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City Harvest

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

Checking in with City Harvest

April 24, 2012

We’ve been supporting City Harvest – the world’s first and New York City’s only food rescue organization – since 2011 and we’re happy to report that your Better to Give votes have been put to great use! The response over the last six months has been amazing and collectively, we’ve donated nearly $25,000 through our Plates with Purpose and Better to Give programs. It only costs City Harvest 27 cents to rescue and deliver one pound of food, so these donations have helped feed more than 78,000 hungry New Yorkers!

City Harvest relies on the support of individuals to keep their fleet of 18 trucks and 3 bikes on the road nearly 24/7. This year alone, City Harvest will deliver over 38 million pounds of excess food to help feed our hungry neighbors. To learn more about City Harvest and how you can get involved, go to www.cityharvest.org. You can actually make an impact today by signing up to be a team captain for their annual Skip Lunch Fight Hunger fundraiser that takes place every May. Signing up a team is easy at www.skiplunch.org.

Design

Designs that Shine: Uncommon Design Challenge Winners

February 20, 2012

There’s only one more week before our 2012 design challenges begin. Before we announce the next big call for entries, we’re taking a moment to share a few of the success stories from our 2011 challenges!

Although we could only award the grand prize to one winner in each challenge, many finalists also became uncommon goods. The Uncommon Jewelry Design Challenge help us discover some fantastic designers.

Wesla Bay Weller’s Cymbal of Love Pendant received more votes from our community than any other entry and was chosen by our judges to receive the grand prize. Made from recycled cymbals and guitar strings, and hung from a gold-plated bronze chain, the pendant is a great gift for music lovers and musicians.

Voters–and our judges–loved the recycled materials story, the combination of textures, and simple but meaningful design. Now available for purchase, Wesla’s piece is a hit. One reviewer told us, “I am a drummer and received this necklace as a gift. It’s very well-made with adequate length and can be worn with a variety of outfits. I get many compliments every time I wear it.”

The necklace is on it’s way to becoming a best seller. In fact, Wesla’s design has been such a hit, a whole page of our latest catalog is devoted to her story!

And the jewelry design challenge runners up that became uncommon goods? Maryann Dolzani’s Custom I Am…Pendant is inspiring women to be true to themselves (we also recently decided to feature additional charms, since customers pointed out that “I am” often more than one thing), Deb Soromenho’s Heart and Arrow Lariat makes a great gift for someone you love, Tina Tang’s Customized Name Necklace and Bracelet let you celebrate your name or a word with special meaning to you, and Irene Cheung’s Teardrop Stacking Rings are a unique take on the double-band look.

Lee from NH loves her I Am necklace so much she told us, “I absolutely love it! I haven’t taken it off since. I like the sound it makes when it jingles…Came really fast and in a little brown sack. I think it’s beautiful and very meaningful. I bought a couple extra charms to put on it.”

Our first design challenge winner from 2011 is also getting some great feedback. We teamed up with City Harvest, a non-profit organization that helps to feed New York City’s hungry and asked illustrators to help us create a new Plate with a Purpose.

Graphic designer Michael White’s winning plate design was called a “Very cool design. Great gift for charitable minded and design minded people who like to entertain,”by Dinah in Atlanta. Mo in Washington, DC said, “Great design, lovely color and it makes a great gift.”

Michael’s modern skyline design is a warm depiction of city living. His clean lines, creativity, and message won over our community and our judges. Now $5 of every City Harvest Plate with a Purpose directly benefits New York’s hungry men, women, and children and Michael’s design continues to get five star reviews.

Our Ceramics Design Challenge winner is also getting some wonderful feedback.

Tasha McKelvey’s petite stoneware Birdie Mini Dish was chosen to win for its functionality, unique design, and craftsmanship. To create the little bowls, Tasha presses the clay against a century-old barn door to give it a texture imitating the grain of aged wood.

This dish makes a great gift for many occasions. And it’s not just limited to a jewelry holder. The little tray can also be used as a spoon holder after stirring coffee or tea.

“My wife could not believe that her husband could find something so neat for her,” a customer told us. “Great find!”

We loved the Birdie Dish so much we also decided to carry Tasha’s Tiny Mushroom Ring Dish.

