Wudeward Urban Forest Products

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An interview with Dwayne Sperber

WUDEWARD URBAN FOREST PRODUCTS DELAFIELD, WISCONSIN

Tell us about Wudeward Urban Forest Products.

Wudeward Urban Forest Products is a commercial supplier of urban lumber for architects, designers, builders and wood product producers. I typically supply rough sawn or minimally processed, kiln dried lumber to those who further process and install my product in a project where it was specified.

What inspired you to start working with urban wood?

Although I have a corporate background, I’ve always been interested in the environment, architecture, and building. About 15 years ago, when EAB made its intentions clear here in the Midwest, resulting research identified not only the magnitude of ash removals but also shed light on an ongoing wood residue concern for trees being removed from municipalities. I was a young man with great interest when recycling was popularized in the 1970s, so this jumped out at me — I was transformed and inspired to become involved — to make a difference. Beginning as an independent advocate, I would soon join a federal conservation council where I formed the Urban Wood Market Development program through which I received my first WI DNR Urban Forestry Grant. I currently serve on the Wisconsin Urban Forestry Council where urban wood utilization is one of four long-range initiatives. 

When did you shift from being an advocate to being a supplier?

In the early days, both public and private urban wood utilization efforts emerged and were very effective at demonstrating that boards could be made from urban logs. Little to no attention was committed to introducing what was virtually a new product or to building a viable and sustainable urban wood industry. To fully utilize urban wood means selling it to a market that is comfortable with familiar and well-accepted materials options. Architects, designers, and contractors will not be influenced by private and public efforts all playing by their own set of definitions and rules. I started Wudeward Urban Forest Products to fill the void between urban trees and building. Wudeward is committed to developing and introducing consistent messaging, thereby building confidence in those who specify and use wood.

How do you present the concept of urban wood to your customers?

I spend much of my time reaching out to design professionals — architects and interior designers. I introduce a product that fills all or most of the same needs as traditional hardwood lumber for interior applications. But, I explain that my product typically costs more, nature is in charge of my inventory, and the grade of my product is not as standardized as what they are used to. If they are designing with regional materials in mind — it’s simply about change, a new attitude, a new method….not a burden.

I also spend a great deal of time marketing to developers and Wisconsin-based businesses and business owners. A prominent developer proclaiming their investment in building a stronger and sustainable Milwaukee, for example, should, in my opinion, be well informed on the opportunities and benefits of utilizing urban wood in their projects. Local businesses, also committed to their state and the communities where they are located, are encouraged to adopt urban wood into their corporate culture – just as they would any program or product into their sustainability plan. I explain, in so many words, that this should be important to them. I strive to align consumers, architects, manufacturers, and general contractors to eliminate any perceived burden of using sustainably sourced materials.

Why do you feel it is important to be a part of an urban wood network?

My advantage — what differentiates me and my product — is my Wisconsin Urban Wood network. Being a member of WUW enables me and all network partners to play a part in securing a healthy future for our urban forests. This is why we do what we do. When someone buys a product with the WUW label they are part of a virtuous circle that is helping to protect the productivity and health of our urban forests and the livelihoods that depend upon them. This is a selling point. This is especially the message I share with Wisconsin-based businesses and influential developers.

As more consumers, design professionals, manufacturers, etc., choose the WUW brand, other arborists, municipalities, sawmills, suppliers, manufacturers, etc. will be encouraged to join the WUW statewide network. This is where real and lasting change can be delivered. This is where the WUW brand grows. This is when attitudes and culture change.

As supplies of urban wood continue to grow, market awareness, demand, and commitments to sustainable sourcing will also increase — ultimately leading to full circle urban forest management becoming the norm — across borders — across the nation.

Overall, what’s working best for you in the urban wood market?

Persistence, flexibility, consistent messaging, and building a strong Wisconsin Urban Wood network and brand. I listen to what the industry says — how they react to the information I present and how they react to my product. For example, knowing that finish carpenters might not know how to work with urban wood, whether because it has too much character or is too clear based on their expectations, I developed the first urban wood specification, which, among other things, includes the grade of my product. What is also working best is documenting completed projects in photos and interviews with all players. I share this information on my website, in newsletters, during presentations, and in conversations.

How do you promote or market your business?

I am always networking, setting up meetings, and presenting to design professionals. My website is constantly evolving to fit the needs of the audience. I have a blog, a bi-monthly newsletter, recommended guidelines for specifying urban wood, and a sample page that showcases different species and grades of wood.

Name your top three overall challenges working with urban wood.

  1. Product awareness and confidence – we’ve come a long way in Wisconsin, but the work is hardly over. 
  2. Construction managers. Most perceive they cannot manage a product that is not standardized, that it will burden the project.
  3. Costs

Name your top benefits of working with urban wood

  1. I feel good about what I do — the feeling of being a good steward.
  2. Selling urban wood lumber is equally challenging and rewarding. I offer a unique product that provides benefits beyond the application — environmental, economic, and social. 
  3. And, I enjoy the variety working in a growing industry brings to my day. In the morning I might be in work boots loading an order onto a truck, and in the afternoon I am presenting to a professional organization.

Each project continues the story of urban wood —building our industry and improving our environment — our world. 

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Join the Movement

Our mission is to inform, collaborate, and connect to build business and consumer confidence in the urban wood industry. Whether you are looking to expand your existing model or want to start a new business dedicated to urban wood, click here to see how we can help you be successful.

The Urban Wood Network is made up of individual and organizational efforts in Illinois, Michigan, Missouri, and Wisconsin, working in cooperation to connect and enhance the full circle of sustainable urban forestry. This website was created as part of the grant project, Bringing Urban Forestry Full Circle: Localized Approaches for Capturing Value and Enhancing Public Benefits from Urban Forests, funded by the U.S. Forest Service. The Urban Wood Network provides equal employment opportunities (EEO) to all employees and applicants for employment without regard to race, color, religion, sex, national origin, age, disability or genetics.