The good news is that you no longer have to imagine: ECO – aka Eco Age – has done it for you. And rather beautifully, it must be said. This green-roofed, stylish store on Chiswick High Street is the brainchild of Rome-born CEO Nicola Giuggoli and part-owned by film-producer sister Livia, her famous actor husband Colin Firth and British financier Ivo Coulson. Two more Italian investors complete the picture. The visitor to ECO is free to examine and read about an array of products, displayed over three floors, that run from the chic, highly designed and pricey to the affordable and everyday. Next to a silver LG washing-machine that cleans with steam instead of water (‘a great example of how a product can be stylish, eco-friendly and affordable’, says Nicola) and all sorts of biodegradable cleaning products lies a vast rug, handmade in 100% wool, that looks like a collection of sand-swept pebbles. Walking across it in heels is a bit t ricky, but it is truly one of the most innovative rugs I have seen in a while (and the Norwegian company behind it has a strong ethical stance too).
Elsewhere there are affordable vases and mirrors from the Philippines and Indonesia, made from recycled newsprint and magazines, that would not look out of place in a designer home; a range of toys; cosmetics; solar-powered energy-saving aids and chargers. The basement is given over to products that will help you do up your home in as ecological a way as possible. Here you will find Graham & Brown papers (the wallpaper is either recycled or sourced from managed forests and who boast a waste-to-energy plant, burning off pollution on-site and using it for energy to run the plant), low-VOC paints and a selection of brochures to read and sample books to flip through.
One of ECO’s main aims is to be as much showroom and consultancy as shop. It hopes to make the roof accessible to the public in future, so that visitors can see the ‘quiet revolution’ wind turbine, solar panels and green roof in operation. During his extensive research, Nicola discovered which energy-saving devices worked best in terms of performance, ‘integratability’ and minimum noise interference and negative visual impact. He found that, for example, the best options for often-listed London properties were transparent solar panels, solar shingles and solar tiles. What all of this means for the visitor is that you can come in and soak up the information. ‘At least half of the people come here just to talk,’ says Nicola. And that’s not a problem. In fact, he believes the one-stop-shop approach to be ECO’s unique selling point. ‘You pay one bill for all the services.’ And the team at ECO are set up to deal both with requests from businesses trying to green up their offices and from individuals wanting to save energy or redo the interior design of a space without harming the planet. Partly they can do this because they are professionals, but also because they have experienced it for themselves while renovating the building from the ground upwards. ECO has been insulated to the hilt and kitted out with rain-harvesting and grey-water filtering systems, as well as being almost completely self-sufficient in terms of energy, thanks to the panels and turbine on the roof. This is a working example of eco-living, and the team have learned as much from their research and prior knowledge as from their successes and mistakes. As Livia points out, ‘I read in the press that we want to educate people’, but that is not true, she is at pains to stress. ‘We are learning too.’
So why come to ECO if you can buy many of these products online? The consultancy services aside, there are many one-off pieces by eco-artists here that you won’t find simply surfing the net. Two startling lights spring to mind, a chandelier and a floor lamp by Gareth Devonald Smith, on sale at vastly lower prices than at recent art auctions of his work. But, Nicola reassures, all items at ECO which are also available online at various websites are being sold for exactly the same price (plus the delivery cost) in the store.
Essentially, shopping here is not costing you more but you are getting the added bonus of a tactile and informed shopping experience and face-to-face interaction.
When I enquire about that very fashionable concept of ‘air miles’, Livia smiles and says they have tried to find ‘a balance’. They always aim to buy in the UK first, then Europe, then from fairtrade suppliers in Asia, in some cases via charities such as Oxfam. If they find something they like that is made in the US, for instance, they will look for a local version. But, as Nicola points out, the air miles or environmental impact clocked up by a product is often far greater during the manufacturing process than during distribution.
As an inveterate but not unaware ethical consumer, a shop like this does make me wonder if we need more stuff. But if we are going to buy stuff, and a lot of it is necessary – to light, heat and clean our homes, to begin with – it should be sourced with care and attention as to its environmental impact both before and after purchase. As both green mayoral candidate Sian Berry and director of Graham & Brown wallpapers Ian Brown said at the store’s opening, it’s a pity there is no national or international standard for what an eco-product actually is. But maybe a store like ECO can help move the debate along. Sian Berry would like to see stores like ECO on every British high street.
Nicola and Ivo confirm that there are plans for further stores in the US, Milan, Barcelona and Germany. More in the UK are in the pipeline too.