Tasha wasn’t the only designer to find success through the pottery challenge,either. Semi-finalist Mitzi Davis’ Bird and Cloud Dinnerware Set was chosen for the unique shape, imaginative imagery, and off-beat practicality of the bowl and plate.

Another set, Kathy Gorg’s Calla Lily Pitcher and Cups also entered our assortment. We love the symbolism of the calla lily (purity and innocence), and that the set makes a great wedding gift.

From gorgeous handmade jewelry, to fun plates for a good cause, to creative ceramics, we found some great new products through our 2011 design challenges. We’re also thrilled to welcome such talented designers into our family of artists!

Will your unique design be our next uncommon good? Stay tuned for our next call for entries!

The Uncommon Life

Better to Give: Doing Good in the New Year

January 12, 2012

This holiday season, the term “Secret Santa” got a new meaning when mysterious donors paid off Kmart layaway accounts across the country. This heart warming story definitely helped get us in the holiday spirit, but it also got us thinking about ways to do good all year long.

We try to make it easy for our customers to help us give back through our Better to Give program. Through this program, we donate $1 to the Better to Give charity of your choice each time you place an order with UncommonGoods. Here’s what our partners were up to in 2011, and how you can get involved in 2012.

AmeriCares provided aid around the world in 2011, including continued work with earthquake and tsunami survivors in Japan, providing emergency relief to victims of recent flooding in the Philippines, awarding more than $600,000 in disaster recovery grants to nonprofit organizations across the United States, and much more. With your help, we donated $7,928 to the humanitarian relief organization between October and December.

You can help AmeriCares continue to do good in 2012 by donating online, volunteering, and getting creative.

AmeriCares delivers food to mothers and babies in need in Somalia. Photo via AmeriCares by Jaya Vadlamudi, International Medical Corps.

RAINN (the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network), the nation’s largest anti-sexual violence organization, expanded their programs, helped thousands of people through their online and telephone hotlines, and educated millions about sexual abuse. Customer’s choosing RAINN as their Better to Give organization helped us give $18,910 to the nonprofit in our fourth business quarter last year.

The organization is currently working with sexual assault victims from Penn State, and are supporting Penn State Alumni in White Out Child Abuse, a national awareness event. If you’re in one of the eight major cities involved, you can participate on January 21, or visit their website to donate online.

You can also help by joining RAINN in supporting the SAFER Act, a “no-cost bill that will create the Sexual Assault Forensic Evidence Registry (SAFER), which will track the status of DNA evidence collected in rape cases.”

American Forests is the nation’s oldest nonprofit citizens’ conservation organization. With your help, we gave $19,082 last quarter to help make America a little greener.

In 2011 American Forests established the Science Advisory Board, a diverse group of scientists from different fields, geographic areas, and work experiences, to help address the complex issues America’s forests are facing.

American Forests also launched the Forests for Fifty campaign, an effort to complete reforestation and education projects in all 50 states. Through this campaign, the organization will plant more than 5 million trees throughout 2011 and 2012.

You can get involved by helping American Forests plant trees, or by planting a tree of your own.


The UncommonGoods team isn’t afraid to get our hands dirty and get planting!

City Harvest Since 1982, City Harvest has been collecting excess food from all segments of the food industry, including restaurants, grocers, corporate cafeterias, manufacturers, and farms and delivering it, free of charge, to nearly 600 community food programs throughout New York City. In 2011 the organization delivered more than 30 million pounds of food to hungry people. The organization also provides education and assistance when it comes to nutrition counselling, prevention of diet-related diseases, and bringing sustainable, affordable food to low-income areas.

On May 11, 2011, City Harvest raised almost $500,000 to help New York’s hungry through their annual Skip Lunch Fight Hunger campaign. We helped by taking part in last May’s event, and by donating $17,431 as the year came to a close.

Licensed food businesses help City Harvest every day by donating food, but you can help even if you don’t own a store or restaurant. Individuals can donate funds,volunteer in one of City Harvest’s programs , or attend one of their upcoming events.

Do you volunteer with a nonprofit organization? Are you helping others in your community? Whether you’re gearing up to get involved with one of our Better to Give Partners, or making a difference in your own way, we’d love to hear how you’re doing good in 2012.

