Photography by Colin Way; Styling by Colleen McGinn; Hair by Colleen McGinn, Propaganda Salon; Makeup by Tamara Hamilton, Hamilton Image Consulting
The Look: Gloves provided by Tamara Hamilton; TN 29 boots from gravitypope; Vintage hat from her grandfather, worn in the Second World War; Necklace, a gift from her grandmother.
Stephani Carter is not a pushover. She’s more of a pusher, in fact, and arms herself with an unapologetic do-good attitude. At the office of EcoAmmo (a retro-fitted three-storey home in Old Strathcona running on solar power), the 30-year-old Carter greets me in a goody-two-shoes sweater vest and a blue vintage tie that shouts ONE LESS CAR in block letters.
The self-professed “greenie” founded the consulting company EcoAmmo in 2006 after working in the construction and interior design industries for six years. Her mission – to advise product manufacturers on green practices and provide contractors with knowledge about sustainable building and design – has since taken off and grown.
Carter brought in partners Brandy Burdeniuk and Andrea Pelland not long after starting the company. Now the team consults on the green details of a number of landmark projects, including developments on the University of Alberta main campus, the City’s Animal Care and Control Centre and ProCura’s overhaul of commercial spaces at 10830 Jasper Ave. All of these buildings are certified gold or silver by LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design rating system).
As I interview her in the company’s “Fun Room” (the antonym of a boardroom), which is separated from the office by an open garage door, Burdeniuk and Pelland playfully hijack the conversation from their nearby desks.
What inspired you to start EcoAmmo?
When I was working as an interior designer, one day it overwhelmingly hit me that the contents of the paint was more important than the colour. To me, it was more important to know if the paint was going to kill you than if it was a certain shade of purple. I enjoyed researching products’ materials and asking tough questions. So I started my own company, because there was no company doing that.
EcoAmmo just made a deal with a Wal-Mart in Balzac, Alta. How did you convince the world’s largest corporation to green-ify this distributor centre?
Actually, we didn’t have to convince them at all. The people we worked with at Wal-Mart are genuinely interested in making a difference in the world and excited about implementing green initiatives. They actually sought us out. They saw us in a magazine and they thought if they are going to have a green project they should get the green ladies of EcoAmmo to help them out. Honestly, I’m not making this up!
They really were one of the most pleasant clients to work with. They asked us for recommendations and they implemented 99 per cent of them. We didn’t ever have to convince them to do something – they jumped at it all. Plus, they are a super fun group of people and really supportive. They always made sure to make us feel appreciated and validated. We were at first skeptical about working with a giant company that does not have that good of a reputation in the green world, but after working with them, we would definitely do it again, and again. After all, if those companies making the biggest impact on the environment want to change, who will be there to help them transition? We will.
How does your company work now? You’ve got a couple of enthusiastic partners in crime here.
We have come a long way since when it first started, but we’re still following our main goal, which is to help the transition from business-practices-as-usual to sustainable practices. We want it to be easy and fun and quick, and hopefully integrated, so it becomes ingrained into daily operations.
What is the atmosphere like when you go in and consult with a construction company?
When I was in the field, I was young. I was in my early 20s and managing construction projects. There’s always groups of men who are 50-plus that look at you like, ‘I know what I’m doing. What are you gonna tell me?’ We still get those guys, but now what’s fun to see is how they transform after we first meet them. By the end of the project, they’re championing what they’ve learned. They’re going around and making sure everybody’s not
using disposable cups. It goes past the building and into what they’re doing on a life level.
So how can people make green choices when they’re doing interior design?
Ask questions. Before anything walks through your front door, know what’s in it, if you can.
Every product has it’s own environmental attributes that you should be aware of, and to expedite your search, look for third-party certification symbols like the ones on Green Alberta’s website. And just simple things, like if it smells bad it’s probably bad for you.
If you’re just using everyday products, or oftentimes the cheapest product, you could be making a toxic soup for your family to live in. I’m not saying green costs more, but often the cheaper products have lower-quality materials in them.
