Designer gets on his bike to create carbon-negative furniture

by Rhiannon James

The workshop where Gareth Neal will be creating the furniture credit: Gareth Neal

If you thought your journey to work was long and draining, spare a thought for Gareth Neal who is cycling 320 miles, living on foraged leaves and sleeping outside to create his next furniture collection.

The designer, whose work has been exhibited everywhere from the Victoria and Albert Museum to the Museum of Arts and Design in New York, is abandoning comfort and convenience for ten days from tomorrow in an attempt to create a range of carbon-negative wooden furniture – so called because less carbon dioxide would be released during the entire production process than the timber absorbed when it was a living tree.

It’s not a straightforward challenge. First Neal, who admits he is not an experienced cyclist, is biking 160 miles from London to the sustainably-managed Herefordshire woodland where the ash timber he’s using has been felled. He’s adopting a low-impact, low-carbon lifestyle from the moment he sets off, meaning no electricity, no mod cons and nothing but foraged or hyper-local foods.

“It’ll be a virtually vegan lifestyle, I’ll be removing all high-carbon foods such as milk and meat from my diet,” he says.

When he arrives at Moreton Wood, where a horse is used to do all the logging, he will build the furniture – a table, a set of stools and a collection of candlesticks using only traditional pedal-powered lathes.

Then he’ll load the pieces on to a trailer and drag them back to London behind his bike.

Everything he uses will be logged so its carbon footprint can be analysed, for which Neal has enlisted the help of the University of Brighton. “I’ll weigh all my food and record each little thing I use, even down to each piece of toilet paper, because it’s a proper piece of research. We’ll be performing a life cycle analysis on it when we get back.”

The pieces will be exhibited at furniture store SCP East in Shoreditch, along with the data produced, during The London Design Festival in September.

“To make something carbon negative is a bit like trying to achieve perpetual motion but it’s intended to be an experiment, a challenge. It’s by going to absurd lengths that you find new information. The project is also about sustaining British woodland and rural manufacture and making sure that objects have a much smaller carbon footprint and a longer lifespan,” he says.

If the furniture is a success, it will continue to be produced at Moreton Wood.

Neal and his team will be tweeting throughout the project from @gareth_neal – on a phone charged by solar power naturally.

The products and data from In Pursuit of Carbon Negative will be on display at Design Department Store 14th-23rd September at SCP East in Shoreditch.

Day 1 of the project

“Didn’t quite make it to Oxford on day one but got a lovely bag of veg from a local allotment!” says Gareth Neal on Twitter




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