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The Uncommon Life

The Uncommon Life

B Corp Status Renewed: The Mission to be a Responsible and Sustainable Business

August 8, 2012


When you think UncommonGoods you probably think unique, creatively designed and, well, uncommon products. Perhaps UncommonGoods is even your go-to place for gifts for those hard-to-buy-for family and friends and maybe even the place to gift yourself (don’t we all do that occasionally).

What you may not know is that UncommonGoods is voluntarily meeting higher standards of social and environmental performance through the B Corporation certification. The B Impact Assessment, conducted by the non-profit organization B Lab, aims to look beyond the marketing efforts of a company to assess the true impact of a business on their workers, community, and the environment.

Earlier this year, I led the effort to recertify UncommonGoods as a B Corporation, working with cross-departmental team members to assess how we’re doing. A founding member of B Corp, we’ve now reached our third term and our score of 91.3 shows that we are committed to upholding a higher standard when it comes to our stakeholders, including the environment, our employees, and the community.

(source, B Corp)

Our founder David Bolotsky has been making a continuous and strong effort in running a sustainable business ever since the company was founded in 1999. We are passionate about changing the way business is conducted by making sustainability a part of every decision we make. An important focus is to have a positive impact, not only in our own work place but in the world at large. For example, some benefits available to employees are that 80% of health insurance premiums are paid by UG (50% for families), whenever feasible alternate work schedules like part-time, flex-time or telecommuting are an option, there is a health and wellness program in place, including offering fresh organic fruit in the break rooms and incentives are given to encourage low-impact commutes to and from work.

Dave speaking to fellow NY B Corps.

A positive impact also means offering our customers creative and exciting merchandise that is built to last and made without harm to humans and animals; giving talented artists and designers a platform to sell their unique and often handmade product on a larger scale; making truthful and substantiated claims around all our products and avoiding the pitfalls of green-washing; and making smart packaging decisions when we ship the goods out to our customers and their friends and families.

(source, B Corp)

While not always an option in every product category, we prefer to work with local, sustainable, and fair trade suppliers. As a matter of fact, 14% of sales last year was generated with local and independent suppliers alone, ‘local’ meaning suppliers within a 200 mile radius. About half of our sales came from items made in the US, a little over a third from handmade products and about a fifth from products made of recycled content.

Being an internet and catalog retailer, we understand that producing a catalog uses the earth’s resources. Our goal is to minimize that impact by shifting more business online, limiting how many catalogs we mail, and continuing to print our catalogs on either recycled paper or paper sourced from FSC certified forests.

We love to give back to the environment and the community whenever we can. In 2011, we helped plant hundreds of trees (1,400 to be exact!) in Marine Bay Park as part of the MillionTreesNYC initiative. After over a year of tenacious persuasion tactics we also convinced city officials to make the landscape more appealing by planting street trees around Brooklyn Army Terminal (our offices) and we are volunteering our time and resources to help keep them in good health. I’m happy to report that so far they look quite happy!

Planting with MillionTreesNYC

Beautifying tree beds in and around Brooklyn Army Terminal.

Through the Better To Give program, UncommonGoods supports the mission of local and national non-profits. The Better To Give program gives our customers the opportunity to have UncommonGoods contribute to a non-profit organization each time they shop with us. Also, a portion of the sales of our Plates with Purpose, the Be The Change Paperweight and the Pelican and Sandpiper Nightlights is donated to non-profit partners – each item listing tells our customers exactly how much is donated and which organization it’s donated to. Last year we donated about $120K through our Better To Give program as well as $75K in product donations!

Our products that are making a difference.

On an ongoing basis, employees from all areas of our company are given the opportunity to discuss how we can make UncommonGoods more environmentally friendly, socially responsible and an ever-more rewarding place to work. Our four company goals serve as our guiding principles to be a responsible company; these goals are to be a great place to work, to be our customer’s favorite place to shop, to have a positive impact on the outside world, and to produce strong financial results.

