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Startup Stories: Cambium Carbon Reimagines the Urban Wood Economy

In this series, we talk to student and alumni entrepreneurs about how they are making an impact with their startups.

Venture: Cambium Carbon’s goal is to restore America’s forests by enabling local wood economies to flourish. The company saves fallen trees in cities, where they would normally be wasted, turning them into high-value wood products, and using the revenues for new tree planting. Re-thinking the urban wood economy is an unexpected climate solution that helps create jobs while addressing public health and social equity issues.

Team: Ben Christensen YSE ’20, Marisa Repka YSE ’20, Ben Selden ’21, Anshula Madhavan ’21, Matthias Muehlbauer ’20, Dylan Murray ’21, Jun Chen ’20, and Theo Hooker

What was the moment when you had the idea for this startup?

Ben Christensen: There was a quote on the wall above my desk at the World Resource Institute last summer that read, “The best time to plant a tree was 20 years ago. The next best time is today.” I was working on crafting federal carbon-removal policy and I realized the need for additional resources to encourage tree planting at scale. I built a model for this project, sent it to my boss, and we found some funding to do a feasibility analysis.

I’ve been focused on addressing climate change at scale for a while, but I latched onto the idea for Cambium when we brought in the jobs creation and social benefit components. This work helps the world in 2100, and it also helps people today. That realization really helped me commit fully to make this work a reality.

What’s the problem you’re trying to solve or the gap that you’re trying to fill?

At Cambium we are focused on helping solve four key problems: climate change, job creation in the recovery of the COVID-19 pandemic, saving cities money by solving an existing waste problem, and sharing of the benefits that trees provide equitably.

We address climate change by utilizing local supply chains to transport fallen trees. We help squeezed city budgets by eliminating landfill costs for large volumes of wood. We focus our urban planting in communities that traditionally haven’t had many trees—creating jobs along the way and sequestering lots of carbon.

What was the most important resource Yale SOM contributed to your startup?

Cambium is made up of a large group from the SOM community, who have brought their expertise to the team in numerous was. We have also benefited greatly from the advice and support of Professor Lesley Meng and lecturer Dan Gross ’98, as well as the Center for Business and the Environment.

Our team does a great job balancing business fundamentals while focusing on impact. We’re all part of Cambium because we believe in the mission and have been given the tools at SOM to help make it flourish.

What’s the biggest milestone your startup has hit since graduation?

We recently received the TNC Natural Climate Change Solutions Accelerator Grant in partnership with the Arbor Day Foundation. This funds us to pilot our model in four U.S. cities—Denver, Eugene, Pittsburgh, and New York—and gives us a year and a half of runway. Learn more about the project.

Preview image for the video "Student Entrepreneurs: Cambium Carbon".