for their next production line of guitars.

May 28, 2020
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Taylor Guitars
Written by
Megan Watson
Provided by Taylor Guitars

We could always use news that showcases the valiant efforts of those attempting to do good by our planet, especially since we’re currently witnessing the environmental horrors of our century: marine life and drinking water inundated by plastic waste and carcinogenic toxins, the rejection of safer air quality standards by top government leaders, and the thievery and destruction of sacred indigenous land, to name a few. We smell in the air the forests of our world burning to the ground, or being removed by industries, directly decimating life-sustaining biodiversity (i.e. animal agriculture, mining, oil extraction, etc.).

Therefore, with daily increased environmental panic, it’s no surprise that an urgent issue faced by companies and communities today is how to responsibly and ethically manage our remaining natural resources, restore them, and create closed-loop production systems.

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Through forward-thinking forest initiatives, such as
the Ebony Project​ in West Africa and the Paniolo Tonewoods Project in Hawaii, Taylor Guitars has taken a leadership position in the ethical sourcing of wood within the guitar industry. Now, Taylor is conducting research to identify and revitalize underutilized (often wasted) environmentally preferable resources that can be incorporated into their guitar production lines for good.

Their solution? Building partnerships with local arborists and cultivating a relationship with urban forests.

Urban forests—literally referring to the trees you see in your backyard and along city streets or highways—offer residents a multitude of benefits: soil erosion reduction, improved water conservation and quality, abatement of harmful air pollution, noise absorption, wildlife habitat support, and mental health advantages. However, city trees are being removed faster than they are planted due to disease, natural death, human-environment interactions… the list goes on.

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And where do these often high-quality end-of-life trees go?
Historically, local dumps and landfills have been deployed, though more recently, as a result of increased disposal fees, arborists have found it more cost effective to turn removed city trees into firewood or mulch. The good news is that in recent years concerned arborists, local communities, and companies like Taylor Guitars, who realize that urban forests are an underutilized resource and important part of maintaining city ecosystems, are collaborating on and researching how to creatively remedy the unnecessary cradle-to-grave lifespan of city trees.

The result, if successful, could mean that by turning what is deemed by the city to be a waste product into something of value—such as a quality Taylor guitar—we could not only offset our dependence on standing forests, but also create a renewable economy that fosters vibrant, healthy urban landscapes. Scott Paul, the Director of Natural Resources Sustainability for Taylor Guitar Writes:

“If organized more holistically, the urban wood waste stream could better be utilized for a wider variety of higher-value products, creating jobs and income to bolster small business, taking pressure off natural forests elsewhere, and perhaps ultimately feeding back into the grossly under-resourced maintenance of existing trees alongside programs that put new trees in the ground.”

So, what does an organized, holistic approach to the urban wood waste stream look like in action

Well, let’s start with Taylor Guitars’ current end-of-life tree pick: Urban AshTM, known as Shamel or Evergreen Ash (Fraxinus udhei). Native to regions of Mexico and Central America, Urban AshTM has been planted consistently throughout California since the 1950s and is valued for being a fast-growing shade tree. However, like everything else, nothing lasts forever.

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3 STR Taylor 29 scaled
4 STR Taylor 23 scaled

To manage and care for trees of all ages, whether newly planted or soon-to-retire, West Coast Arborists(WCA) have developed unique inventory software programs that document the species, health, size, and maintenance history of every tree in every city where they work. This technology allows WCA to reasonably forecast when a city will likely decide to have a tree removed, offering interested partners like Taylor Guitars a reasonable amount of certainty in regard to what species (in this case, Urban AshTM) will flow through their removal process. To offset this removal rate of city trees, WCA plants between 18,000 to 20,000 new trees per year and are applying in partnership with Taylor Guitars for grants to plant even more. This give-back aspect of the process is crucial not just to the health and sustainability of urban landscape and the community benefits it provides, but also to the longevity of what could be an environmentally beneficial production line.

But can tree species from our local urban communities ensure the same quality as traditional tonewoods sourced overseas?

Taylor Guitars believes yes—and they do. The recent release of Taylor’s Builder’s Edition 324ce​ acoustic-electric guitar celebrates this accomplishment by using Urban AshTM from Los Angeles County streets to build both the back and side panels. Because of Taylor’s relationship with WCA, it appears that there’s enough soon-to-be-fallen Urban AshTM to support Taylor’s Builder’s Edition 324ce for decades to come, modeling how best practices and processes for ecological responsibility within the guitar industry can be achieved:

“We start by looking at the resources we use. And the primary resource is wood. Thus, our flagship projects relate to species that we traditionally use to make guitars. And each project is remarkably unique, reflecting the complex realities of the regions, their cultures, the ecosystems, and of course the specific tonewood species involved. All are connected, however, by our underlying commitment to try to give back to the people and places where we source while attempting to create a better future for the tonewoods used by our company to build guitars. We have other projects in development that we hope to talk about in the year to come.”

We now wonder what possibilities lie ahead if more companies follow Taylor Guitars by working with local arborists to cultivate responsible and environmentally conscious economic relationships with urban forests? So far, our understanding is:

  • Every end-of-life city tree used to make a guitar, a table, a chair or for that matter any other product made of wood is one less taken from forests and/or fragile ecosystems
  • Increased public awareness of the untapped environmental and economic benefits of city trees promotes replanting and maintenance—further benefiting a closed-loop sustainably conscious production system
  • More businesses invested in urban forests and environmentally responsible practices could make urban centers more habitable for all species, leading the way for other industries to follow suit
11 Taylor BE324ce BindSand 2020 I2A3573 scaled

With other projects in development, Taylor Guitars aims to strengthen their relationships with sustainable product manufacturing for as long as possible. “No one knows what the future will bring, but we do know that sourcing tonewood in 20 years will be very different than it was 20 years ago,” says Scott Paul. “Taylor sees sustainability as a journey, not a destination. We will forever look for ways to improve our sustainability.” 

While there is research still to be done, Taylor’s sustainability initiatives serve as a reminder to everyone that all of us are required to look ahead through a lens that puts our planet first, more urgently than ever before. We can do so by strengthening our understanding and creatively approaching how natural resources can be sourced and replenished—establishing strong partnerships that actively and ethically give back to the communities affected by the land being utilized.

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