Some members of the Certified B Corp community in front of Independence Hall in Philly. (source, B Corp)

The great thing about the B Corp seal is that it certifies the company as a whole, not just an individual aspect. It gives a customer insight on how a company is doing overall, from providing a living wage, to employee wellness, to lessening the environmental impact, to giving back to the community.

Fellow B Corp BBMG conducted a study on why B Corps matter and found that 73% of consumers care about the company, not just the product, when making a purchasing decision. Another interesting finding is that less than 1% of consumers actually trust company advertisements or statements when assessing a product or company. The more consumers know about the concept behind the B Corp certification/Benefit Corporation, the more consumer-spending will be influenced by this knowledge.

Check out this infographic to learn more about B Corps.(source, GOOD)

The bi-annual assessment and re-certification process is an excellent way to share our achievements with our customers and team members. More important, it helps us to set benchmarks for the social and environmental impacts of UncommonGoods and identify opportunities for future improvement.

We strive to be a driver of positive change and are convinced that collaborating with fellow B Corps and other industry leaders will have a positive impact. The certified B Corp community is made up of over 550 companies from 60 different industries and represents about $3.1 billion in revenues. It’s a large community of value-driven companies wanting to make a positive impact that are open to sharing advice and insights.

The holy grail of 100% sustainability is no small task to achieve – after all, the most sustainable product is the one that was never made – but we are very dedicated to making responsible, thought-through and well-informed decisions in everyday operations and to leading our business with integrity.

The Uncommon Life

Vote on Designs to Take Home the Prize!

August 6, 2012

Since we launched our community voting app we’ve heard some great feedback from voters like you. Some exciting new designs have entered our assortment with the help of all of those thumbs up, so we’re thanking our community with the chance to win the latest batch of up-for-voting goods.

Vote and Comment to Enter:

1. We’re giving away each of the items up for voting this week. Every vote gets you an entry, so vote on each product under consideration for more opportunities to win.

2. Share your votes on Twitter or tag us in a comment on Facebook along with a link to our voting page for another entry.

3. Leave an insightful, constructive comment telling us what you love about the product or how you think it could be improved. Again, you can comment on each product under consideration, giving you even more chances to win.

Two Ways to Win

Win with a vote…
One winner will be chosen from the voters of each product from this week’s new up-for-voting selection. We do encourage honesty, so a thumbs down vote could still win. In that case the voter will receive a gift certificate in the amount of the value of that product. If one of the products doesn’t make the cut, the winning voter will receive a gift certificate in the amount of the value of that product, so they can choose something else they’ll love.

Win with a comment…
The best comment left over the course of the week, as selected by our buyers, will win a $50 gift certificate. Tip: We want to know what makes a product an uncommon good. Tell us what you love about the design or how we could make it better. Share how you would use the design in your life, or let us know whether or not it would make a great gift for someone special. Our buyers take every comment into consideration, so make yours count!

Visit our community voting app to get started!

*This contest is open to those in the 50 US states and the District of Columbia, as we do not offer international shipping at this time. Voting/commenting to enter ends 8/15.

The Uncommon Life

Baby Shower Decor: DIY Tassel Garlands

July 30, 2012

Paper tassels garlands are so popular now. And rightly so – they add the perfect pop of color and whimsy to any room or party space. And they’re fairly easy to make… with a small team of crafty friends you can get through a couple yards of garland. Last week I embarked on making over one hundred paper tassels for a friend’s shower and thought it would be the perfect decor DIY to share during Baby Week!

Here are the steps I took to make my paper tassel garland:

Lay the tissue paper on a flat surface so one of the shorter sides of the rectangle is facing you. Fold the tissue paper in half lengthwise. Turn the tissue paper so the long, open edge is facing you and the folded side is on top. Fold in half twice widthwise.

Cut thin strips from the bottom, open edge to the folded edge, leaving a one inch space. I used a rotary cutter for speed but plain craft scissors will do.

Open up the paper and lay it out with the fringe out to the left and right. Comb all fringe so the paper lays flat.

Roll the paper up from one end to the other.

