Brianne Miller is a champion of reuse and sustainability. Her career as a marine biologist observing reefs and shores polluted by plastic waste inspired her to open a grocery store in Vancouver that encourages shoppers to buy everything package-free, from beet and artichoke pierogis to vegan waffles. Customers are encouraged to bring their own containers or buy reusable ones at the store.
After a trial run with a pop-up shop, she and co-owner Alison Carr found a perfect location in a modern building on East Broadway that had the floor space they needed for a store named Nada. Outfitting the store became an effort to come as close to zero waste as possible, to live up to their shopping philosophy.
“People walk into our space, and they think it’s a beautiful new store, but actually the vast majority of fixtures in there are all second-hand. A little bit of paint and TLC goes a long way,” says Ms. Miller.
It’s a trend being investigated by other retailers in an era when stores of all sizes are encouraging sustainability and aiming for net-zero energy consumption.
“Purchasing previously owned furniture or fixtures has a positive impact on the environment, says Michelle Wasylyshen, national spokeswoman for the Retail Council of Canada.
“Diverting used furniture from landfill eliminates the need to produce new products, thereby limiting further resource consumption and energy usage – and ultimately reducing greenhouse gas emissions,” she says.
For businesses looking to become green-building certified through programs like LEED, choosing to purchase recycled office furniture or fixtures is a way to earn credits to help them achieve certification, she adds.
“One of the best things we can do for the planet is to make use of items that already exist and not buy things new,” Ms. Miller says. “We were looking at Craigslist, Facebook Marketplace and second-hand auctions for what we could reuse. My dad used to work in retail and supply chain management for Hudson’s Bay and he suggested checking Sears stores that were closing.”
The department stores were selling everything that could be removed – displays, lighting and shelving.
“I wasn’t sure they would have anything in their big box stores that would fit the design of our store,” says Ms. Miller, “but we found many pieces that were the right size, and some could be made to look like new with just a simple coat of paint.”
Leigh Collyer, principal at ZAS Architects + Interiors Inc. in Vancouver, which designed the store interior, says once they arrived at a store, “we were like kids in a candy store.”
“There were all kinds of things we could reuse, and they were selling them dirt cheap. Brianne measured the fixtures, and we picked ones that we could make fit in our layout.”
Cost-saving was a welcome benefit: “In a commercial building you can’t just use residential fixtures. And commercial lighting can be very expensive,” Ms. Collyer says. “The track lights we could reuse would have cost $50 a head new. We got them for $5 each.”
“Diverting used furniture from landfill eliminates the need to produce new products, thereby limiting further resource consumption and energy usage – and ultimately reducing greenhouse gas emissions.
— Michelle Wasylyshen, national spokeswoman for the Retail Council of Canada.
The LED light bulbs, which are separate units, were purchased for 25 cents each. “We bought boxes of extras, so that down the road they can replace anything that burns out, so they won’t have to buy a light bulb maybe ever.”
The store’s checkout counter was built using a frame from a Sears store and wood from bed frames that had been returned to Ikea Canada as part of their Sellback program. “We found a large frame that fit perfectly for under $100; to reclad it in wood and refinish it raised the cost to about $500. But if you were buying new cabinetry and millwork, the unit might have been in the range of $10,000,” she adds.
They were also able to reuse material in Nada’s new design, from the location’s previous life. The 2,500-square-foot space had originally been divided by a wall, with one half of the area being used as a café.
“Normally in removing a wall, the framing and insulation would be demolished and sent to landfill. However, it could be disassembled, and the steel studs of the framing provided enough material to build other internal walls and the insulation was reused for soundproofing. That, in itself, was a significant money-saver,” Ms. Collyer says.
Refinishing the used fixtures was a lot of work, says Ms. Miller, but “we had friends and volunteers who helped.” Shelves, tables and racks formerly used to display clothing at the department store were topped with bins to hold produce. “We could refinish many of the pieces that had wood tops. We had to add new wood on some units because they had been in rough shape, but many pieces were simple to restore, and all the back-of-house metal storage shelving looked brand new when repainted.”
In total, the commercial business owners saved at least $40,000 just on the lighting fixtures alone.
“Overall, I estimate if we had to buy everything new it would have cost an extra $200,000,” says Ms. Miller. “So, it’s a win for us and for the planet.”