Clean Power Success Stories:
Crafting Sustainability: PK Brown Woodworking’s Venture to Clean Power
By Leila Tevlin, Junior Clean Power Fellow and Melissa Iachetta, Program Manager
In the quaint town of Tivoli, New York, along the beautiful banks of the Hudson River, Peter Brown, the artisan behind PK Brown Woodworking, is weaving sustainability into every facet of his craft. With a lifelong passion for trees and a deep-rooted commitment to environmental stewardship, Peter’s woodworking journey is not just about creating beautiful pieces; it’s a testament to the power of clean energy and conscious consumption.
Carving, Shaping, and Sanding a Sustainable Future:
Only taking woodshop in grade school, Peter primarily taught himself the craft, devoting himself full-time to his business in 2010. Before that, he worked as an arborist for twenty years, nurturing and preserving trees. It was during this time that he cultivated a profound respect for the intricate stories each tree tells, ultimately inspiring him to embark on his woodworking career. Peter left the arborist industry and then spent some time in the tech industry, where he did not feel fulfilled and soon after was ready for a change. He didn’t like being stuck inside, and after he and his wife put their youngest daughter through college, he took on a lot of the household responsibilities. He lead the cooking, canning, and processing of food for his family – all ways to cut down on costs and make it feasible to get his wood shop and longtime hobby up and running and into his next career.
At PK Brown Woodworking, every piece is a careful depiction of craftsmanship and sustainability. Peter hand-selects each piece of wood, ensuring that it not only reflects the tree’s unique properties but also minimizes environmental impact.
“When I put a piece of wood on the lathe I have absolutely no idea what it’s going to look like when it comes off. None. I have learned tricks on how to do different things by listening to people older than me who have even more experience”
Peter uses local wood from companies that sustainably harvest to cut down his carbon footprint and to get the best quality of local wood. He steers clear from using wood sourced from other countries that clear-cut forests and ship materials thousands of miles to big box stores. Peter explains, “New York State wood has to be sustainably managed as compared to wood grown outside the U.S. There are forests around here that have been around for hundreds of years, they’ve been harvested but harvested sustainably. I actually see logging trucks pass by my house going to the Mill I buy from. In 8-10 weeks I might purchase that wood for my work. I go to this place in Ghent so the travel time isn’t that far, about a half hour.”
From pepper grinders to jewelry boxes, every creation celebrates the natural beauty and diversity of local wood, with no two items alike. Whether you enjoy sustainable, usable art, or are in search of a table topper, PK Brown Woodworking has it all.
Powering the Business:
Driven by his commitment to sustainability, Peter has transformed his workshop and house into a beacon of clean energy. Through a meticulously designed photovoltaic system of panels that adorn his workshop roof, Peter generates nearly 90% of the electricity needed to power his craftmaking and home.
In addition to the electricity, most of the hot water used in Peter’s home is produced from his solar thermal system, including Evacuated Tube Solar Collectors from Sun Maxx Solar and a split duct system. These changes have drastically cut oil consumption. He has two 45-gallon tanks of water in his basement, which will run with the duct system until outside temperatures reach about -10 degrees, after which their oil furnace will kick on.
By using thermal energy in combination with solar panels, Peter demonstrates the cost-effectiveness of clean energy solutions, “I decided to make the switch because I don’t have a pension and my wife doesn’t have a pension. We are trying to reduce our expenses as much as possible. So when she and I retire we don’t have hundreds of dollars in utility expenses each month. You hear the horror stories of what some folks are dealing with. Our utility bill last year was about $1,000 for the whole year – the oil guy does a delivery every three to four years and he actually forgot we were a customer!”
Next, Peter is hoping to get an electric vehicle.
From Workshop to Doorstep:
Peter’s dedication to sustainability doesn’t stop at his physical workshop, “ I grew up with PCBs (polychlorinated biphenyls pollution) in the Hudson, I can remember catching fish in there with growths on them, still to this day I don’t eat anything out of the Hudson. I love catching them but now you’re reading about plastics in water…we are doing it for our grandkids and ourselves.”
Recognizing the carbon footprint of online operations, Peter has partnered with GreenGeeks, an eco-friendly hosting service, to offset the environmental impact of his website. Did you know, that data centers require copious amounts of carbon emissions to run? By purchasing Renewable Energy Credits (RECs), Peter ensures that his online presence aligns with his commitment to clean energy. RECs are only produced by renewable energy generation and can be sold to other companies so they can continue to operate clean power operations.
Sustainability guides every step of PK Brown Woodworking’s journey. He upcycles items around the house into packaging for his pieces, like reusing supermarket circulars and newspapers as stuffing instead of bubble wrap. He’s completed calculations to determine that he can use smaller boxes by keeping the arm of his coffee grinders unassembled during shipment, cutting down on his cardboard use and the energy it takes to ship packages. Peter also works with EcoEnclose, which provides eco-conscious cardboard wrapping for shipping his more fragile items longer distances. These wrappings can be recycled versus the standard plastic wrapping, furthering his holistic approach.
Peter Brown’s dedication to sustainability serves as a shining example of how businesses can embrace clean energy and environmental stewardship without compromising on quality or creativity. When asked what advice Peter had for small businesses to move to a more sustainable paradigm he said, “[There are] so many little steps you can take to be sustainable, especially with your packaging. You don’t need to use peanuts, I haven’t had a complaint with the way I ship stuff and I have actually shipped things to different countries. And I’ll get a local newspaper and wrap it up in that and send it so they get to see a newspaper from here. Little stuff like that. The [biodegradable] tape I use, it might cost me a $1 extra but I like using it and it makes me feel good to use. You try to instill all this into the next generation and you hope they listen.”
By supporting artisans like Peter, who prioritize clean energy and conscious consumption, consumers play a vital role in driving the transition toward a more sustainable future. As Peter’s story continues to inspire, we are reminded that every purchase has the power to shape and change our world. With each beautifully crafted piece from PK Brown Woodworking, we not only adorn our lives with artistry but also contribute to a brighter, more sustainable future.
“You are one of many people” he says, “if you start doing it and influence someone else, it’s a snowball effect.”