As an industry, set design has not historically been very environmentally friendly. It’s been built on the principle of using wood to build things that will be used for a very limited period of time and then probably thrown away. Storage space and expense is always a problem, no matter where you are, and especially in cities which is where theater has usually flourished. It is certainly not the priority at a school, such as the high school where I work. I have one room, one hallway and one closet. The room is storage and a wood shop, the hallway is for lighting equipment, and the closet is for paint since it has a paint sink. Below is a picture of what I currently have to work with.
I have 12 flats (as in wall units), 16 platforms, 14 chairs, 7 stools and 3 tables. All made entirely of wood, screws and nails. I also have about 25 sheets of wood and 70 sticks of wood.
I designed a set for Much Ado About Nothing with no thought to what I have. (Something I hope to change in the future.) That doesn’t mean that I can’t use any of it. In fact, I’m going to do my best to buy as little new wood as possible. We kill enough trees with the amount of paper from scripts and set plans and notes.
There are people out there who make theater with a lot of thought to their environmental impact. Look at this list of topics that was at the World Stage Design conference this year: WSD2013