The Uncommon Life

Better to Give Update

August 8, 2011

Every three months, we get to write checks to our favorite non-profits. We base the size of those checks on you– which charities you vote for every time you make a purchase from our site.

So here’s what these great non-profits have been doing to make the world a better place.

AmeriCares

It’s been a rough year– from the Japanese earthquake and tsunami to the current drought and famine in Somalia. But that hasn’t slowed AmeriCares down one bit.

Your votes at checkout have helped us send $4,500 in the last three months to help AmeriCares deliver critical medical supplies to people in urgent need around the globe.

American Forests

American Forests joined our program in 2010. For every $1 we donate, they plant a tree. And with your votes, they planted more than 4,400 trees in the last 3 months.

Here are a few projects they’re working on right now.

Ecosystem Restoration in Los Padres National Forest, California
Trees: 224,000
A large-scale project to replant 14,000 acres, to include a sanctuary for the endangered California condor. All but eight percent of this national forest has been deforested by wildfires and other factors.

2011 Red Mountain Restoration, Idaho
Trees: 86,000
Replanting areas of the Boise National Forest to reduce erosion, improve water quality, and support habitats for local wildlife species like the lynx, boreal owl, northern goshawk, and northern three-toed woodpeckers.

Forest For Monarchs, Mexico
Trees: 200,000
A long term initiative that has already planted five million trees in the last four years, this year’s project works to restore 687 acres of the oyamel fir forests that make up the monarch butterfly’s wintering grounds, and will train local residents in sustainable forestry management.

Check out American Forests for more info on how you can get involved.

City Harvest

Using a fleet of 18 trucks and 3 cargo bikes, City Harvest will rescue more than 30 million pounds of food this year, helping to feed more than 300,000 men, women and children each week. At a cost of just 27 cents to rescue and deliver a pound of food, every dollar donated provides nearly four pounds of good food for hungry New Yorkers.

In May, our company helped out with City Harvest’s largest one day fundraiser, Skip Lunch Fight Hunger, where fundraising teams and individuals throughout New York City donated what they would normally spend on lunch to raise nearly $500,000. Those funds will help feed almost 24,000 children and their families throughout the summer months.

RAINN

RAINN, the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network, runs a national hotline to help people in crisis. You voted RAINN into our Better to Give program last fall, and voted to donate $4,500 to support their work over the past 3 months.

The hardworking folks at RAINN just told us, “Last month, July 2011, RAINN helped 12,659 survivors of sexual violence through our hotlines. It was the highest number of people we’ve helped in one month in more than 8 years.”


All these organizations run with the support of people like you, so thanks for your votes! Got a cause you’d like to see us support? Leave a comment to suggest a non-profit doing great work in your community.

Design

Get Out the Vote!

June 23, 2011

UncommonGoods and City Harvest’s design challenge is well under way! We’ve picked out the top 24 semifinalists, now we need your help in choosing which designs will move on to our final round.  Get your votes in before 5 PM Eastern Time tomorrow!

Created with flickr slideshow from softsea.
We’ve tallied up the results so far, and here are your 10 favorites: An Apple a Day Keeps the Hunger Away, Word Cloud, Enjoy the Harvest, Hey, there’s food on my plate!, Feeding Birds, Heart of the City II, Delivering Bread, Big Apple Feeds, Heart of the City I, and Fruit of the Harvest.

Don’t see your favorite design included?  Use our Community Voting App to tell us which design you’d like to see printed on our next Plate With Purpose™.  You can give a thumbs up or down on each design, and we’d love to hear additional feedback in the comments.

We’ll pick one design from the top 5 entries, which will be announced on Monday, June 27.

Design

Harvest Plate Design Challenge

June 20, 2011

UncommonGoods and City Harvest are teaming up to create the next Plate with a Purpose™ with your help! We received a bounty of fantastic plate designs and the finalists are the stars of our Community Voting App this week.

The winning design will be etched on to a handmade recycled glass plate. A portion of the sales of these plates will go to benefit City Harvest and help feed New York’s hungry.

We asked our community to submit designs that reflect City Harvest’s mission and artists responded with images ranging from sweet and simple to astutely abstract. Now, we need your votes to help us pick the winning design!

Created with flickr slideshow from softsea.
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