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The Terra20 Store: My Personal Assistant for Avoiding Greenwashing

On Friday night, I watched a very interesting episode of CBC’s Marketplace. In this season premiere, the show examined products that purported to be “green.” You know the kind … you see them everywhere nowadays — the label includes something green or has been re-branded with a beige colour and includes words such as “natural,” “non-toxic,” and “biodegradable.” I’m sure I’ve been duped countless times by these products because I want to do my part to help the planet, but I don’t have a doctorate degree in chemistry. Trying to decipher the labels is enough to make me want to pull my hair out!

Needless to say, this episode of Marketplace was an eye-opener for me. While I knew greenwashing existed, I hadn’t realized to what extent and how. The eco-expert on the show was a Canadian woman by the name of Adria Vasil, who’s authored the books Ecoholic, Ecoholic Home, and most recently Ecoholic Body.

Now, I noted that the episode was an eye-opener. But did it help me to know what brands to buy instead? Could I easily go into the grocery store and avoid such products in the future? Well, not really. Without being exceptionally informed, I think most of us can easily be pulled-in by environmentally friendly claims that don’t have any substance behind them.

Enter the new Ottawa store Terra20. A self-claimed “one stop eco-store,” the grand opening took place yesterday.

Stella, Max, and I headed off to check it out while Hubby was helping a friend with a deck. Shortly after walking into Terra20, I run right into a table where none other than Adria Vasil is sitting and signing her new book! (Yes, she is very, very pretty and very, very thin. I still liked her a lot ;))

@ecoholicnation and @coffeewithjulie

After she kindly signed her book for me, we continued to browse about the store to see what was on offer. There were books, baby and toddler clothing, toys, linens, kitchen wares, outdoor and indoor lighting, cosmetics and other body products, stationery …. yep, there was a bit of everything!

Here are a few of the products that we particularly loved:

Roadtrip kits from Terra20

All in all, there were countless collections of products that I would certainly consider reasonably priced and practical to use. But best of all, Terra20 has pre-screened everything for me so I don’t have to worry about reading every label and and trying to remember the names of all the potentially cancer-causing chemicals that I don’t want in my house or on my face! It’s like Terra 20 is my personal assistant for avoiding greenwashing! I like this. I like it a lot.

To have a store like this is our city is a real gift. I really hope the concept will work and take off. But I do have some tiny inklings of doubt. Why? Because since the store is trying to provide it all, there is not always a full selection in any category. This doesn’t necessarily mean it won’t work, but it makes me wonder for myself if I would drive out to the west end knowing I couldn’t get everything I wanted in one shot. This isn’t true in all categories, mind you. The cosmetics and body products, for example, are a complete and very comprehensive range. If I needed makeup, I could be sure that I could get everything I needed at this one store. But clothing? I dunno. Kitchen wares? I dunno on that front either. Linen? Ditto. Toys? Not so sure either. There is a good sampling of these categories, that’s for sure. So I could be wrong — eco-shoppers may be willing to take their chances and pop into Terra20 first before looking elsewhere.

What I think might be the saving grace here though is the Ecobar. The Ecobar is a unique and ingenious concept.

The Ecobar at Terra20

The Ecobar is largest refill station for household cleaning products in all of North America! Here’s how it works: I buy, for example, a 1-liter bottle of floor cleaner for $4, then when my bottle is empty, I come back to the Terra20 Ecobar and I get $0.75 back. I don’t know about you, but to me, that sounds so cost-effective! In addition to the assurance that the product I’m buying is free from dangerous chemicals, I also like the fact that the product arrives to Terra20 as a concentrate and mixed on-site, which reduces the shipping footprint.

But back to what I first said about the Ecobar as a saving grace … if folks like me buy into this concept, it means that I will be coming into the store regularly to refill my bottles. Bingo! Because you know each time I come to the store, I’m going to want to browse the rest of the products. This, my friends, might be the key to Terra20’s long-term success.

I, for one, will definitely be back to support this local store.

What do you think of this eco-store concept? And perhaps most importantly, would you bring your wallet?

P.S. Yesterday at the grand opening of Terra20, I bought the book Vasil’s Ecoholic Body (it’s a great reference and I’m definitely making changes to my makeup routine!) and Stella bought a journal that was made from elephant dung by a company called PooPooPaper (yes, it was popular with all the kids in the store!).


  1. awesome!! and practically next door for me! :) thank you!

  2. NicoleShadbolt says:

    My ‘green’ habits include supporting local small businesses – many of whom have provided options for sustainable, environmentally conscious products for a long time.  Terra20 is owned by a big businessman in Ottawa and rather than being a way to avoid greenwashing, it screams ‘greenwashing’ to me.  I don’t plan to visit.

    • coffeewithjulie says:

       @NicoleShadbolt I agree that it would be sad if a larger store like Terra20 would put smaller stores out of business (like Chapters vis a vis independent bookstores) and I could see how that might be a concern. But I think Terra20 is likely geared towards a more “mainstream” market — pulling in customers from the stores right beside it (Chapters, Ikea, Michaels, Sears). In doing so, it’s attracting a different customer base than those who already frequent their local eco-friendly stores. 
      But with regards to it being owned by a “big businessman” … how does that make it “greenwashing”? The products are all carefully screened and therefore “green,” right?

    •  @NicoleShadbolt From what I’ve seen Terra20 supports local businesses where they can too. Like Purple Urchin ( for example. And I’m not sure why people are fixated on the fact that it’s co-owned by a business person. Who else can find the money to take this kind of risk? 

      •  @andrea from the fishbowl @coffeewithjulie and I bought purple urchin product without even realizing they were local. Maybe signage indicating local companies would be good to add. I enjoyed my visit. I know I will be back. From what I could see prices were good and selection was out of this world. Such a huge store. And Julie, I specifically noticed that boombox bag as well. I tried to justify buying it just cause I though it was so cool. :)

        • coffeewithjulie says:

           @chantal_mc  That is a great idea re noting the local suppliers. I noticed Chapters has a section for local authors now and I always look at it. As for that boombox bag, I will help you justify yours if you help me justify mine! :)

  3. Hi Nicole, I believe you’re from my hometown; we have some friends in common.   I’ve worked closely with Bill and Steve for nearly six months (I’m terra20’s community manager) and I know that they’re both committed to the cause, and have had their lives and point of view changed by the things they’ve learned since this project got underway several years ago. Yes, they have both experienced business success, it’s that very success that has allowed us to launch this store.   
    We’re very happy if people continue to patronize the smaller businesses where they’ve shopped for years; maybe they’ll also check terra20 out and find some things that aren’t readily available elsewhere.  What we want most though is for people who aren’t already buying better, more environmentally-conscious products to begin doing  so, and creating an environment in which they feel comfortable doing that is going to go a long way towards achieving that goal.  I think that’s a good thing (as someone who has practiced and preached environmentalism and sustainability for many many years).  

    • coffeewithjulie says:

      hi Pamela, @chantal_mc had a good suggestion re local suppliers that you might want to bring to your colleagues. (Also: a search button on your website would make me happy too while you’re at it!) :)

      •  @coffeewithjulie  @chantal_mc The search button will come in tandem with launching our online store- within the next couple of months.  I like the idea of identifying local vendors. I think it’s something we’ll probably implement, but it may take some time since we’re still trying to get a whole whack of other stuff finished and implemented!

        • coffeewithjulie says:

           @chantal_mc @pamela – Sorry it has taken so long for Pamela’s comment to show up. I just found it now in a spam folder that I didn’t know even existed! 

  4. coffeewithjulie says:

    @KarenQuips thanks for that share, Karen!

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