Shipping container architecture has got to be one of the most fascinating uses of upcycling that I know of.  Taking something that might otherwise be discarded to become a space that functions in new and inventive ways just opens up such a realm of possibility for creative and compelling sustainable design.  The Dekalb Market is a really great example of some innovative container architecture – let’s take a look at a few others.

1. Keetwonen is the largest container city in the world, designed for students in the Netherlands.  Constructed from hundreds upon hundreds of containers.  As their website states, there was skepticism that the project would be successful – folks were worried that they might be too small, too noisy, too cold, or too hot.  But the project has become a great success, and become a permanent neighborhood in Amsterdam: the site was first constructed in 2006 and was due to be disassembled by 2011, but this relocation will be postponed until 2016.

2. The Box Office, in Providence, Rhode Island is a fully functional office complex constructed from 32 shipping containers.  Not only is this space built from upcycled shipping containers, they are energy efficient – it’s expected that these offices use 33% less energy than a conventional office.  Moreover, the office was designed with low to no-VOC products and no petroleum-based insulation.  The Box Office was engineered with efficient windows and is climate-controlled with no fossil fuels, using air-to-air heat pumps, and utilizes dual-source lighting, which automatically adjusts interior artificial lighting according to the level of passive natural light entering the space.

3. The Nomadic Museum is perhaps one of the more famous examples of shipping container architecture.  Designed by architect Shigeru Ban, the Nomadic Museum is constructed from 148 shipping containers specifically to house and exhibit artist Gregory Colbert’s photography.  The portable building is constructed from a combination of shipping containers, cables, suspension rods, and cardboard tubes that form columns in the interior of the structure.  Because of the portable design of the museum, it has had a home in multiple global cities – from New York City, to Santa Monica, California; and from Tokyo to Mexico City.

To see more examples of shipping container architecture, try visiting the topic’s wikipedia page, or the unofficial online website for shipping container architecture.

For green building materials, like eco insulation, as well as many other green products for a sustainable lifestyle, visit

Bamboo flooring as a green product is increasingly growing in popularity for many reasons, many of which go deeper than the pure aesthetic beauty of bamboo.  Bamboo is a kind of flooring wonder materials – it is more often rapidly and sustainably produced than traditional hardwoods, and holds up significantly better in the home in more adverse conditions than other conventional materials.

Bamboo flooring has several unique environmental benefits – the greatest being its rapid renewability.  Bamboo isn’t a hardwood tree, like most conventional flooring options.  Instead, it’s a grass which comes to full maturity in about five years.  Many hardwood trees can take decades to mature to harvestability.

But the benefits in the home are equally substantial.  Bamboo is actually a stronger building material than many common hardwoods, including maple and red oak.  Because it is so hard and resilient, it can withstand greater impacts than most hardwoods without denting.

Bamboo is also an optimal material for rooms traditionally considered unfriendly to hardwoods, like bathrooms and kitchens.  Bamboo flooring is usually laminated, making it resistant to warping in moisture-rich environments.  It is also a tropical plant – making it naturally resistant to moisture, spills, and stains.


We have a sale on bamboo flooring until May 31st.  Green Depot can offer 10% off any of our bamboo flooring options – Prefinished, floating, unfinished, and stained & finished Foundations brand bamboo flooring.  Additionally, Green Depot is offering 10% off Plybam Bamboo Plywood.

For green building materials, like eco insulation, as well as many other green products for a sustainable lifestyle, visit

I have a few other hats, in addition to my role as the blogger for Green Depot.  One of those hats I wear is the Director of Outreach and Advocacy for the Human Impacts Institute, a fledgling NGO I started with a former colleague of mine.

For the next two weeks, on behalf of the Human Impacts Institute, I’m attending the United Nations Commission on Sustainable Development’s 19th conference (CSD-19), as a delegate to the Youth and Children Major Group.

This seems like a lot of diplomatic jargon, I’m sure!  And to a large extent, it is.  So, I’ll break it down just a little bit:

At most UN conferences, and at the CSD-19 in particular, every government has a delegation. (Sometimes, groups of governments are represented by a single nation – like the G77, a group of 77 developing nations represented at the CSD-19 by Indonesia).

But not only governments have delegations.  There are nine “major groups” that also have a seat on the negotiation floor: Youth and Children, Indigenous Peoples, Women, Farmers, Business and Industry, Local Authorities, NGOs, Scientific and Technological Community, and Workers and Trade Unions.  I’m a part of the Youth and Children Major Group.

In addition, the conference has several focal areas, and for 2011 they are: Transportation, Mining, Chemicals, Waste Management, and Sustainable Consumption and Production.  Each delegation, from national governments and from the major groups, sends representatives to each negotiation session for each topic listed above (all of which are held in different rooms).

When these groups get together in the room, they hash out the text for policy documents, which are originally submitted by the chair of that focal group.  This is where politics come into play, and things can get heated, especially as lingering tensions between the developed and developing nations comes to the fore.  Major groups are given limited opportunities to offer revisions to the document (known as interventions) and are largely there to observe (know as tracking).  However, in the last two days of negotiation, all major groups are permitted to offer their own amendments and revisions.

