Stores like Lowe’s and Home Depot often don’t live up their promise of “home improvement.” After all, if we’re throwing away useful old materials, buying new stuff, and working all weekend just to keep up with the latest trends in design and decor, but the house still leaks like a sieve and gobbles electricity, what’s really being improved?
In 2011, to address this home-nonimprovement issue, environmental consultant Jason Ballard opened a new store called TreeHouse, in Austin, Texas, focused on digs-enhancing projects that make homes more energy-efficient and eco-friendly. This one-stop greening shop provides straightforward guidance and building products that are otherwise only available to professional architects, designers, and construction companies.
The Guardian‘s recent profile of the company sums up the problem TreeHouse tries to tackle:
Currently, customers interested in reducing their electric bill or cutting their carbon footprint are faced with a baffling array of products and options, some of which are outstanding – and many of which are not.
To make matters worse, if customers want accurate, up-to-date information on sustainable products, they usually have to do a lot of research on their own. That combination of limited access and a dearth of information creates hurdles that turn many consumers off.
Demystifying the world of smartening our dumb homes hinges on enlightened employees, so every one of the company’s workers gets 110 hours of training each year. Furthermore, the center of the store — prime product space — is reserved for education and demonstrations. For shoppers in a hurry, TreeHouse offers a simple “better-best-exceptional” performance-scoring system.
Now, according to the Guardian, Ballard has big plans to build TreeHouses all over: He wants a retail outlet in every major market in the U.S. within five to 10 years.
That’d be dope, because fixing up our old houses to use less energy is a climate win over building new eco-homes nearly every time. But as awesome as this green home improvement thing is, we think TreeHouse can do even better.
Here are a few store improvements TreeHouse should make as the business grows:
- Help abode renovators use the materials they already have at home. New building materials come with big environmental footprints, and debris from construction and demolition make up a quarter or more of U.S. solid waste. No reason to replace old with new when you can pimp out what you already have with creative reuse.
- Dedicate a (large) portion of the store to material recycling and selling used things — a home-improvement thrift shop! Many communities already have ReStores and other building supply-donation center combos, but including a section for exchange and reuse in the same chain retailer where we go to get energy-saving LED bulbs and weather-stripping? That would be double cool.
- Loan out gizmos and gadgets! Wait. Take two: Loan out gizmos and gadgets! Tool-lending libraries are popping up left and right because who wants to buy something brand new to use once per year or once ever? While we’re all about community tool sheds, a big chain store can carry uncommon or bulky contrivances. Plus, it would be so nice to drop off old stuff for repurposing, pick up used materials and furniture, shop water-sipping enviro-appliances, and borrow the tools we need to get to work, all in one place.
Admittedly, these endeavors to make TreeHouse greener might not sound like the brightest idea to a money-minded investor. It’s the same trade-off that so many eco-businesses run into these days: profit goals versus environmental goals. Or, as Naomi Klein would put it: capitalism versus the climate.
But the truth of the matter is that buying less is often better than buying green. We’ll see if TreeHouse can match its mission to improve home improvement with a commitment to improving corporate priorities.