When I was at the Interior Design Show this past January, skimming through the brochure index, many of the green products and services that were there were all represented at one exhibit — that of Sustain, an eco building and lifestyle store based in Huntsville, Ontario. The owners of the store, Jonathan and Celine McKay, are a young couple who have a mission to educate builders and cottagers alike about the importance of building responsibly and sustainably.
I spoke with Celine last week about what they hope to achieve with their business. Celine was very candid with me about their store; she said that their philosophy is to encourage people to introduce small changes into their lives that are better environmentally speaking than the traditional product, so a product they carry might not meet a true “greenie’s” expectations.
Celine and I have a lot of the same goals and philosophies about green building: having a lot of people making small incremental changes will have a better result than a few people making major changes. Not that these latter folk aren’t praise-worthy, they are, it’s just that it’s hard for many people to make dramatic environmental alternations to their lives. Then, of course there’s the fact that many people don’t have an interest in changing their lifestyles or there is the common misconception that “going green” is more costly, or the products don’t work, or aren’t as green as they’re marketed, or even that the styles are “too modern” or “too antique.” While all of these concerns are valid, Celine and Jonathan like to point out that the paths to “a greener lifestyle” are as varied as the number of paint colours on the market. Celine told me that some people come in wanting “toxic free” products, while others want ethically produced products, and others want the lowest environmental impact products available.
Celine and Jonathan’s goal is just to get people to consider using a low VOC paint instead of a regular paint, or perhaps use their bamboo flooring instead of a big box store’s. (Bamboo in itself is a big can of worms that we won’t go into right now, but let’s just say that when it comes to flooring, you get what you pay for: the cheaper it is per square foot, the poorer the quality).
So, when Celine and Jon look at representing a “green” product, they look at every detail of the product from its manufacturing right through to its use. Their important criteria for representing a product are:
- Is it produced using fair labour practices?
- Is it produced while safely managing the environment? For example, does the manufacturer have recycling systems in place, conserve, reuse or minimize water? Conserve energy or use renewable energy?
- Is it produced locally? If not, how is it shipped?
- Is it produced with the lowest impact ingredients available?
- If the product is to be visual (like flooring or tile) is it design worthy or attractive? Is it durable? Does it off-gas?
- Is the retail price point realistic?
Basically, if the product can pass these tests, Celine and Jonathan will carry it in their store. If you look at their website you’ll see a lot of products that I’ve covered before such as PaperStone, American Clay, Nadura flooring, AFM Safecoat and UltraTouch cotton insulation. But in addition to these products they also carry furniture, air purifiers, natural latex mattresses, infrared heaters, and area rugs all of which have a lower environmental impact than their “regular” competition.
You’d think that running a store would be enough for the pair, but in addition to that they also produce a stunning online magazine called Pure Green Magazine. Celine told me that the magazine’s target market are regular home decor magazine readers, such as those who read Canadian House and Home and Style at Home. The goal of Pure Green is to demonstrate that being green doesn’t have to be “out there” on the design front. While a lot of people think that green design is modern and expensive, Celine’s out to demonstrate through concrete examples that green design is just like any other design only with a lighter environmental footprint that’s also healthier for its occupants.
The next time you’re in Huntsville, drop around to their store and have a look. In the meantime you can subscribe to their online magazine here. The next issue is due out in May, 2011.
Thanks again Celine for your time!
Sustain is located at:
8 Crescent Road, Unit B2
Monday to Friday: 10 – 5
Saturday: 10 – 4