July 25, 2002

Shopping ‘green’

  • Demand picks up for environmentally friendly building supplies
    Environmental Building Supplies

    Michelle Ruber
    Photos courtesy of Environmental Building Supplies
    Michelle Ruber’s own kitchen is a showcase for Environmental Building Supplies products. Countertops are made of SlateScape, a Portland cement-base product; the floor is Marmoleum, a true linoleum product; drawer pulls are made of recycled glass; and finishes are plant-based, from Aglaia Natural Paints.

    There has been a buzz brewing around green building in the Pacific Northwest.

    Some of the talk stems from LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design), which is a green building rating system developed by the U.S. Green Building Council. The LEED standards have raised the bar for creative design and building in the construction community.

    There are also an increasing number of people who have developed chemical sensitivities and are closely watching what chemicals are being introduced into their homes. Thankfully, we also have many environmentalists who are concerned with the rate in which we are depleting our natural resources and therefore support alternative products.

    Whatever the reasons, studies are showing that the trend in building is going green.

    For a store like Environmental Building Supplies this news is outstanding. Environmental Building Supplies (EBS) opened in 1994 in Portland with the goal of bringing healthier products to the market place. EBS specializes in interior finishes ranging from certified wood floors, cork floors, wool carpets, recycled cotton insulation, wool mattresses, and low toxic and natural finishes.

    The most recent addition to our product line is Aglaia Natural Paints. Aglaia is a German company who for over 30 years has been developing a line of entirely plant- and mineral-based finishes. The products range from casein-based wall paint to beeswax glazing to plant oil-based wood finishes.

    The name Aglaia is of Greek origin. The goddess of beauty, Aphrodite, had a muse named Aglaia. The name Aglaia translates to beauty or splendor, and splendid is the smell of these products. The list of raw materials that are used in this line could be found in a cookbook: citrus peel oil, carnauba wax, thyme oil and dammar resin.

    Environmental Building Supplies’ headquarters and showroom is in this Portland building at 819 S.E. Taylor St.

    The Aglaia line of finishes is truly unique to work with. The odor and ease of application enable the average homeowner to artistically finish their home in a naturally elegant fashion.

    Derek Smith, sustainability coordinator of Norm Thompson Outfitters in Portland, recently bought Aglaia wall paint for his living room walls. “It wasn’t like using traditional paint,” Smith said. “It smelled like cloves and the paint absorbed into the walls making it look very different from the water based latex paints I have used in other areas of my home.”

    Deciding what product lines to carry is an exciting, but somewhat laborious process. It has been interesting to see many conventional stores begin to carry lines of cork, bamboo and wool carpeting. It reinforces the fact that consumers are looking for natural, less toxic materials and that they are driving an increased demand for these products.

    The increased popularity of natural materials enables EBS to find new building supplies, which continue to raise the standards. We currently carry recycled cotton insulation as an alternative to fiberglass. The insulation comes from recycled cotton fibers and is formaldehyde free. The cotton is easy and quick to install as there is no skin irritation. Simply rip the cotton apart to install it.

    The recycled cotton insulation is a great example of an alternative fiber that is low-toxic, safer for the environment, and has excellent performance.

    The goal of the green building industry is to educate the public on safer options for their homes. It is an inspirational field to be part of. Witnessing the change in manufacturing techniques where the parties involved take an active role in the life cycle and end use of the products is exciting. It is a big shift for the building industry, but one that is necessary in order to live in harmony with the planet.

    In Oregon, half of our landfills are filled with waste from the construction industry. By supplying quality products that are made to last for decades, EBS is taking an active role in improving the state of our planet.

    Michelle Ruber is the marketing director at Environmental Building Supplies. The company’s Web site is

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