Bettina Limaco created Green11: The Refill Place in 2010 to provide an alternative to single-use plastic containers. She plans to open a new store in a shipping container at 3017 Sacramento, north of Tyler Street, along with a distribution center in a second container. Customers will be able to bring their own containers into the shop to refill them with a range of environmentally and health conscious products, from shampoo and dish soap to laundry detergent. Limaco, 41, already has two outposts in San Francisco, where she lives.
Limaco and her husband, Marco Pietschmann, and their 3-year-old son, plan to move to Berkeley when they open the new branch. They intend to live in a house on the same lot, and Limaco plans to rent out space in “Green11 Village” to perhaps five small food businesses or retailers. A publicly accessible roof deck is planned on the second story. She aims to keep it local, she said, with independent businesses as tenants rather than corporate chains.
Limaco, who grew up in the Bay Area and the Philippines, came out of the corporate world to launch Green11. Previously, she said, she worked in finance for Gillette, in Boston, and later Clorox, in Oakland. Those experiences gave her an awareness of the economics of the industry.
Just 10% of the cost for products such as cleaning liquids and personal care items represents the price of the product, she said; the rest of the cost for companies comes from packaging and shipping. There had to be a better way to cut down on the waste, she thought, and offer a more sustainable approach.
“If you think about the way you purchase laundry and cleaning supplies, you go into CVS or Walgreens, pick out a dish soap, use it for a month, then run out, go in and and buy it again,” she said. “It’s sort of like a really silly way to use plastic. We’re not an anti-plastic company. We’re against the single use of it.”
Limaco buys 55-gallon drums of products, which her staff members then use to refill bottles and other containers customers bring in. Her existing businesses are in traditional storefronts. With the Berkeley location, she wanted to try something different.
And using shipping containers was an approach that made sense.
Said architect Bridgett Shank, of Oakland-based Timbre Architecture, which is working on the plans, “A lot of people are trying to use shipping containers for buildings right now. They’re reusing an existing type of thing that’s being manufactured, which has a lot of structural integrity and efficiency.”
“It’s a great metaphor for her business,” Shank continued, of Limaco’s Green11. “She’s about refilling and reducing containers. Now she’ll have this big container that can be reused in the service of this building.”
Why shipping containers
The shipping container architectural movement dates back decades, but has been on the rise in recent years because of the structure’s “inherent strength, wide availability and relatively low expense.” They’ve been used as clothing shops in San Francisco, including the Puma outlet in the America’s Cup campus, and a pop-up village in Hayes Valley called Proxy, selling coffee, ice cream and beer.
Limaco said she first got in touch with city of Berkeley staff in 2010 about renting out a parking space on Fourth Street, across from Peet’s Coffee, with the idea of setting up a shipping container for retail.
“I got a really funny reaction,” she said. “They looked at me like, ‘What is she talking about?'”
Her parking spot idea didn’t comply with existing city codes, she said, but she didn’t let that stop her from continuing to look for a space that would work. As a new mother, she said, she and her husband were looking for a place to settle down away from the city. When they found the lot at Sacramento and Tyler, which was largely zoned commercial but also had a house, it seemed like just the right fit.
Limaco first considered having two containers in her backyard, just for Green11, but then started considering the possibilities: What about a coffee shop? A ramen shop? What about a deck for neighbors to hang out?
“It was just one idea on top of another on top of another,” she said. “And it became this shipping container village concept.”
The neighborhood made sense to her as the headquarters for Green11 because of numerous businesses focused on sustainability that were already in the area, from Urban Ore and Biofuel Oasis to Recycle Bicycle, which was still operating at that time.
“I saw that there was sort of an opportunity there for a commercial project like this,” Limaco said. “Because there wasn’t even a coffee shop there when we first started the project.”
(View NOSH: Lorin District Restaurant Guide in a larger map.)
Green11 would add to that, and “help build momentum around street life,” said Shank, the architect.
To that end, Limaco plans to apply for a permit from the city to set up a parklet in front of Green11 to create more community space for visitors. (The city is in the midst of a pilot program to explore parklets as creative public pedestrian spaces in Berkeley.)
Green11 would be the first publicly accessible structure made from shipping containers in Berkeley, added Shank.
Limaco said she hopes to get moving soon with city planning and building approvals, with construction taking place in the spring, and an opening, ideally, next summer. A city hearing about her building permit is scheduled for December. She’s looking for businesses that might want to be part of the project; interested parties can email her to learn more.
Limaco said she believes Green11 will help South Berkeley become a destination that draws visitors from a wider area to appreciate the neighborhood, and create more public space for residents, school children and fellow business owners to come together. Neighbors she met with in June about the project expressed excitement, she said, particularly if she sticks with small local entrepreneurs rather than chain stores for her tenants.
“The area is just totally underserved,” she said. “But I think it can be a well-patronized area, assuming everything goes well. Businesses will support each other by bringing traffic, so it becomes a destination place.”
Learn more about Green11 on the company website. The business is currently in the running — through Nov. 15 — for a grant from Chase Bank, but needs 250 votes for consideration. Learn more about the grant; vote here. Connect with Green11 on Facebook.
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