My husband and I set out for a trip to Pinecrest Mall. Destination: Ikea. But we got distracted. There’s a new store in town called Terra20.
It calls itself the first of its kind in the world. Founded by Ottawa entrepreneur Steve Kaminski, Terra20 is an eco-friendly department store. If you live in Ottawa, you no longer need to rely on boutique shopping for eco-friendly baby items on the one hand and household cleaners on the other. Terra20 has everything from clothing to shampoo to stationary under a single roof.
The worst thing about Terra20 is that it is a big box store, primarily accessible by car. It is a paradox – telling people to consume responsibly, while providing everything in mass quantities. At the same time, Terra20’s decision to mimic the big box model will likely be the secret of its success.
Here’s why: boutique green stores are just that -- boutique stores. They are destination locations, often found in small, walkable neighbourhoods in the city. And no offense, but they’re not exactly mainstream. The people that have committed their lives to opening an eco-friendly baby store in Westboro or a natural food store in the ByWard Market – and their customers – are fringe groups.
But Terra20 brings green into the mainstream. It is a distraction for the Ikea shopper – you know, the 95 per cent of us who consume cheap plastic goods made in China because we feel we have no choice. This is why, my friends, it may just make the biggest leap in green since the blue box program was introduced in the 1980s.
A few weeks ago, I saw an interview with Jon Dwyer on TVO’s The Agenda. The chief executive of Flax Energy in Toronto, Dwyer is another green entrepreneur who sees the value of not reinventing the wheel when it comes to making a transition to a green new world. Flax Energy makes about six different products out of flax seeds, everything from animal food to flax diesel. The beauty of it is you don’t need a special vehicle or a modified tank to use Flax Energy’s fuel product. Any vehicle that runs on diesel can use flax diesel instead of regular diesel.
Dwyer said the goal was to find and manufacture a green alternative to petroleum without asking consumers to change the way they consume. That means selling the product from a privately-based firm – without government subsidies paid for by taxpayers – and selling the product at the same price as the product it’s replacing.
Normally, when it comes to green, says Dwyer, “we’re asking people to change their habits. But if you really want something to be sustainable, it has to mimic the item it’s replacing. Our business is fundamentally predicated on the economics of oil.
“It’s probably the best economic model in history,” he said.
As Dwyer tells it, flax, like petroleum, has one input and multiple outputs. There’s lots of it available and when his company is harvesting flax, it’s using combines running on its own flax diesel, and shipping those seeds by trucks running on, you guessed it, flax diesel.
The hardest thing in the world is to change human behaviour. Dwyer knows it, and Steve Kaminski at Terra20 knows it too. They want to change the world, but they know the only way that will happen is if they can encourage consumers to change without making them feel like they have to sacrifice something to get there.