If you’re a foodie like me its a dream project to gut renovate a kitchen and since we just bought a 90-year house my dream is coming true. And as excited as I am, as a greenie, nothing screams bad-for-the-environment more than renovation projects. Between scrapping and disposing of the existing kitchen (a 1980’s remodel with a warped linoleum floor caused by a leaky washing machine) and the outfitting of all new, or at least newly acquired by me, materials and finishes that will become my new 140sf kitchen, the potential for waste and carbon output has been looming large.
In my quest to design the perfect kitchen I’ve been scouring Internet sites. When I came across a post on the fab design site Remodelista on 100-mile San Francisco bathroom I got to thinking about doing my own 100-mile kitchen. Looking at the incredible 100-mile bathroom I quickly realized that hand-forged faucets and sand-blasted sinks were going to be beyond our budget. Not to mention that faucets and sinks aside, one of the biggest expenses both in dollars and environmental cost, have to do with manufacturing and shipping heavy appliances across the globe. So, I decided to see if I could design a 500-mile kitchen, appliances included, where the prices were not going to break the bank. I say that, of course with a grain of salt, because the kitchen I had in mind would be more costly than an average kitchen renovation. But, hopefully, not wildly so.
The transportation sector produces more than 28% of total U.S. CO2 emissions and is second in emissions only to the industrial sector. Therefore, it makes a huge difference where things come from and how they are transported to you (especially heavy things). Air transport is the worst culprit. It yields higher fuel consumption and greenhouse gas emissions per ton-mile than any other form of transportation. And then there are cargo ships: Two-thirds of the goods from overseas are transported via cargo ship: each one emits more pollution than 2,000 diesel trucks. And, while trucking emissions are improving every day—and actually projected to decline in the next ten years despite increases in trucking miles traveled—commercial trucks currently contribute 23% of U.S. highway carbon emissions, 40% of nitrous oxide emissions, and 60% of particulate matter emissions.
So, buying locally or ‘near-sourcing’ is one of the most effective strategies for reducing the physical distance between where materials are sourced and where they are used (in this case, in my home). This not only helps reduce travel-related emissions, but also often result in shorter times to market and better customer service. And, last but not least, buying local is important because of evidence that there are significant social, environmental, and economic benefits to creating local economies. The bottom line: Anything you can do to reduce transportation and the related emissions is good for the environment, good for society and good for the economy.
- My first and guiding principle is to source all my materials from companies that MANUFACTURE and SOURCE THEIR MATERIALS (if possible) within 500 miles. I recognize that not all parts or raw materials will be manufactured in the United States.
- If not locally produced, I will attempt to source goods that are purchased directly from independent manufacturers ELSEWHERE IN THE UNITED STATES and in a THIRD-PARTY VERIFIED SUSTAINABLE WAY (i.e. Energy Star, Green Seal, etc…)
- I will also buy from LOCAL BUSINESSES, not online retailers or from national chains.
- If all else fails or if a cool design prevails I will buy USED/RECONDITIONED goods.
- I will not get divorced over any one item.
Where to start
Whether its a 100-mile meal or a 500-mile renovation project the first task is to find vendors in each of the categories you need to source. In my case the list includes:
- Plumbing fixtures
The National Kitchen & Bath Association (NKBA) is the largest association for kitchen and bath professionals in the United sates with more than 40,000 members. The NKBA site can help in two ways. You can search for certified kitchen and bath designers in your area who may (or may not) know about local vendors. Or, go directly to the website for the regional NKBA chapter near you. It takes a bit of digging but once you find your local chapter’s website it will likely have a “sponsor” section with a directory of local vendors and local events where vendors display their wares. The site is also filled with great photos for inspiration.
Remodelista’s ‘slow design‘ posts highlight fun/hip/green resources. Some times about local, but always good food for thought.
Etsy, the online market place for handmade things, has a shop local sort that does the sorting for you once you give the site your location. The site eerily remembered my location although I haven’t visited in months. A bit spooky, but very handy. A quick scan and I found lamps, pillows and refurbished furniture all with in 10 miles of home.
There are farmer’s markets where artisans hawk their wares in every state. Check the USDA database for a Farmer’s market near you. Also check out online directories of craft fairs, home and garden shows, etc… on the East Coast or West Coast. I already have my eye on some linens from the Ferry Building Farmer’s Market.
I’m going to blog weekly on my quest to source all my new kitchen materials from within a 500 mile radius of my home in Berkeley, CA. Some will interpret my guidelines more strictly than others, but the main goal is to pay attention to where the products we buy come from.