Eco-builders launch online store, raise visibility of message

TRAVERSE CITY – According to the Environmental Protection Agency, building-related illnesses account for about $60 billion of annual productivity lost nationwide. This can include anything from carbon monoxide poisoning to asthma. In an effort to create a healthier building atmosphere and protect the environment, many people are looking to companies to help them "build green." Green buildings are made of materials that use fewer natural resources to run, create fewer by-products, and are generally more environmentally friendly.

One of those green companies is Eco-Building Products in Traverse City. The business, located on Barney Road, is a supplier of

"environmentally safe" building supplies.

"We sell products that promote in-door air quality, improve energy and water efficiency, and reduce the ecological footprint globally," says General Manager Jim Barnes. Some of these products include: wind turbines, natural linoleum, dual-flush toilets, and non-toxic paints.

Barnes and his brother-in-law, Larry Kinney, opened the business in 2006 and recently launched an online store with customers from New York to Florida. Barnes says that since offering their items online, sales have increased up to 40 percent each month.

While they both have a desire to protect the environment and build green buildings, they have very different professional backgrounds.

Along with living an active, healthy life style, Barnes has a passion for organic food. In 1990 he opened Northern Delights, which specialized in local and organic foods. A year later, The Northern Michigan Environmental Action Council recognized him as "Environmentalist of the Year" for his efforts. In 1999 Barnes opened The Roadhouse, a Mexican Bar and Grill in Benzie County. He sold it three years later and started Crystal Lake Catering Company, which he still runs on a seasonal basis.

Kinney's passion is building homes. Not only is he co-owner of Eco-Building Products, he is also the owner of Harmony Home Construction which specializes in earth-friendly homes from natural building materials.

"As a company, I want to give back to the earth instead of always taking from it," says Kinney. He adds that he moved to Traverse City because of the environment and water, and feels a responsibility to help protect both.

Barnes and Kinney agree that protecting the environment isn't the only reason for building green. They say the health benefits of using their natural products are substantial.

The EPA notes that Americans spend up to 90 percent of their days indoors and ranks indoor air pollution among the top five environmental risks. Paints and finishes are some of the leading causes; they are made up of a variety of volatile organic compounds (VOC) that release low levels of toxic emissions into the air.

According to the advocacy group, these toxic compounds cause about 3,000 cases of cancer each year in the United States. Because of new environmental regulations and consumer demand, companies like Eco-Building Products have begun selling low-VOC and zero-VOC paints and finishes.

Kinney says he not only wants to protect the new homeowner, but also his employees when working with the chemicals.

Many consumers and builders may shy away from green products because of the perception that it is expensive to build green. Barnes and Kinney say this is not always the case. They say initially the price may be a bit more expensive, but in the long run homeowners will save money with products like a solar collector that generates electrical and thermal energy.

"You can pay now, or pay more in the future," says Barnes.

Barnes and Kinney hope that through Eco-Building Products they can convince other builders to build green. However, one Traverse City builder doesn't need convincing. Jim Anderson, of Anderson Builders, has been building green homes since the 1970s.

"I'm not out there to save the world, but it just makes sense from a health stance," says Anderson.

The veteran builder says Eco-Building Products is great for Traverse City builders because an important concept of building green is using local supplies or products within a 500-mile radius to help the local economy and cut down on travel.

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