Though a relatively new fixture in the city, Tellus360 is becoming one of Lancaster’s sustainability leaders. The business’ efforts include reclaiming lumber, selling merchandise of eco-friendly, recycled and upcycled materials, supporting fair trade in developing countries, and making food from fresh and local ingredients. To top it all off, the three-and-a-half-story downtown building is also home to one of the city’s green roofs.
Welcome to Tellus360!
It was an unusually mild and sunny autumn morning in Lancaster when I met up with the store’s director of communications, Mike McMonagle, to learn more about Tellus’ mission, beginnings, & current sustainability efforts. Since it’s conception in 2010, Tellus360 has had one thing central to its mission: the earth (“Store 24 East King,” n.d.). In fact, the first part of the business’ name, Tellus, is Latin for earth. The 360 part, Mike puts it, refers to “coming full-circle the way a recycled material—for example the reclaimed wood we use to make our brand of furniture, housewares, etc.—does in the process of becoming useful again” (M. McMonagle, personal communication, November 4, 2013).
Making something useful again—recycling—has been the core of Tellus’ efforts since the beginning.
Reclaimed Wood: The Foundation
Reclaiming lumber and wood product is the foundation of Tellus' work. Owner Joe Devoy, a native of Ireland, was originally inspired while he was living in Baltimore. He noticed a local construction company was throwing out excess and unwanted material, most of which was still usable. Devoy believed these materials could still be used, and even more, still had stories to tell. In fact, he believes everything has a story to share and continue. In the case of the new wood creations made by Tellus' Myerstown-based woodshop crew, the story is continued under a new form. Gutted old buildings become tables, wine racks, lamps, even guitars and experimental pieces. McMonagle jokingly referred to the store's collection of repurposed wooden items as an "eco-friendly Pier One."
Tellus360’s warehouse is full of lumber waiting to be repurposed. The wood doesn’t come from just Lancaster County; today acquisitions continue to come from construction sites in the Baltimore area and even beyond, such as an old apartment building in Manhattan or a retired aqueduct in Philadelphia (Whitlatch, 2013). These new creations don’t just stay in-store either. Tellus has recently made staircases and other store furnishings for places like Whole Foods and Staples as far away as New York and Connecticut, which Tellus sees as a huge compliment to their work.
Much of the store is decorated with these reclaimed pieces as well, allowing some of the old lumber to share in the relatively recent Tellus360 story. In the pub and Farmette cafe sections of the building, tables are made of reclaimed wood, each paired with a few of a large variety of charmingly mismatched vintage dining chairs. The bar itself contains remnants of an old Irish pub, where the local workers would gather for a few ales after long hours of work, with the rest comprised of pieces made by Tellus’ woodshop team. On the wall just beyond the pub are decorative window frames that sleepless Manhattanites would gaze out, perhaps seeking inspiration from the New York City lights. The staircase leading to the mezzanine and Tellus’ Farmette cafe is also made completely of renewed wood.
The process of reclaiming the wood is done completely by the crew in Myerstown. Though each individual process differs due to the varying conditions of the lumber, most pieces go through the kiln to dry out the wood of any moisture, along with additional treatment as needed. According to This Old House, the pieces also have to scrubbed down and checked for any lingering nails or screws, usually done with a metal detector.
So why buy furniture made of reclaimed wood as opposed to new wood or imitation chip board? Not only is it more environmentally-friendly, keeping old wood out of dumpsters and new wood from being harvested and giving new life to an old story, per se, reclaimed wood also offers something unique; each piece is a one-of-a-kind character and condition, rings and knots and color (Cuneo, n.d.). Lastly, according to This Old House, due to regulations banning the harvest of many species, most old-growth wood is no longer available.
Walking through the pub and up a small set of steps leads you to Tellus360’s store, home to an array of sustainable merchandise, all either recycled, upcycled, or fair trade.
Recycled and Upcycled Merchandise
Along with the reclaimed wooden furniture, the store also features a large selection of recycled and upcycled merchandise, from home decor to clothing to pet accessories. This merchandise may be made in-house, made by a local artist, or come from a sustainable supplier, and are all checked to ensure recycled traits, meaning it is made with either recycled or upcycled found materials, discarded materials reused and given a higher quality, or made from a new sustainable material such as cork and other plant-based, biodegradable materials (“Upcycle,” 2013, n.d., “Home page,” n.d., Vlahov, 2013).
A couple of examples of artist-made merchandise include wood carvings made of found wood and jewelry made from antique spoons. One of the sustainable suppliers Tellus works with sends items crafted from bomb shards still being found in the Vietnam’s Laos countryside today.
