If eco-minded urbanites think the term hub seems to be popping up everywhere these days, it’s not their imaginations.
There’s a big new recycling hub where you can take everything from your dead computers to your Chardonnay bottles. There’s talk of a new food hub, combining a year-round large market hall for locally grown products, a commercial kitchen warehouse, and storage and distribution facilities. And now there’s a green-building hub, where you can pick up a bottle of non–VOC milk paint, search reclaimed wood slabs for your dream dining-room harvest table, and consider the pros and cons of a recycled-paper countertop versus natural quartz.
GreenWorks Building Supply has moved into a 10,000-square-foot warehouse with West Coast Wood Slabs and Artemisia Metal Fabrication at 79 West 3rd Avenue, and, true to that word hub, it’s a buzzing centre of activity. On any given day, you’ll see shoppers checking out bamboo cabinetry while metalworkers create sparks through the window of a workshop, a forklift brings in cork flooring, and a table gets set up for a workshop in stuccoing.
It’s no surprise that GreenWorks has joined forces to relocate: the business and the other minihubs hope to one day become part of a much bigger hub—the City of Vancouver’s promised Green Enterprise Zone, a centre for sustainable, zero-waste, and energy-efficient businesses being eyed for nearby False Creek Flats (as well as the Downtown Eastside). According to Bryan Buggey, director of strategic initiatives and sector development at the Vancouver Economic Commission, which is researching and planning the zone with the city, a vision should be presented by the end of the year.
In the meantime, there are plenty of ways to lead the eco-friendly life at GreenWorks’ hub, from the tiles you shower on in the morning to the reclaimed-wood table you eat your lunch on to the organic bedding you put your baby to sleep on at night. Inspired by the boom in green-building-supply stores in the U.S., GreenWorks launched in 2007. Since then, it’s seen a slight but discernible shift in the reasons why people buy its products.
“It’s changed from just being green to being healthy,” explains store manager Moriah Power. “A lot of our customers have babies or young children, and that gets them thinking about this.”
Many customers with environmental sensitivities seek the store out for nontoxic building and finishing products. “It’s always been about environment, health, and efficiency, but health is a hard one to ignore,” GreenWorks co-owner Pete McGee adds.
“It feels more like a lifestyle store now,” Power says. “People can come in for a couple gallons of paint and sheets; the bedding is new and we have more soft goods.”
McGee says joining their partners in the new space seemed like a natural evolution. West Coast Wood Slabs saves trees felled due to storms, construction, and old age and makes them into furniture or sells the long, raw pieces to artisans and designers. When it comes to creating its own designs, the company often partners with the other resident of the warehouse, Artemisia, for table bases. Otherwise, the local metalworkers devote themselves to custom projects and architectural installations.
As for GreenWorks’ own range of green building and home supplies, it’s as locally sourced as possible. Take the colourful glass tiles by Interstyle: they’re fabricated from recycled bottles not unlike the ones you haul down to the hub a few blocks east of here. McGee and his team like to see what goes on behind the scenes, too: this Burnaby factory, for instance, uses recycled water and energy-efficient roofing. GreenWorks does occasionally have to go south of the border to find items like PaperStone’s durable, recycled-paper-and-petro-free-resin counters or Yolo Paint’s designer nontoxic paints. Occasionally, it will even have to look to Europe, where it finds eco-friendly, non-off-gassing Forbo’s Marmoleum flooring from the Netherlands in funky hues like lime green and yellow.
McGee and Power point out that their eco-minded products often last much longer than the cheaper prefab options out there: “These things are built to last,” McGee says. Power adds: “So many products now, after 10 years they wear out and you have to rip them out and replace them.”
What is perhaps most striking is that homeowners, architects, and interior designers are coming in for products simply for the way they look—green or not. As McGee puts it, “Now, in general, there is less tradeoff with aesthetics.” So, yes, the Stucco Italian lime plaster is nontoxic and American Clay for walls has the lowest carbon footprint of any wall covering, but many of the people who come in for them just want that old-Europe look that they can’t get from any other product. “Lime and clay have been used around the world for hundreds or thousands of years,” McGee says.
Like so many of the other green offerings here, they have to be seen and touched, and that’s the other benefit of a hub: it’s a one-stop spot that won’t send you running around the city or surfing the web. And if all goes as planned, you may even be able to drop off your bottles and pick up your fresh farm produce along the way, too.