Why we’re excited about bricks and boards

Is it possible to restore lives, land, and neighborhoods via retrieval of bricks and boards? Yes!

By Dipa Sharif, Associate Director

Photo courtesy of Humanim.

Photo courtesy of Humanim.

If someone asked me six months ago how the retrieval of bricks and boards from old vacant homes could create sustainable employment, reduce recidivism and waste, lower crime rates, and improve health, I could not have imagined an answer. Today, Quantified Ventures, with support from the U.S. Forest Service, has made a compelling case that, through application of the Pay for Success (PFS) financing model, we can scale an urban wood economy in Baltimore that identifies, quantifies, and then supports these very outcomes.  

An unconventional and rewarding partnership

It takes pioneering and committed leadership to make this work, and we’ve had the good fortune of partnering with a Baltimore-based non-profit called Humanim. True to its name, Humanim cares about humans. With a 46-year track record of providing workforce development and support services to individuals with barriers to employment, they truly serve those who need it most.

In July 2012, Humanim launched Details Deconstruction, a social enterprise that hires previously incarcerated and other hard-to-employ individuals to dismantle old buildings and reclaim the wood for future use and sale. To date, Details has trained and employed over 165 low-income residents in Baltimore City.

Details Deconstruction leveraged philanthropic foundation dollars to change the landscape of blight removal in Baltimore by successfully completing the City’s first deconstruction pilot project. This demonstrated to Baltimore the dual benefits of deconstruction over demolition as a solution for blight removal as well as a path for workforce development. This earned Details the Innovator of the Year award by the Building Material Reuse Association, and our enthusiastic support for scaling their fantastic model.

To complete the value chain, Details Deconstruction inspired the creation of Brick and Board, a new enterprise that processes and handles the materials, such as bricks and wood boards, extracted through the deconstruction process. Through Details, and Brick and Board, Humanim has developed one of the largest wholesale markets in the U.S. for reclaimed brick from Baltimore City.

Triple bottom line impact

In 2010, 70.7 million tons of urban wood waste were generated in the U.S., including 36.4 million tons from construction and demolition waste (e.g., construction, remodeling, or demolition of residential and commercial structures) and 34.3 million tons from municipal solid waste (e.g., tree trimmings, durable and non-durable goods, containers, storm debris, etc. aka “fresh cut”). Of this 70.7 million tons, the U.S. Forest Service estimates that nearly 29 million tons of wood waste was suitable for recovery (i.e., should not have been disposed in landfills).

This creates enormous potential for a triple bottom line impact of positive financial, social, and environmental impact across the nation—which is where PFS comes in.

Using PFS to scale and replicate this important work

At Quantified Ventures, we are motivated by mission and committed to accelerating access to  sustainable sources of funding. We are particularly excited about this project because we know the need extends far beyond Baltimore, and we believe the model can be applied in communities across the country with large plots of vacant properties, high unemployment rates, and/or large volumes of wood waste that end up in landfills. Using the PFS model, a sustainable, mission-aligned source of capital can be used to scale, replicate, and measure these positive human, environmental, and community outcomes.

Bringing it home

It’s not often (almost never) that we get to directly participate in  the value chain created in these transactions—and literally bring the benefits home. The icing on the cake for this project is that we—and you—can bring it home! Furniture retailer Room & Board’s latest product offerings feature wood from deconstructed homes in Baltimore!


You can learn more about how partners like the U.S. Forest Service and Humanim are restoring lives, land, and neighborhoods through the development of a sustainable business model for an Urban Wood Economy here.

Eric Letsinger