Not only hoping to sustain the earth and its resources, Tellus360 also sells merchandise from fair trade initiatives the help sustain and fund lives in third world countries. Currently, Tellus’ major fair trade vendor is Saprinu, an organization that focuses on helping villages in Nepal, which have notoriously faced child trafficking and labor problems.
One hundred percent of the proceeds from Saprinu merchandise goes to the organization to raise money for schools in Nepal. With these funds, Saprinu is able to aid in a higher quality education for the children of Nepal by facilitating teacher training, providing school supplies, and supporting extracurriculars ("Our story," n.d.). The partnership has also given some of Tellus360's employees the opportunity to volunteer in Nepal and learn firsthand what the brand is supporting.
Other fair trade-certified partnerships include PrAna, a brand specializing in climbing and yoga wear made of sustainable materials (“Our story, n.d., “Sustainability,” n.d.), and Mata Traders, a handmade clothing brand seeking to educate, employ, and empower the women of India (“About us,” n.d.).
Tellus' Farmette cafe is the newest addition to the growing business and is focused on serving all-fresh dishes, featuring sandwiches, soups, and salads, that promote local sustainability. All the food is made from fresh, local, Lancaster County ingredients with bread coming from just around the corner at Ric's Bread and meats, cheeses, and spreads coming from local farms. The Farmette is partnered with nearly a dozen farms and picks the food up directly from them. The coffee served at the Farmette is brewed locally from Gerhart Coffee with fair trade coffee beans, which supports farmers in developing countries around the globe and provides sustainable employment. Other unique offerings at the Farmette include organic sodas and biscotti (available in regular and gluten-free) from Lititz-based bakery Laurel's.
The Farmette’s menu is always changing due to what’s available and in-season, providing the “true, seasonal taste of Lancaster.” The menu usually changes once a week, so keep an eye open. The menus themselves are printed on reused paper; while reading the menu on one side, you may find old advertisements or print-outs on the other.
By the door, there is not one, not two, but three separate waste receptacles. Tellus360 takes care in making sure all of its waste is properly disposed of. While recyclables and other trash are taken care of by the city, Tellus takes care of its own food waste, disposing of it in a composter on the roof to be used as soil for the green roof’s plant life.
Atop the 3 ½-story downtown building is one of several of the city's green roofs. Other locations include Groff's Funeral Home, Franklin and Marshall College, and the city's Waste Water Treatment Plant. The green roof was developed with the help of the Live Green Urban Greening program at the Lancaster County Conservancy and the program's director Fritz Schroeder in 2010 and just completed its third summer.
The roof is not 100% vegetative, rather about half vegetation and half stone walkways. Currently the roof is not growing consumable produce, mostly grasses and small sedums, but this past summer a small mound garden was attempted and grew basil. Perhaps one day we will see the Farmette serving food grown right above the ceiling.
The main benefit of the green roof is really to control stormwater run-off, absorbing rain water and keeping it out of sewage plants. Lancaster County sits in a water shed, and our sewage plants have a huge impact on the Chesapeake Bay. McMonagle explained the roof keeps about 70-80% of the rainfall off the streets and slows the rest by about 70%. Another benefit includes insulation, not only lowering energy costs for the building but decreasing the overall higher temperatures found in the city as compared to the countryside, known as the heat island effect (“Green Roof,” n.d.). Green roofs also extend roof life, improve air quality, bring a more natural aesthetic and green look to a city mostly marked by historic, red brick buildings (“Green Roof,” n.d.).
McMonagle stated that Lancaster is slowly standing out as a leader in green infrastructure. The city is moving from a gray infrastructure, that is, one that manages city water using an underground cement-and-piping infrastructure, to green, one that utilizes or mimics natural water management processes, and Tellus hopes to stand out as an example of sustainability for other cities and city businesses ("Developing Central New York's," n.d.).
See more of Tellus360's green roof above in the multimedia section!
Today Tellus360 is not only passionate about the earth, but they are passionate about the Lancaster community as well. Tellus360 became what it is today and continues to grow thanks to customer feedback and a snowball effect of ideas from throughout the community. Apart from its sustainable aspects, the multi-faceted business provides the community with plenty of culture including live table-top sessions (concerts held in the cafe and bar) and the humorously-named “Cities Smallest Art Gallery” (it’s in their elevator). Who would’ve guessed that Mr. Devoy’s cause for reclaiming lumber would one day become a multi-faceted downtown Lancaster business, steeped in sustainability and community?
Information not explicitly cited was gathered during a personal interview with Mr. Michael McMonagle on October 18, 2013.
All photos were taken by the author, Adriana Roth, with the permission of Tellus360.