Your business partner Brandy says you’re more “business fun” than “business casual.” Does that sound right?
That’s what we are, business fun. Part of this whole business is that it’s daunting. It’s like the world is ending and if I make a wrong move, will trees die in seven years?
Brandy: So many people feel guilty all the time. They meet with us and feel like if they didn’t drive their bike to the meeting, they’re not going to be friends with us or something.
There’s just so much doom and gloom on the news and we’re over that. We’d rather just do something about it. Get off your duff and do it. We try to make it as fun as possible, and then it makes our lives easier, too. It’s like, who wants to go to work and laugh versus going to work and crying?
So how do you not cry when you go out shopping? Fashion isn’t always so green.
The fashion industry is lagging behind the construction industry [when it comes to environmental standards] , for sure, but there are some specific green stores around. There’s one on Whyte Ave., Lucid Lifestyles, that screens everything that goes into the store. Look for organic cotton that’s been fairly traded or made with socially conscious materials. Also, think about cleaning, because most of the water that clothing uses in its life is from washing it after you buy it.
Where do you tend to shop?
Robes & Relics. Decadence, too. I actually don’t shop much. We do a lot of Bitch ‘n’ Switches [clothing swaps] . If you’re done with something, it might be new to somebody else.
Brandy: What about the craft shows where people manufacture what they’re selling?
Yeah, the Royal Bison Craft & Art Fair is cool. It helps me put money back into the
pockets of my peers in the city, versus some company I don’t know.
What do you like about consignment shopping?
I guess everything does have a story. When I travel, I always go to consignment stores so I’ll remember the trip that I was on when I bought it. It’s interesting to see how people dress differently as a reflection of the community.
Brandy: We went on a retreat to Hawaii this spring and we hit a couple consignment stores and she got some awesome pieces. I got a good skirt, but Stephani got a whole suitcase full of clothes – all really bright, like bright yellow capris and stuff.
Andrea: And she’s not afraid to wear really bright colours. She’s got lots of her grandma’s old jewellery that she accessorizes with.
Brandy: I can tell you my favourite piece of hers – she’s got this awesome 1940s dress.
Yeah, 1940s is my thing. If I could dress all in 1940s, I would. I love to swing dance and I love the music.
What about business attire? You have a lot of high-level corporate clients to impress.
We do suit it up, especially with new clients. So we do business, but it always has some fun to it, like No Sweat [the anti-sweatshop response to Converse’s Chuck Taylor shoe] or a tie or jewellery. Oh, and I suppose it’s kind of embarrassing, but Brandy and Andrea always bug me that everything I wear matches. I don’t know if its a good thing or not, but I like the way it looks.
What about sustainable dead-of-winter wear? This is Edmonton, after all.
This is the thing: Winter boots are not so awesome [for the environment] . I really want to continue walking to work every day, but it’s a deterrent when your feet freeze three-quarters of the way there. There’s not a whole lot of choice unless you buy online, so last year I bought Simple boots. They’re made of recycled materials or tires – really cool, super comfortable, but not built for minus 40.
Right now if I’m looking for something, it all depends: Can I find something locally that is not too expensive that will keep my feet nice and warm, or do I spend more and buy from somewhere far away? Or do I just give in and buy something that will keep my feet the warmest because I’m tired of frozen toes?
What’s the most you’ve spent on a piece?
The most I’ve ever spent on any article of clothing is $120. For shoes, well, boots – leather boots. It’s because when you go into a consignment store, everything is instantly 50 per cent off.
So you do wear leather?
Yeah, totally. It’s probably salvaged. I will wear leather, but it may not have been from a new place. See, if there’s something you really like and you don’t want to give up on purchasing that, then investigate that product specifically. So, if it’s leather, how is it being manufactured? How are the animals treated? Because tanning can be toxic, how is it tanned? Ask all the questions. You can still buy it, just buy the best one for you.
Film:Big with Tom Hanks
Song: “Feeling Good” by Nina Simone
Book: Ecoholic by Adria Vasil
Volunteer opportunity: Alberta Chapter of the Canada Green Building Council