Giving old wood new life with Ben Christensen from Cambium

Giving old wood new life with Ben Christensen from Cambium

Introduction (00:00:00)

  • In 2018, landfills in the US received 12.2 million tons of wood, mostly useful material that could be reused.
  • The lack of infrastructure means the wasted wood can't always reach developers, woodworkers, and creators who need it.
  • Cambium is a company that is reimagining the wood supply chain and reallocating previously wasted wood to be used in new building projects.
  • Ben Christensen is the founder of Cambium.
  • Only 5 to 10% of wood ends up getting reused.
  • Ben's first company was selling firewood to campers for $10 a bundle.

What Cambium is all about (00:01:42)

  • Cambium builds regenerative supply chains for wood.
  • The wood industry is worth $215 billion and primarily sources wood from virgin timber, leading to deforestation.
  • Cambium aims to create a better value chain using local and salvaged materials tracked through their technology.
  • Carbon smart wood addresses the issue of wood waste.
  • In the US, only 5-10% of wood is reused, while the rest is chipped into mulch, sent to landfills, or burned.
  • Carbon smart wood salvages wasted wood from cities, deconstruction, and fuel load reduction efforts.
  • It has full chain-of-custody tracking and reinvests in new trees.
  • Ben Christensen has always been interested in wood supply chains and trees.
  • He believes that his passion for wood and trees has led him to his current work at Cambium.

Climate change and wood recycling (00:05:01)

  • Ben Christensen, raised in New Mexico, founded Cambium to address climate change and combine his interests in woodworking and team building.
  • Cambium's technology platform connects local wood products businesses with customers, promoting the use of salvaged wood material and supporting local businesses.
  • The wood industry has experienced significant changes in recent years, with the emergence of new technologies and a younger generation entering the space, leading to a $25 billion industry in the US.
  • Christensen's father, a stay-at-home dad and close friend, shares his passion for the wood industry, making Christensen's experience unique and heartwarming compared to other founders and venture capitalists.

Developing the software (00:11:36)

  • Cambium developed software to address the problem of lack of connectivity and consistent demand in the wood supply chain.
  • The software includes inventory management, business operations, and point of sale features that connect different businesses involved in the wood supply chain.
  • The software facilitates the exchange of information and transactions between businesses, making it easier for them to source and sell wood products.
  • The software is well-received by users because it addresses a real need in the wood supply chain.
  • The demand for sustainable wood products is growing, which helps drive adoption of the software.
  • Cambium's approach of starting with sourcing material and then selling it to large buyers helps drive conversion and adoption of the software.

Sourcing sustainable wood (00:15:54)

  • Work with cities, states, and individuals to prevent trees from being wasted.
  • Collaborate with developers to reuse trees from construction sites for building materials.
  • Utilize all parts of the tree by finding different uses for different grades of wood.

Going from grad school to founder (00:18:41)

  • Started the company while working at the World Resource Institute due to difficulty finding a job with relevant experience.
  • Saw an opportunity to combine business skills with a passion for sustainability.

Fundraising journey (00:20:01)

  • Initially, Cambium did not know much about fundraising in Venture Capital.
  • They had to learn about the space and understand how to speak the language of investors.
  • Investors became interested once they understood the scale of the problem and the potential climate solution that Cambium offered.
  • Cambium ended up with a diverse investor set, including SAS investors, climate investors, and those with expertise in supply chains and technology.
  • Cambium was selective about who they brought in, focusing on people who could fill in gaps and help them understand what they didn't know.

AI and supply chains (00:23:59)

  • AI has great potential in optimizing supply chains and facilitating transactions.
  • AI can be used to track materials from their origin to the end customer, providing real-time updates on location and timing.
  • AI can help companies create environmental product declarations and align with their impact and emissions profile.
  • In the long term, AI can optimize supply chain data to determine the most efficient way to bring materials to the market.

Building the team (00:25:49)

  • Ben Christensen feels fortunate to have a diverse and talented team with shared values.
  • Cambium's solution offers climate, software, job creation, and social equity benefits, attracting people with various interests.
  • To ensure long-term value creation, Christensen believes in aligning the company's narrative with employees' personal narratives.
  • Low turnover is attributed to hiring people who are passionate about the company's mission for personal reasons.
  • The first hire, Joe McDonald, initially served as an advisor for a year before joining full-time as the VP of growth.
  • Christensen emphasizes the importance of investing in communication and resilience to foster a positive company culture.
  • Cambium operates remotely but also has a physical presence in Baltimore for in-person collaboration.
  • The company strives to accommodate individual preferences for remote or in-person work.

Learning from logistics mistakes (00:30:15)

  • Faced challenges when shipping wood to a customer in Canada due to import-export and agricultural product laws.
  • The size of the log exceeded the permissible length, leading to complications at the Canadian border.
  • Dealt with questions about the dryness of the material and whether it met Canadian standards.
  • Import and export laws, as well as agricultural product regulations, can create unexpected challenges when shipping wood across borders.
  • Strict rules exist to prevent the introduction of pests or diseases into different countries.
  • Factors such as the dryness of the material and its compliance with specific standards can also affect the shipment process.

Staying grounded while building climate solutions (00:32:30)

  • Believes in being honest and direct about the impacts of climate change, especially on vulnerable communities.
  • Emphasizes the importance of believing in the possibility of solutions and taking audacious actions to address climate change.
  • Compares addressing climate change to running ultramarathons, highlighting the need for resilience and commitment.
  • Aspen trees are Ben Christensen's favorite type of tree.
  • Aspen trees are the largest living organisms in the world, with a single tree forming a grove of connected trees.

Host conversation (00:36:40)

  • Ben Christensen, founder of Cambium, is working on a project to repurpose old wood, addressing the significant problem of wood waste beyond obvious sources like building demolition.
  • Despite challenges in fundraising for climate-related solutions, Cambium has raised around $8 million, demonstrating the recognition of the need for such initiatives.
  • The company's profitability and lack of immediate capital needs allow it to maintain control over its equity.
  • Automation, such as using robots for sourcing and collecting wood, has the potential to streamline the wood recycling process.
  • Cambium's platform could serve as a foundation for further growth and collaboration within the supply chain.

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