Now your tissue paper should look like a pom-pom or Red Fraggle’s hair. Make sure your fringe is combed while you are rolling. Once the entire piece has been rolled up the delicate fringe can break if you try to comb it.

Twist the center of the pom-pom.

As you twist, fold the pom-pom in half creating a small loop. Use glue or a clear twist-tie to secure your tassel on string or twine.

Marvel at your perfect tassel, but not for too long. Get back to work! One tassel does not a garland make!

Have you made a paper tassel garland? Tweet photos of your tissue paper masterpiece at @UncommonGoods.

The Uncommon Life

DIY Project to Welcome Baby by Rubyellen of My Cakies

July 30, 2012
baby artbaby artbaby artbaby artbaby artbaby artbaby artbaby art
Collaborative family projects are the best. We first did a family art piece (see here) before Soul was born and now we finally got around to creating one for Glow. I asked the girls what colors come to mind when they think of their baby sister and those are the colors we used. All of us took turns painting on it and we went back a few times to let layers dry before adding more. It’s a sweet pop of color perfect for a baby room! 

We loved Rubyellen’s idea of coming together before a new baby is born and creating a piece that is unique and memorable from the entire family. It not only can serve as a personalized piece of art but a special keepsake for the rest of their life! Visit Rubyellen’s blog, My Cakies, to learn more about her incredible family and check out her hand-picked collection of UncommonGoods baby gifts.

The Uncommon Life

Oh Baby! A Week of Baby Gifts and DIYs!

July 30, 2012

It’s a Boy! It’s a Girl! It’s Baby Week here at UncommonGoods. We are celebrating everything related to the little bundle of joy — from baby shower DIYs to gifts for babies.

Visit the hand-picked collections of UncommonGoods baby gifts from our featured bloggers like:

Justina Blakeney

Design For Minikind

Cakies

Oh Dear Drea

Browse through our Oh Baby Pinterest board dedicated to the pitter-patter of little feet and all things baby.

Don’t miss the blog this week! We have DIYs for baby showers, baby gift ideas, Justina Blakeney’s favorite baby Pinterest boards, and more.

Sweeten Up A Baby Shower

Raising Your Kids Green

Top Baby Gifts From Our Buyer

Baby Carrier Gift Lab

A DIY Project to Welcome the Newest Addition to Your Family by Rubyellen of My Cakies

Justina’s Favorite Baby Pinterest Boards

DIY Baby Shower Decor: Paper Tassel Garlands
 

 

The Uncommon Life

How To Sweeten Up Any Baby Shower by Kenda of Remaking June Cleaver

July 30, 2012

Well hello there! I’m Kenda, author of Remaking June Cleaver and I don’t know about you, but I’ve been to a lot of baby showers this year! I love all of the adorable decorations and excitement. Mommy’s-To-Be are getting very creative with their party planning – even with the food they serve. I’d like to share with you two unique (and sweet) ideas I’ve seen.

Animal Cracker Fun Dip
I think it’s so cute when even the shower food reminds you of times with your little ones. What better symbol of fun snack times than animal crackers. Using a tasting platter, serve the cookies with several fun ‘dips’ for your guests. Start with whipped cream and then add sprinkles, crushed peanuts or crushed peppermint. Guests can create their own flavor combinations. An animal cracker has never tasted so good!

Ice Cream Sandwich Platter
Having a summer baby shower means you may need a way for your guests to cool off. Pass on the usual sorbet punch and serve up homemade ice cream sandwiches instead. One great tool for serving is a sushi platter – it can be chilled in the freezer beforehand so that your sandwiches don’t melt as quickly and it gives you a perfect spot to pile on the whipped cream for endless dipping. You can add sprinkles, colored sugar and more to make your ice cream sandwiches something to write home about!

The Uncommon Life

Our Backyard Party Pinterest Contest Winner!

July 6, 2012

We’re sure this week saw plenty of backyard parties, thanks to July 4th! While our social media team isn’t taking an extra-long holiday weekend like many lucky folks out there, we are seriously celebrating BBQs, beaches, and backyard parties and we’re pleased to announce the winner of our first ever Backyard Party Pinterest Contest!

