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The price of being green

How much is an eco-friendly reputation worth to a downtown Whitehorse retailer?Lots, says Craig Hougen, owner of Coast Mountain Sports.

How much is an eco-friendly reputation worth to a downtown Whitehorse retailer?

Lots, says Craig Hougen, owner of Coast Mountain Sports.

He may end up spending $75,000 to have his newly-renovated store certified by Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design.

If the store receives its LEED certificate this spring, as planned, it will be the first building in the Yukon to receive the prestigious designation.

It’s a AAA rating in environmental ethics.

It’s also lot of money for a piece of paper.

Why not simply make eco-friendly upgrades, skip the formal designation, and pocket a bundle of cash?

He chuckles at the question.

It would be easy to say that you’re running a green business, he said.

It would also easy to cut corners by, say, not bothering to purchase glue and paint that is toxin-free.

He doesn’t want people to have to take his word for it.

And he’s betting the outdoorsy crowd that frequents his store puts a high value on environmental commitments.

“We’re responding to what our customers want,” he said.

The renovation was about as extensive as it gets. It involved transforming the old, beer-soaked Taku bar into a state-of-the art green building, without compromising the character of Main Street.

It began with 100,000 pounds of Glulam — thick beams of glue-laminated timber. Using glulam saved having to cut down a large tree in order to obtain a heavy wooden beam, said Hougen.

And it has the strength of steel.

Some old wood from the building was stained and recycled. It lines sections of the store, such as near the change rooms, where a brass plaque reads, “Made locally by reclaimed Taku Building lumber 1955.”

Old piping and other waste was recycled, rather than tossed in the dump, said Hougen.

He has photos to prove it, which he will need during the LEED certification.

Many of the green choices made during renovations simply made good business sense, said Hougen.

Carpets are made from recycled material and are glued to the floor as small panels. The panels make for a more labour-intense installation, but make for easier maintenance.

If a customer spills a coffee on the new carpets, the individual panel can be replaced, without having to pull up the rest of the floor.

Lights in the store use only 25 watts, compared to the building’s old 60-watt bulbs.

Each new light costs $62, rather than $12.

But in three years the lights should pay for themselves through reduced power bills, said Hougen.

And they produce better light, so customers need not worry whether a brown sweater has a pink tint to it, visible out of the showroom.

The building also has a sophisticated heating system that shifts hot air only to corners that need it, rather than raising the temperature of the whole building.

This, too, is expected to pay for itself. The same goes for energy-efficient insulation.

Other green upgrades include toilets that are designed to save water.

And there’s a room in the basement for employees to store their bikes, and a shower for those who break a sweat while pedaling to work.

Even the air that customers breath has been rigorously scrubbed by a top-knotch air filtration unit, said Hougen. It’s another LEED requirement.

And besides, shoppers at a store that sells camping equipment, presumably, put a premium on fresh air.

In all, the renovations are expected to cost $4.5 million.

That’s still only half the cost of demolishing the existing building and building new one, he said.

Next, Hougen hopes to persuade other business owners to follow the same path.

He emphasizes that not all eco-friendly upgrades cost more money. Toxin-free paint costs as much as conventional paint, said Hougen.

It ought to cost less money for a smaller business to be LEED certified, he said.

It will probably still be a lot of money.

But in a world of ever-escalating fuel prices, such choices, which only a few years ago would seem extravagant, now simply make business sense, said Hougen.

“Five years ago, people would say, ‘What a waste of money,’” he said.