Dwell Showhouse & The 3 R’s of ecofabulous Design
Ever since Jack Johnson turned “reduce, reuse, recycle” into something you hum on your drive into work or school, people have been rethinking the notion of trash…and some more than others. At this year’s Dwell on Design, the showhouse collaboration between eBay, ecofabulous, and Reclaimed Space, produced a 400 square foot cabin designed using high quality vintage, repurposed, and restyled items found on eBay and other local antique stores, and was sold on the online auction site for $75,000, with a portion of the proceeds benefiting Habitat for Humanity LA.
Both ecofabulous founder, Zem Joaquin, and eBay Green Team’s Annie Lescroart sat down at the event to field some questions from visitors of the showhouse about the innovative project, emerging business and consumer trends surrounding vintage and reclaimed materials and ecofabulous’ innovative and stylish design.
QUESTION: I love what ecofabulous did with the interior space of the showhouse. Can you tell us about your “eco” design approach?
Zem Joaquin: I think of eco-design as excellent aesthetics and functionality that is just smarter. It’s important to evaluate your space to determine what you have and what you need—always look at what you own and can be re-purposed first! The next step is to look for vintage items in your local area (the closer to home, the less fuel burned to ship it). If you cannot find it locally, cast a wider net, but make sure that any “new” pieces you acquire are healthy for you and the planet (e.g., avoid VOC’s and new exotic woods).
QUESTION: Did you have a specific approach or style for the reclaimed space house?
ZJ: The Reclaimed Space showhouse was the perfect project to bring to life my “eco-design” approach. Because the house is made from 90% reclaimed materials—the majority of the wood and metal used is 80 to 100 years old—we wanted the interiors to echo that story. With building construction and demolition waste making up about 40% of our solid waste (EPA), we focused on choosing pieces that otherwise might have been sent to the landfill. Our design mantra for the project was “reuse, repurpose, restyle!”
A few examples: The Vetrazzo countertops are comprised of 85% recycled content; all of the glass was taken from demolition construction waste (glass doors and windows). The Caroma toilet uses water from hand washing for flushing (gray water is recycled water). Much of the furniture came from eBay—one of my personal favorite design resources—or local antique shops. We even used my grandmother’s heirloom couch, which Ekla Home recovered in gray organic wool with orange piping from recycled PET bottles, filled with natural latex.
We focused on using convertible pieces to maximize flexibility of the 400 square foot. living space. Both the couch and the kitchen island were on rollers so you could quickly flip up the Murphy bed and rearrange the pieces for entertaining.
QUESTION: What is your “method” when using reclaimed items…what do you look for?
ZJ: I look for things that need minimal rehabilitation. But if I need to re-upholster or paint then I make sure I’ve evaluated my eco options. You can have a lot of fun with it. I start with colors, an era or even an animal that inspires me. I have a list of my favorite flea markets, thrift stores and vintage shops in my region. Even when shopping online you can purchase locally. There’s a free, easy-to-use eBay site, Kijiji, that allows you to search local classifieds by area—it always comes up with great antique resources.
If I score a piece that requires freshening up, I select materials that are healthiest for my family and the environment. Biodegradable latex (from the rubber tree) or organic cotton and wool make much better fills than their toxic, petroleum-based foam counterpart. Organic cotton, wool, hemp and linen fabrics are great re-covering options, but now there are also numerous colorful and durable textiles made from recycled PET bottles or recycled polyester to choose from as well. When addressing distressed wood, make sure to look for non or low-VOC (volatile organic compounds) paints, finishes and adhesives. That way your air will be as beautiful as the furniture!
QUESTION: How has the vintage trend evolved and how is it affecting the design community? Supply chains, etc? What are some of the emerging trends & businesses that are developing because of this market?
ZJ: Though more traditional antiquarians are very strict about eras, much of the design community has broadened the concept of vintage. I think it is important to acknowledge the designers that create movement or define a style, but not let that constrain your personal aesthetic. The trend of covering ornate Victorian seating with bold, unexpected fabrics has paved the way for personal license. The challenging economy and awareness about the limit of natural resources has led to an uptake of reuse, which I find exciting. Since so much of reused items require shipping, companies like eBay, half.com, and the US Postal Service are continuing to address wasteful packaging… you will see more changes in that area. Hopefully people will become more comfortable with repurposed boxes!
QUESTION: Can you tell us a little bit about eBay’s Green Team and why it was launched?
Annie Lescroart: You know, there were a couple of things happening at eBay that led to the launch of the Green Team this year. One was a growing base of users who, like Zem [Joaquin—founder of ecofabulous], were coming to us for unique, one-of-a-kind pieces, and were starting to understand that choosing products that already exist in the world is actually better for the planet.
The other one was the sheer force and genius of our employees. Since our employee Green Team first got together in 2007, they have been taking on projects to make eBay a greener company—it started with things like replacing Styrofoam and paper cups with reusable mugs, and built to things like planting the first Fortune 500 company-sponsored community garden, which happened at our office in Omaha earlier this year.
