A store that has built-in principles

Mountain Equipment Coop

Mountain Equipment Co-op  sets itself a high standard, and so, in building its new Toronto store at King St. and Spadina Ave., and in the words of Steve Cross, its Toronto manager, « We want to put our money where our mouth is…. This is Canada’s largest city and we want something that represents our ideals.

The foundation of these ideals is spelled out in this year’s summer catalogue. It declares that Mountain Equipment, which sells wilderness gear as a non-profit consumer cooperative with 925,000 members, poses « a challenge to the capitalist norm — to the competitive, for-profit ethic that (seems) to put money and consumerism ahead of people, and individuals ahead of community.’’


In a statement of principles explaining what this means, the co-op says it has « an obligation to conduct its business in a way that will minimize the environmental damage caused by its operations, or by the manufacture of the products sold.’’


However, putting your money where your mouth is can be expensive. For Mountain Equipment it means paying an extra $350,000 (or 9.25 per cent) to add environmental features to the new building. This brings total construction costs to $4.13 million.


But, the expense is not money gone forever from the co-op’s pockets. The store expects to recover the $350,000 within seven years through savings in energy and other operating costs.


What I especially like about Mountain Equipment’s approach is the acknowledgement that every single item going into the building has an environmental impact, not only in how it will be used, but in how it was made.


For example, every building material has « embodied energy’’  — the amount of energy it took to make it. The lower the embodied energy, the lower its environmental impact.


Following that kind of thinking, the store will be using Owen Sound ledge rock as part of its exterior facing instead of a manufactured material; it will use an insulation that has lower embodied energy and can be recycled more than fibreglass; and because an enormous amount of heat is needed to create portland cement, it will use a cement that substitutes blast furnace slag — which already has been through high-intensity heating — for half of the limestone that goes into portland cement.


The environmental benefits from using the slag are that it is reused instead of going into a landfill, energy requirements are cut, and there’s a reduction in the amount of limestone mined.


To help achieve savings in heating and air conditioning, the building will be insulated a quarter to a third more than is common, special glass in windows will cut heat-inducing infrared light, and rooftop windows that open at night will let warm air out and cool air in.


The main part of the roof will be flat and turned into a roof garden, seeded to wild grasses and flowers, that will further insulate the roof as well as slow rainwater runoff.


There will be many other features — rug tiles laid without glue to avoid off-gassing,  recycled lumber cut from old log booms from the Ottawa River, low-flush toilets, efficient, slim-tube fluorescent lighting, and wood flooring from timber selectively logged that will be finished in naturally based waxes, such as beeswax, instead of urethane.


Corin Flood, facility planner for the co-op, is modest about these initiatives. « What we’ve done is good,’’ he says. « But it doesn’t address where we really have an environmental impact, and that’s through the products we sell.


The big challenge, he says is to ensure that in merchandise natural materials are substituted wherever possible for non-renewable synthetics, environmental impacts by manufacturers are minimized, and working conditions under offshore suppliers are fair by Canadian standards.


« The bar has to continue going up,’’ he says


His attitude is, I think, one of the main reasons why Mountain Equipment inspires such loyalty among its customers.


The store will move to its new site next March from its present location on Front Street just east of the Hummingbird Centre.

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