Cambium Carbon upcycles fallen urban trees to grow green jobs and mitigate climate change is awarded the 2021 J.M.K. Innovation Prize.
WASHINGTON, D.C. – Cambium Carbon, an organization that upcycles fallen urban trees to grow green jobs and mitigate climate change, has been awarded The 2021 J.M.K. Innovation Prize. From a nationwide search for transformative, early-stage projects, The J.M. Kaplan Fund awards the Prize biennially to ten innovators in the fields of social justice, the environment, and heritage conservation. Awardees receive a total of $175,000 over three years and participate in a learning collaborative designed to support their journey as change agents.
“Cambium Carbon offers a potentially game-changing answer in a category of critical need,” says Amy L. Freitag, Executive Director of The J.M. Kaplan Fund. “Like their fellow J.M.K. Innovation Prize awardees, they’re building collective power that promises to reshape communities in more just and equitable ways. We can’t wait to see how their pathbreaking ideas develop.”
The J.M.K. Innovation Prize is designed to support nonprofit and mission-driven for-profit organizations tackling America’s most pressing challenges through social innovation—defined as those pilot projects, new organizations, or nascent initiatives that involve a certain amount of measured risk, but which may ultimately lead to large-scale, transformative results. This year’s awardees were selected from among 2,826 applications, by far the most participation in the Innovation Prize since its inception in 2015.
Each year, due to storms, neglect and disease, or urban development, 36 million trees fall in America’s cities. The vast majority are mulched, landfilled, or burned—at staggering economic and environmental cost. Cambium Carbon works to divert the ensuing estimated 46 million tons of salvageable wood from the waste stream and into the creation of valuable lumber and other new products.
Beyond environmentally conscious upcycling, cofounders Ben Christensen and Marisa Repka are dedicated to investing the revenue from locally salvaged and locally milled Carbon Smart Wood™ into planting new trees in under resourced areas.
“Trees are precious assets for human and environmental health, yet as a country we haven’t invested in those assets equally,” Repka notes. “Research shows that within the US, affluent communities have as much as 65% more tree canopy than their lower-income counterparts.” In addition to bringing more trees and better air quality to neighborhoods most in need, Cambium Carbon benefits communities by creating local green jobs. As Christensen emphasizes, “Building the infrastructure to upcycle such wood into high-value durable goods creates an opportunity to engage residents who face barriers to traditional employment, while providing training in technical skills across the urban tree life cycle. Meanwhile, using salvaged wood displaces emissions-intense global supply chains.”
“We need to develop local, place-based solutions for wood waste recovery,” Repka asserts. “The J.M.K. Innovation Prize is allowing us to expand our work and develop partnerships across the country.” “We’re really excited and honored to be recipients of The J.M.K. Innovation Prize,” Christensen affirms. “This funding will be catalytic in helping Cambium Carbon bring our Reforestation Hub model to new cities, driving change in a holistic, circle way.”
Cambium Carbon is among several Prize winners committed to projects that integrate social justice with a mission to protect our planet. A report accompanying the Prize, Building Pathways to Collective Power, sheds further light on this trend and other findings from this year’s selection process and pool of 2,800+ applicants.
Video interview with Repka and Christensen and more information about Cambium Carbon are available at jmkfund.org/awardee/ben-christensen-and-marisa-repka.
About The J.M. Kaplan Fund
Established in 1945 by philanthropist and businessman Jacob Merrill Kaplan, the Fund has since its inception been committed to visionary innovation. Over its 75-year history, the Fund has devoted $280 million to propel fledgling efforts concerning civil liberties, human rights, the arts, and the conservation and enhancement of the built and natural worlds. The J.M.K. Innovation Prize continues the Fund’s legacy of catalytic giving, reaching across America to provide early-stage support for entrepreneurs with twenty-first-century solutions to urgent social and environmental challenges. Learn more at JMKFund.org.