Building a Greener Tomorrow
With the opening of Hawaii’s first green products store, the Green Builder’s Depot’s Michael Reeves hopes to change the way we build and live.
Call it one of life’s little ironies that a former logger from Coquille, Oregon would one day open a store carrying wood flooring harvested from sustainably managed forests—among other green products. “We’re consuming so many natural resources and using so much energy in the process, and it’s just not sustainable,” says Michael Reeves. “I’m not a tree hugger, but I do know we have to get on the ball and change the way we do things.”
Odds are that Reeves will succeed in getting others to see things his way. Along with Green Builder’s Depot, he’s successfully built up two other large companies, thanks to business acumen and sheer gumption. RSVPstyle recently caught up with Reeves to talk about the inspiration behind his latest and perhaps greatest venture yet: helping the planet one home at a time.
RSVPstyle: How did you come up with the idea to start Green Builder’s Depot?
Reeves: I run a large janitorial service, and I was being pushed by property management companies to switch from traditional cleaning products to safer alternatives. But at the time there were only a few good green products out there.
Then one day I was doing a building inspection and saw somebody painting with a toxic paint. It smelled terrible. I thought, ‘I’m using the right cleaning stuff that won’t make my janitors sick, but somebody’s got to sit here in a cubicle for eight hours a day with paint off-gassing for the next six years. Why can’t I help people live in healthier indoor environments?’
Something told me there would be rewards in this business. I knew not everybody would be able to afford a green home, but I felt I could help them improve their indoor air quality as well as the quality of life for them and their children. So about a year and half ago I went to the mainland and visited green homes, projects, stores and manufacturers to learn more.
RSVPstyle: What kinds of products do you carry?
Reeves: We carry everything that you would find in a conventional building-supply store like paints, stains, sealers, cleaners, flooring, carpeting and even water-catchment systems, except that our products are safe for both human health and the environment.
I don’t carry products that contain harmful VOCs (volatile organic compounds), carcinogens, acetones or formaldehydes, which are found in common building products likes paints, adhesives and pressed wood, as well as in household cleaners.
I work with companies whose products are manufactured responsibly and whose production and delivery systems aim to reduce energy consumption and their carbon footprint.
Right now I’m bringing in some of the most beautiful bamboo decking I’ve ever seen. Next year I’m bringing in the first-of-its-kind bamboo plywood, two-by-fours and two-by-twos, as well as insulation that is 100 percent sheep’s wool, called Oregon’s Shepherd. It’s also good for soundproofing, is fire retardant and contains no fiberglass.
RSVPstyle: What’s your best-selling product?
Reeves: Mythic paint, which comes in over 1,400 colors and is a favorite of HGTV’s David Bromstad. Not only is it a premium-quality paint, it contains no carcinogens or VOCs, so it’s very safe to work with. In fact, the Land of Nod, a big baby store on the mainland, sells it.
Before now, you couldn’t get it in Hawaii unless you wanted to order it online, but that would have cost about $100. I’m selling it for $39, which is even cheaper than what it sells for in California. I decided to take a smaller profit margin and hope that I sell more paint so that it can be affordable to everybody.
RSVPstyle: There’s a perception that many green products are more costly than their conventional counterparts. Is that perception accurate? If so, what’s your argument to paying a little more for a green product?
Reeves: Some green products may be a little more expensive, but prices are coming down quickly as demand and availability grow.
But I just don’t put a price on health. I think every individual makes a decision as to how they want to live. You can smoke cigarettes, but you don’t have to. You can use safe paint or you don’t have to.
RSVPstyle: People are beginning to realize what a devastating impact deforestation has on local populations as well as the planet. Do you carry woods that are harvested from sustainably managed forests?
Reeves: We carry Ambient Bamboo Flooring and Nova Cork and Linoleum, which have a 30 year structural and residential warranty. There are many styles to choose from.
We also carry EcoTimber flooring, which is North American hardwoods, bamboo and cherry. It’s comparable in price to traditional wood floors and comes with a 27-year warranty.
EcoTimber promotes forest conservation by selling sustainably harvested and reclaimed wood products. The wood is also certified by the Forest Stewardship Council, which means it meets the highest social and environmental requirements.
The great thing about buying FSC-certified wood is that it pushes the timber industry in a more responsible direction and discourages illegal logging. It also allows consumers to use their purchasing power to manage and conserve forests for future generations, instead of destroying them.
RSVPstyle: What’s the best part of your job?
Reeves: I get to spend time with the keikis. Yesterday I went to Koko Head Elementary and taught them about the water hog, which is a water catchment system. You should have seen their eyes and how focused they are on saving the earth.
There’s so much bad news about the state of our planet but when I show up, they’re like, ‘Wow, somebody is trying to make a difference.’ These kids are being educated in school right now on how to make our environment better. I think there is a chance to turn things around because our kids are so serious about it.
RSVPstyle: What’s next on the horizon for you?
Reeves: I have a furniture line coming and we’re also bringing in bamboo decking. This summer, we’re planning to open up a 4000-square-foot space in Ala Moana and if everything goes well, I’m looking at opening a third store in Hawaii Kai before the end of the year. Eventually, I’d like to open 17 stores in Hawaii and also offer franchises on the mainland.