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An Inside Job

Aug 1, 2009

Its own inroads into the business community could make EcoAmmo obsolete, and that’s OK

by Mike Sadava

The three young women behind EcoAmmo have literally built their business with their own skill and sweat. In fact, they’re using every spare minute to put both to work on overhauling their basement offices in an inconspicuous two-storey building just south of Edmonton’s Whyte Avenue. To cut costs, they’re doing most of the renovations themselves.

But this isn’t your average DIY remodelling. Just as the consulting company would recommend for clients seeking its advice about environmentally friendly building practices, EcoAmmo’s new look will involve non-toxic glue and paint, floor tiles made from leather garment industry scraps and recycled office furniture, including chairs they have reupholstered themselves. It’s all about practising what you preach. With a slogan, Arm Yourself With Knowledge, the company’s goal is to move the world to sustainability through interior and architectural design.

The principals of EcoAmmo – founder Stephani Carter, 29, Brandy Burdeniuk, 27, and Andrea Pelland, 34 – are a new breed of environmentalist. This is a generation of activists content to work from the inside, and one that doesn’t see a contradiction between being green and being part of the business world. Instead of hanging banners off bridges and picketing, they are helping companies become greener.

“The difference between now and the 1970s or 1990s is that environmentalists are not standing outside business and saying ‘You are the devil,’” Carter says. “They are inside the building, saying ‘This is how you should work,’ and they are also talking business language.”

It took time to realize a collaborative solution existed. After graduating from NAIT’s interior design program in 2001, Carter spent five years trying to adapt to the conventional practices of the design industry.

“I got a little bit depressed and saw all the waste we generate as an industry and all the toxic materials we use. I thought about going into conservation science, but then I thought I’d do something about it.”

Instead of heading back to school, Carter founded EcoAmmo in 2006 – the first company of its kind in Western Canada. Based largely on her reputation for grilling suppliers about the environmental impact of their products and on her role in helping to establish an Alberta chapter of the Canada Green Building Council in 2004, fellow industry members and builders had begun to solicit her help in achieving certification in Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) – the internationally recognized designation for green building practices – for their projects. Carter saw the opportunity and seized it. Now, while the three women are more likely to wear jeans and hoodies to work than power suits, they are attracting interest and, perhaps more importantly, trust and respect from the wider business community.

There may be more than just skills contributing to that. Reasonable prices help build the client roster as well, says Burdeniuk. “We don’t want to charge people an amount that would make green seem really expensive,” she says, noting that it would harm not only the company but the greater cause of widespread sustainability.

There’s also a strong educational component that attracts customers to EcoAmmo’s work, even if the traditional business owner might see it as undermining the revenue stream. While consulting, they actually teach clients how to choose building materials and design to minimize the ecological footprint of projects so next time they’ll be able to do it themselves.

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