We saw a huge amount of momentum around green and we thought, if we could accomplish all this with 1,000 employees, what would happen if we opened the Green Team up to our community of 88 million users? What kind of an impact could we have if we really nurtured and inspired our consumers to make smarter, greener choices when they shopped?
QUESTION: How does the green and “reclaimed” story resonate with the eBay community? Specifically the buyers and sellers themselves?
AL: There has definitely been a growing appetite for green in our buyer and seller community. We kept hearing questions and comments back from our community—as the green shopping trend started to really take off and reach a more mainstream audience (thanks largely to the hard work of great organizations like ecofabulous!). People knew that the way they shopped was having an impact on the environment. They wanted to do something about it, only they didn’t know what to do. They wanted to ask questions, have a conversation, but there wasn’t a place for them to have it. We launched the Green Team primarily as a gathering place for our community, and for anyone, really, who is interested in being a smarter, greener shopper.
QUESTION: Has the eBay Green Team done anything to quantify the effect that reuse and “the eBay” effect is having?
Annie Lescroart: Absolutely. To level set, though, it’s important to understand eBay’s scale. $2,000 worth of goods are traded on the eBay platform every second. And when you consider that the vast majority of these goods are used/vintage, or refurbished, you’re looking at a pretty profound impact. Last year, before we went public with the Green Team, we wanted to get a deeper understanding of the kind of impact we were having, so we commissioned some research with a social venture in the Bay Area called Cooler. We tested GHG emissions savings—a pretty standard metric for calculating environmental impacts—across some of the categories that we sell on eBay.
And what we found was pretty incredible. In 2008, the sale of used laptops on eBay instead of new ones alone resulted in a reduction of more than 96,000 tons of GHG emissions. And the sale of pre-owned handbags on eBay over the past three years had the same effect as planting 2 million trees!! Crazy, right?? And that’s just two categories—eBay has 50,000!!
QUESTION: What trends are you (eBay ) seeing emerge?
AL: I think the biggest thing we have seen since we went public with the Green Team earlier this year is a real light bulb go on around the concept of reuse as green. “Being green” doesn’t have to mean driving a hybrid car, living in Seattle, or shopping at Whole Foods. It can mean washing and reusing your Ziploc bags. Donating your old cell phone to a battered women’s shelter. Using what’s out there in the world already.
Our view is that the greenest product is the one that already exists in the world today. And this is a paradigm that makes sense to eBay users—deal hunters that more often than not are buying pre-owned and vintage already. I think this is a sensibility that the design community has really pioneered with antiques; but now we are starting to see people latch on to it in other categories. Accessories and clothing with new swapping or borrowing sites like BagBorrowandSteal.com and WearTodayGoneTomorrow.com. Consumer electronics. Golf balls! We have an eBay seller that has built a $20 million business selling what he calls “experienced” golf balls!! I think the economy is serving as a real forcing function to make people think twice about asking the world to create more stuff—and pay a premium for it.
QUESTION: As a consumer, how can I find products that are eco-friendly on eBay’s sites?
AL: There is a buying guide on www.ebay.com/greenteam that helps you navigate the site based on the kinds of products you are looking for. It links directly to search results on eBay. Another way is to simply use the tried and true search terms like eco, vintage, pre-owned, used, reclaimed, etc. We talk to our sellers to make sure they use those terms when they list, so we can do a better job of matching them up with the buyers that are looking for those types of products.
When I shop, I go to the category that I’m searching and narrow my search until I’m down to the designer/size/color, etc. that I want, and then I click the pre-owned button and poof—not only do I usually find a great selection of super cute vintage stuff, the price drops pretty dramatically, which no one can argue with.
QUESTION: What are you doing to address the seller community?
AL: A lot. One of the things that we think about the most, when we think about our environmental footprint, is shipping. We want to encourage our sellers to ship and package their products in the most environmentally friendly way possible. In 2007, we partnered with the US Postal Service to develop a planet-friendly packaging solution for sellers: Cradle-to-Cradle™ certified boxes that are now offered free to all sellers at the eBay shipping hub. The other thing to know about our seller community is that they are already doing great things for the planet by selling reused or repurposed products.
In the design space, we’ve got hundreds of sellers that do this. Most of the hardware from the Showhouse is from a great seller called Liz’s Antique Hardware (one of Zem’s personal favorites). Another of our favorites is Fragment Freaks, who sells amazing upcycled picture frames, shelves and home décor. Again, great examples of successful businesses – and not ones that you would traditionally think of as green.
We want to highlight these stories, show our other sellers how easy it can be to build a successful business that takes what’s in the world today and gives it new life. It’s a whole new kind of green job. eBay has always been about entrepreneurs and if we can inject a dose of green into that mindset, we’ll all be in a better place!
*Photo Credit: Douglas Hill