But first, we’d like to share a few of the boards that caught our eyes.

Adrienne’s board leaves us longing for the good old days. Her film strips, snapshots hung with clothespins, and family photos in Mason jars help us remember what summer’s all about–making memories with those you love.

Alyssa’s board also had some great examples of nostalgia, but her food selections are what really stand out. Baked s’mores, blackberry frozen yogurt, and an assortment of summer salads–yum!

Dustie’s boho board steers clear of sugary sweets, and features a variety of summer fruits instead. We love how the colorful fruit fits right in with the playful theme. On one pin Dustie commented, ” In a past life I was a GYPSY!”

Zillie Zallie’s red, white, and blue Independence Day party is another great example of a board with a solid theme and a cohesive look. Patriotic punch and watermelon stars, anyone?

And…the winner is…

NYC Recessionista, Alison. Her deep fried Oreos, Nutella popsicles, and cubed pineapples make us hungry, her friendship bracelets evoke memories of summer camp, and the photos of her own family make us want to get to know them. We’d definitely attend her backyard party!

We received nearly 200 entries, but Alison’s stylish board stood out in the end earning her the grand prize. Congratulations, NYC Recessionista!

The Uncommon Life

Gift Lab: Fresh Air Compost Collector

July 5, 2012

Background Research

The Fresh Air Compost Collector, designed by Heather Tomasetti and Tal Chitayat, is a smart-looking, new-fangled container for storing your compostable food scraps.

Image: Royal Caledonian Horticultural Society

First, for those of you who don’t already participate in the wonderful world of composting: what is it, and why should you do it? In a nutshell (ha-ha, see what I did there?), composting is piling up a lot of waste plant matter–fruit and vegetable peelings, moldy bread, browned avocadoes, raked leaves–in a specific way that makes them decompose in the same manner, but at a faster rate, than they naturally would on their own.

Compost Heap, a 39 Day Time-lapse

Not only does this divert them from the general waste stream and thus the landfill, but “finished” (thoroughly broken-down) compost works magic on plants, not only in an eco-positive way, but also in terms of complex plant science. I tried it, and my plants shot up like they were on steroids.

You’ve probably heard of people keeping worms in bins in their homes in order to compost. But you don’t have to do that. You can just save your scraps and bring them to a compost site run by your community, or a neighbor. However, there’s no getting around the fact that saving compost scraps means keeping them at room temperature for at least a few days if not longer, which can have its unpleasant aspects. The purpose of the Fresh Air Compost Collector is to make them less so.

Time-lapse Fruit and Vegetable Decomposition

See? It’s not necessarily gross. It’s natural, and fascinating to your inner biology nerd.

Most indoor compost collectors either have a lid to prevent odors from escaping, or, like the one I used to have, above, use charcoal filters or other devices to absorb them. (Admittedly, the ventilation-promoting, filter-holding, cut-out flowers on the lid are nicely done.)

The Fresh Air Compost Collector, on the other hand, is designed to allow air to circulate around the scraps in order to slow down the rot rate. (The inventors refer to “air flumes,” and there are no such things, but calling them that is kind of adorable on their part.) Oxygen can get in and heat and moisture can get out, so your moist, vegetably, fruity leftovers evaporate a bit, preventing “anaerobic” (oxygen-free) breakdown. That’s what causes quick bacteria and mold growth, evil-smelling slime, and the fruit flies it attracts.

Hypothesis

The Fresh Air Compost Collector will allow me to enjoy composting, relatively undefiled by disgusting smells and unwelcome fruit flies.

Experiment

I got my Fresh Air Compost Collector in January and have been using it ever since. To be honest, I didn’t expect it to work all that well, because I usually believe in the tried, true, and un-chic, and this is pretty stylin’ for a waste receptacle.

I was game to try, though, because it was a pain to deal with my old compost pail. With that one, I was never sure if I was supposed to put a bag inside it to collect the scraps, or drop them directly into the naked pail.