And that, in a nutshell, is how the process works at the CSD-19!

For green building materials, like eco insulation, as well as many other green products for a sustainable lifestyle, visit

flickr user maggie hoffman

Two years ago, I was living in a loft conversion in the New York City neighborhood of Bushwick.  One of the big perks of living here was our roof access – which we turned into a rather extensive rooftop garden.  We had heirloom tomatoes, cucumbers, squash, chard, and any number of other vegetables (and perhaps a few fruits).

But one of the major issues we faced was watering our garden, especially on hot, dry days.  Up on a tar-covered urban roof, raised planters (especially wood planters) dried out quickly.  At the time, our only recourse to prevent our plants from dying was to carry gallon jugs of water up four flights of stairs several times a week.

It occurred to us a few weeks later that we should have collected dew and rainwater in barrels and use those for irrigation!

Even though our plans for rooftop rain barrels never panned out, capturing and reusing rainwater for a garden – or a lawn – is a really great idea.  It cuts down on municipal or well water consumption, reducing your impact on the environment, and on your wallet.  And if you’re watering a rooftop garden, it saves you the torture of carrying dozens of gallons of water up the stairs!


RAIN BARRELS ARE ON SALE THROUGH MAY 1! Here are three options for storing rainwater around the home:

The Bosmere Pop-up Rain Barrel holds 50 gallons of rainwater from the rain or a downspout.  A screen keeps out leaves and other debris.  This collapsible rain barrel can be stored flat in a work shed or garage and pulled out when you need it.  A handy on/off spigot at the bottom can be attached to a hose or the collected water can be accessed through the wide-mouth top which opens with a zipper for easy pail-filling.

The Garden Watersaver rainwater diverter makes it easy to redirect the rainwater flowing down your downspout to a rain barrel. It Installs right onto your downspout in minutes and is easy to activate and de-activate as needed by removing the hose & adding the plug in winter.

The Slim-Line Water barrel holds 26 gallons of water and is made from molded UV-stable plastic. It comes with its own stand so that you can fill your watering can easily from the tap provided. The barrel has snap on-off lid for easy filling and keeping insects & debris out. This tool is designed to be unobtrusive and compact for small gardens, patios and decks.

For green building materials, like eco insulation, as well as many other green products for a sustainable lifestyle, visit

greenburgersWe’re always really excited when a new business uses recycled and sustainably-sourced materials to build their space.

Greenburger’s is a new restaurant in the Lower Haight, San Francisco, that has used principles of sustainable design in setting up their business.  Neighborhood blog Haighteration has an extensive article with numerous photographs discussing the space, but one thing we’re particularly interested in are the materials Ecohaus (now part of the Green Depot family) provided to Greenburgers to help them build themselves sustainably.

Greenburgers was opened in March by married couple Matthew and Stephanie Nudelman.  The menu features regional dishes unique to particular locales – including Matthew’s hometown of Buffalo, NY – and nearly all the ingredients are from local and eco-friendly vendors.  As their website states, “environmental sustainability … perfectly complement[s] Greenberger’s mouth-watering menu.”

One of the features of Greenburger’s space is its use of recycled and sustainable materials.  Haighteration goes into detail on this, but the Nudelman’s used a pre-existing structure in the building to construct a bench that spans the length of the restaurant.  The countertops are made from recycled glass and porcelain.

And Ecohaus provided part of the floor – Marmoleum planks in a semi-checkerboard design.  We also provided the countertops, Eco by Cosentino, and American Pride low-VOC paints for the interior.

Definitely an innovative space – and menu – with a number of recycled and new green products, upping Greenburger’s sustainability cred.  If you find yourself on the West coast, they absolutely deserve a visit.

For green building materials, like eco insulation, as well as many other green products for a sustainable lifestyle, visit


We were fortunate to be able to interview, via email, the CEOs of Urban Space and ORE Design and Technology Group.  These two organizations are designing and building the Dekalb Market Project, which includes a competition we wrote about earlier in the week, and for which our CEO, Sarah Beatty, is a judge.  Below, they discuss the missions of their organizations, some of the plans for the project, and the deep commitment to sustainability they both have when beginning the design on a new project.  (A special thanks, as well, to Kat Popiel for facilitating this great interview!)

Green Depot (GD): Could you elaborate a bit upon your companies, and their missions and visions?
Eldon Scott (ES): Urban Space was founded in London by Eric Reynolds in the 1970’s and quickly became well  known as creators of Camden Lock Market which became the 3rd busiest attraction in London and a center for music during the  Punk Rock days and an incubator for an earlier generation of entrepreneurial, cultural and environmentally savvy start-ups. Now we are seeing a second renaissance in environmental and social entrepreneurship and we see it as our business to provide infrastructure support in the form of marketplace destinations.

