Free-cycling and sustainable businesses

By in Culture

The Better Good on Broadway Ave
Saskatoon, and Saskatchewan as a whole, has been undergoing a Renaissance as of late.

The downtown core is the site of re-development projects at the King George Hotel, the former Hudson’s Bay building and the Rumley building. Meanwhile, Broadway’s main drag will soon boast the Luxe Apartments, its largest concrete pimple to date. The bohemianization of the land of barley and brewski has indeed contributed to an increased sense of big city aesthetic and cosmopolitanism. And to most, the climate of urbanization means a departure from the old and a replacement with something bigger, better and more refined.

But what about what we already had? Do retail development and renovation require the destruction and disposal of old structures? Does entrepreneurial success necessarily demand the use of new materials?

Nope.

At least, not according to Corey Neufeld, co-owner of The Better Good on Broadway, and Jackson Wiebe, owner of the EvrGreen coffee shop in Waskesiu, who believe that salvaged, re-purposed or recycled materials can be every bit as high in quality as new materials. They have built their businesses using almost entirely “free-cycled” components.

If I may briefly make a fantastical generalization, the construction industry is not one that has traditionally been known for its environmental conscience. If you have ever had a home renovation, you will know just how much material — much of it considered structurally sound 24 hours earlier — is simply discarded and driven to the nearest landfill. The few materials that are not discarded often find their way to places like Habitat for Humanity’s Re-store, which both Neufeld and Wiebe say they relied on tremendously during the building process.

During the construction of EvrGreen, Wiebe also made frequent trips to a dumpster affectionately known by locals as “Waskesiu’s IKEA” and says he has seen everything from couches to working TVs thrown away.
Much of the wood used to build EvrGreen was pulled from the dumpster and, as for the flooring, it was pulled straight out of the original King George Hotel’s bowling lanes.

To minimize the environmental impact of his coffee shop, Wiebe initially even used recycled, biodegradable cups, but defaulted to Styrofoam when he learned that the cups were disintegrating after a half-hour of use. To counter the litter associated with the new cups (and presumably prevent lawsuits from potential burn victims), Wiebe has created Cups-for-Cookies, a program allowing kids to cash in old cups for new cookies. After they wash their hands.

Over at The Better Good, only the countertop, paint, nails and screws were purchased new. A little time on Kijiji, a few phone calls and some basement scrounging took care of the rest. Among the re-purposed items around the store are pool cues used as hangers, a re-sanded solid oak door split in three and used as shelving and an X-ray machine donated by the university’s physiology department, which, in addition to looking absolutely badass, doubles as an illuminated window display and clothing rack.

I would much rather do this type of work than just throw up some shelves and call it a day.
-Corey Neufeld
co-owner of The Better Good

Neufeld previously owned and managed Ninetimes skateshop for nine years. He said he felt that the use of recycled or donated materials had not forced him to compromise on design or posed significant difficulties.

“Difficult is a matter of perspective. I would much rather do this type of work than just throw up some shelves and call it a day,” said Neufeld.

Indeed, because of the more involved nature of the build, re-purposed materials create a sense of ownership over the final product — inevitably emerging with a far more unique, distinctive flair — that new materials simply cannot provide.

Of course, the idea of building with re-purposed or recycled materials is intimately linked to the larger concept of sustainable living. Yes, sustainability is a buzzword, but it is often wrongly linked to doomsday predictions that schools of baby seals face the imminent threat of extinction because you — yes, you — don’t drive a Prius powered by linseed oil.

“There are people who will always buy green products. We’re after the other group, the accidental green people: the people who come into our store simply because they like the look of the products, and leave having supported a great cause. To do that, sustainability needs to be 100 per cent positive, fun and lighthearted,” said Neufeld.

So the next time you’re strolling down Broadway with your venti-low-fat-vanilla-chai-double-shot-latté, poke your head into The Better Good and shake Corey’s hand for having done the hard work for us. And the next time you’re in Waskesiu, pop by EvrGreen and give Jackson a high-five — and get a cranberry muffin. They’re delicious.

– –
photo: Robby Davis