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It Ain't Easy Being Green In An Old DC Building

With all the talk about LEED building certification and low footprint construction the discussion can leave out one of the biggest sectors of the construction market—old buildings being adapted to new uses. We found one such storefront—Yola in Dupont—that has found a way to turn a former Ritz Camera store in to a building that doesn't leave too much of a dent. After the break owner and manager Laura Smith gives a rundown on how they do it.

A step-by-step look at how Yola makes green work inside a 1920s DC building:

They used what was already there. For example, when they took down the existing wall they found the brick that was original to the building was in good enough condition to use without having to do much more than clean it up. That leaves the interior with a few industrial touches, such as the exposed pipes that run from the floor to ceiling of each room.

The wood tables and counter veneers are made from environmentally-friendly bamboo.And they source as much of their food items as possible from local places—including the menu staple, yogurt. "During the summer we get our raspberries from local suppliers, but then when we took them off the menu in the winter everybody freaked out," says Laura. "So during the winter months more of the menu comes from further away."

They offset one hundred percent of their electricity usage by either buying windpower credits for other establishments to use or using locally generated solar power from Clean Currents.

They use low-VOC or no-VOC paint and finishes throughout the store. VOC stands for Volatile Organic Compounds that usually come in paint or varnish and are responsible for the chemical smell.

Almost all of their disposable products are compostable (which, Laura informed us, is different from biodegradable. Compostable products have to turn into carbon dioxide, biomass, and water at the same rate as paper in less than 180 days. Biodegradable products, on the other hand, have to be able to turn into simple compounds, but they can still leave a toxic residue).

Here's a close up of the the discard pile in the basement. The blue bins on the right are for recycling and the four small bins are all for compost and are picked up twice a week. The bins on the left are destined for the landfill, but the store doesn't usually fill both before each weekly pick up. "It's kind of exciting at the end of the day to only have one tiny bag of trash," says Laura.

· Yola [OfficialSite]
· Clean Currents [OfficialSite]

All photos by R.Lopez