The mission we distilled for Dekalb Market has been carefully considered [around four key concepts:] entrepreneurship, sustainability, community, and quality.  Our goal (and ultimate success) is to find entrepreneurs who have a product which both fits the overall mission of sustainability, is of inherent quality, and is accessible (in terms of price and presentation) to our customers.

Thomas Kosbau (TK): I founded ORE Design and Technology Group in 2009.  The name ORE is partly an homage to my roots in Portland Oregon, but also embodies our approach to finding and synthesizing the raw potential of new technologies and systems found in the natural world into design solutions. Our projects range from bio-reactors to tea sets, from a desalinization system integrated into a skyscraper to a passively cooled Lower East-Side community garden.

ORE’s designs are award winning. In 2010, ORE took first place in IIDA Awards competition out of 4,000 entrants with a proposal to replace Incheon, Korea’s infrastructure of conventional asphalt roads with organically grown sandstone streets. ORE also won first place in RIBA’s International Energy Revolution competition, with a design enabling five residential blocks to be powered by bio-engineered algae panels. Also in development is a bio-mimetic cactus that harvests drinking water from the air in arid environments. ORE continues to seek challenging projects and provide innovative design solutions.

GD: Tell me a little bit about yourselves, your positions and responsibilities within the company, and how you got involved?
ES: I worked on numerous of our London markets and, in the late 80’s was project manager for the then new Spitalfields Market which included the first organic food market in London, an opera house, football pitches, and dozens of restaurants, studios, and small shops. In many ways that experience has formed my approach in Brooklyn.  Around 1994 I set-up the New York office of Urban Space with the launch of the Grand Central Holiday Market which led to other seasonal markets around the City at Union Square, Columbus Circle, and Madison Square…

TK: I’m still a young designer in the field of architecture and industrial design, but in the past 8 years I’ve been able to do all scales of projects from office towers to a jacket/shelter for homeless people made from discarded umbrellas I collected after a heavy New York rain.  I was born and raised in Portland, Oregon and as the son of the founder of the Portland Parks Community Garden Program was exposed to organic urban agriculture from the beginning.   I started my education in chemistry and physics before moving to architecture.  At the University of Stuttgart in Germany I was first exposed to bio-mimicry in architecture at the ILEK institute under Architect/Engineer Werner Sobek.  I’ve taken this model into my private practice, pulling from my roots in science and sustainability as ORE’s Director of Design and Technology.

GD: How did the idea for the container project begin to develop?  Where’d you get the idea?
ES: Urban Space has been building with containers in London since the 90’s with the inception of Container City. Containers were a natural step for us in Brooklyn. We are also working with Lotek and partner Young Woo on a larger container project for Pier 57 in Manhattan [PDF].

TK: Using Containers was all Eldon’s idea – he’s had considerable experience with the medium of modular design with post-industrial processes through UrbanSpace in London.

GD: So would you say that sustainability has been a core focus of the project from the beginning?

ORE's redesign from the 5th street community garden, courtesy of ORE design

TK: Absolutely – The first move, of course, was adapting used and “one-time” shipping containers into our vendor and event spaces.  From the beginning we’ve set out to use as many sustainable/ salvaged building materials as possible, which has been made possible by our collaboration with GD.

ES: Yes, the four criteria [including sustainability] inform all our projects.  Small businesses are the front line of the local movement in production and the cultural reaction against globalization and wasting of resources (much as “Small is Beautiful” was the seminal book during Camden’s heyday in the late 70’s). We utilize the approach of “Smaller, Quicker, Cheaper” to build lightly on the ground with less raw resources. Most of the materials are salvaged including the containers which form the main structure, the tented covering, and wood and steel from Build it Green.  We are trying as far as possible to create a self-sustaining ecosystem with reduce reliance on outside inputs. Electricity is being supplied by Green Mountain Energy from renewable sources and we are working on site-based wind and solar. We are not hooked-up to the City Sewers and all rainwater is sloped to a collection point where is can be used to water plants. The vegetable, chicken and bee farm help us to compost food waste, create soil, and pollinate edible plants which in turn are used by chefs on-site. Most important, the site is economically sustainable. We do not rely on government grants, only on the transactions generated in the marketplace.

GD: There have obviously been great successes with your other projects – do you forsee any new challenges with this one?
ES: No, we don’t envision any major issues.

TK: Honestly, the most challenging part of this project has been determining how to treat temporary buildings that will stay on-site for up to ten years with the building authorities.  We ended up treating our containers as permanent buildings for our permitting, but have designed the project to be movable (complete with a self-contained plumbing system) once our lease has expired.

GD: Could you detail how Urban Spaces and GD are going to be working together?
ES: Yes – we are looking to procure building materials and supplies from Green Depot. [All of our] new materials we are sourcing from Green Depot.

TK: Green Depot is providing us and all of our vendors with a great discount on green building materials.

For green building materials, like eco insulation, as well as many other green products for a sustainable lifestyle, visit