500-Mile Kitchen Project: What to Say to the Naysayers

This is the fourth week of the 500-mile kitchen project in which I try to renovate a kitchen from materials and goods manufactured within 500-miles.

This was my cabinet week. And I have been lucky enough to find a cabinet-maker who has fully embraced my 500-mile goals. Nadja, from Case 540 (10 miles away), has gone far beyond the call of duty.ย  She has spent hours researching the best veneer, boards, slides and hardware. She has talked to vendors and suppliers and made them talk to their vendors and their suppliers. So, when we decided to abandon our dream of automobile-finished cabinets in pale pear green because it exceeded out budget by about 25%, we asked Nadja to give us a price for wood veneer cabinets that wouldn’t require as much labor, and hence, would likely cost less. Her email related the saga of the naysayer:

Yes, it is definitely worth exploring the veneer options to get to the target budget. I went to Exotic Hardwoods, and looked at the 500 mile options – the two that I like are the Presidio reclaimed eucalyptus and the redwood. The Eucalyptus was reclaimed from the Doyle Drive project, and the redwood was salvaged from the riverbank nearby somewhere a couple of years back…Our recommendation would be to actually go with me to the showroom when time comes and pick your log. (That’s how we roll. :)

Having said all of the above, I have some interesting factoids for you: I spoke to Don Kemp, the LEED AP at the showroom and he told me the following: A cubic meter of wood imported by boat (clearly, to Oakland port) will have 40 times less of a carbon foot print than a log trucked from a 100 miles away. I have not verified this information from a another reliable source just yet, however, knowing what I know about this from importing Italian kitchens I am inclined to believe this info, and I trust Don. So that possibly puts the entire reconstituted wood option back in the game, if in fact it’s shipped straight to Oakland and not distributed somewhere from East coast. I am looking into this, stay tuned. As I get more info I will share.. Have a good evening!


The thing about going green is that it inevitably involves trade-offs. When I first got into sustainability, I started asking myself questions that had never occurred to me before: Is it better to use organic or locally produced products? Are the CO2 savings from compact fluorescent lights worth the extra mercury they contain? Is an employee subsidy for purchasing a fuel-efficient car better than promoting car-pooling? Should linoleum floors be ripped up and replaced with bamboo? Is it better to keep an older computer or buy a new energy-efficient model? Should green materials be shipped from overseas? Ultimately, I decided that you have to embrace tactics that are cost-effective and work for your lifestyle.

I responded to Nadja and told her that every cargo ship emits more pollution than 2,000 diesel trucks (so she did some research and found that the average cargo ship can carry the load of 15,000 diesel trucks). I mentioned how the carbon output from an off-shore factory could likely out weigh any “efficiency” in shipping vs. trucking.ย  But, most importantly to me, buying local is about much more than carbon output. There is a lot of evidence that there are significant social, environmental, and economic benefits to creating local economies that go far beyond carbon output. The Business Alliance for Local Living economies (BALLE) tells us that supporting your local economy has many benefits including improving the health of the environment (because we don’t typically soil where we live), saving energy, providing meaningful living wage jobs, propelling innovation all while measuring success by the things that really matter to us — knowledge, creativity, relationships, health, consciousness and happiness — rather than continuous material growth. In the end, it is easy to stick to my local sourcing strategy because I understand my motivations and the trade offs of supporting my local economy in a holistic way.

Lesson # 4: Don’t let the naysayers dissuade you from your guiding principles. It helps to understand the rational reasons behind your project guidelines. Familiarize yourself with the knowledge about the specific attributes that distinguish sustainable products and services from the alternatives. In general, greening opportunities fall into five basic categories:

1. Switching from toxic to nontoxic substances.

2. Reducing air emissions and hazardous waste.

3. Purchasing environmentally preferable materials and products.

4. Improving energy and water efficiency.

5. Buying local in order to reap the triple-bottom line of benefits that spring from thriving local economies.

If you choose to focus on living a more sustainable life or embracing local projects then it helps to know why you’re doing it and what the acceptable level of trade-off is. And simply because you may choose to prioritize one of these categories of opportunity, doesn’t mean there aren’t other viable alternatives. Because, the first rule of sustainability (and lesson #5) is: there are always trade-offs.

For more on the 500-Mile Kitchen Project:

Photo of Eucalyptus trees in the Presidio by Brendan Aanes

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