If I just put them in the pail, it would soon absorb their collective noxious stink. But plastic bags would never stay upright enough to catch the scraps when I dumped them in (which almost invariably happened when I was cooking and unwilling to stop, open the pail, and hold up the stinky, slimy bag to get the scraps in while somehow keeping it upright so as to not spill its contents). Paper bags disintegrated when wet. And when I pulled the bags out to bring it to the compost pile, they always dripped putrid, decomposing produce juice on me, either then, or on the way there, or when I dumped their contents into the community container.

So, on to the new one: First of all, the design of this container is deceptively simple. You can’t really perceive this until you use it, but it’s very well thought-out in every detail.

The sides and bottom of the container have ribs that stick out and keep the bag from lying flat against them. Any liquid that might drip evaporates instead of pooling and festering.

 


Image: Picker's Treasures

The spring-loaded lid, which is full of tiny holes that allow air to circulate but keep out the flies (just like the tin panels of an old-fashioned pie safe), pops open when you press the button, and stays open without having to be held.

A detachable metal frame keeps the bag upright, so you can toss your scraps into it without getting glop all over yourself. The frame is strong, but light and very easy to lift off and click back into place when you put in a new bag.

One ergonomically crucial factor for me is that, because of where it needs to be stowed in my kitchen, it has to fit under my all-the-way-open dishwasher door, and at 9” tall (and 11.4″ long by 8.5″ wide), it does.

Whether its 1.3-gallon capacity is a good size for you or not depends on how often you eat fresh fruit and vegetables, and how often you’re able to drop off your saved scraps at a compost pile. The one I go to, the North Brooklyn Compost Project, is only open Saturday mornings, so I have to keep my scraps for up to a week (or longer, if I miss the day–see below).

There have been weeks when it was too small for me (I joined a food coop, got overly ambitious, bought too many vegetables, then got busy with other things and most of them went bad in my fridge).

There have been other times when it was too big (my cat died suddenly, I wasn’t up to cooking for a long time, didn’t bother to grocery shop, and put only coffee grounds and the occasional squozed-out lemon in there).

Aaaaand there have been weeks when I missed the compost drop-off day. By “weeks,” I mean “three weeks in a row.” (In my defense, this happened in the middle of winter.) Then it started to smell, though it never got as bad as my old one did.

But those aren’t fair testing conditions; no composter could deliver fume-free service under such circumstances. In general, the Fresh Air Compost Collector performed as promised: it emitted way fewer smells than my old composting pail, and the only time fruit flies were appeared were that one time when I pushed the limits of biology way too far. Even then, I saw only the beginnings of mold.

 

You’re meant to use compostable liner bags with the Fresh Air Compost Collector, because unlike plastic ones, they “breathe.” Since the bags start biodegrading as soon as you put moist food in them, I was sure they’d break in the container, or on the way to the compost pile. As a precaution–because I don’t like coffee grounds mixed with fermented mango skin and slimy rotten cucumber bits dripping down my legs–I put the bag into a plastic shopping bag for the walk to the compost pile. But it was never actually necessary, even after three weeks. None of the bags has broken yet. Still, I recommend holding the bottom of the bag in such a way that it won’t tear when you pick it up. The speed with which they (and everything in them) break down increases as the temperature gets warmer.

The container can easily be taken apart and put in the dishwasher, though the one time I needed to wash mine (following the three-week-no-compost-pile era), I did it by hand.

Tip: Don’t buy the wrong type/size of bags like I did once, duh. Doggie bags! Rusty Marmalade (RIP) was so disappointed in me.

Conclusion

I’m impressed with this doohickey. The Compost-Scrap-Saving Experience no longer means mess, stink and flies. As all three of those are greatly disliked by humans, no wonder the Fresh Air Compost Collector won a 2012 Green House Design Award. Six months in, I’m still happy with it, and am looking forward to filling it with the remains of this summer’s delicious fruits and vegetables.

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