Browsing Tag

Sustainability

The Uncommon Life

Uncommon Values: Our Guiding Principles

June 21, 2017

What makes a workplace great? Your knee-jerk response might focus on salary and benefits, but we all know it’s more than that. Do you feel challenged? Are you encouraged to grow? Do you have a say in your company’s direction? Do you feel like it’s your company? Do you like your co-workers? We’ve had the goal of being a great place to work for a long time, but that can mean different things to different people. We realized that in order to actually make it happen and in turn become a stronger, more impactful business, we had to figure out what “great place to work” meant to us.

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Through discussions with our leadership, work with our human resources team and a trusted advisor, looking at the practices of businesses we admire, and a lot of feedback from team members across the company, we put who we want to be as an organization into words with our seven Guiding Principles.

Each of our Principles helps us define what we’re working to be as a company, and what we want to mean to the people who work here. In short, they’re a set of guidelines to keep us all moving in the same direction. That doesn’t mean that there won’t be differences of opinion expressed. In fact, the Principles are set up to empower folks around here to do just that.

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Maker Stories

Uncommon Impact: Changing Lives and Cooking Dinner with the Non-Electric Slow Cooker

June 8, 2017

Sarah Collins, inventor of the Non-Electric Slow Cooker

Picture this: You want to cook a meal. In the US, this is an easy enough proposition, if occasionally tiring. You take a trip to the grocery store, prep your ingredients, and leave them to cook, whether in an oven, on a stovetop, or in a slow cooker. Before too long, you sit down and eat. Simple, right?

In rural Africa, no such luck. For many women, making a meal is a long, costly process fraught with danger. Every day, women across the continent spend up to seven hours collecting firewood to use for cooking, walking between 3 and 6 miles, taking away time that could be spent working or bonding with family members, and risking sexual assault and attacks by animals along the way. Those who don’t collect firewood often cook with charcoal, a fuel that eats up a sizable chunk of a rural family’s income—think along the lines of one third. The actual cooking takes hours, and the use woodfuels combined with that of an open flame contributes to potentially deadly levels of indoor air pollution. In providing for their families, these women make sacrifices that are unimaginable to many, risking their health and livelihood for the sake of a single meal. A trip to a packed Trader Joe’s at 6 o’clock on a Tuesday pales in comparison.

For South African entrepreneur Sarah Collins, this was a key problem. Her lifelong mission to empower rural Africans has manifested in many types of work, from conservation to political action, but perhaps her most meaningful contribution has been the invention of the Non-Electric Slow Cooker, also known as the Wonderbag. Now available for purchase from UncommonGoods, Sarah’s slow cooker—made from patterned cotton fabric stuffed with repurposed foam—keeps food brought to a boil cooking for up to 12 hours simply by trapping heat. For every Non-Electric Slow Cooker purchased in the developed world, another is donated to the Wonderbag Foundation, an organization that distributes Sarah’s invention to communities in need throughout Africa. Because the Non-Electric Slow Cooker doesn’t require an open flame to keep food cooking, it reduces pollution and deforestation throughout Africa and keeps rural women and families safer and healthier, freeing up their time and money for work, play, and family bonding.

As a certified B Corp, UncommonGoods is committed to offering sustainable, socially responsible products. When we first heard about the Non-Electric Slow Cooker, we were intrigued—we’d never heard of a slow cooker made out of foam! Once we learned of its impressive effect in Africa, though, we knew we needed to hear more from its inventor. Read on for more of Sarah’s story—including advice on how to contribute to her mission, even from afar.

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Design

The Uncommon Collection:
Beautiful Designs, a Blueprint for Responsible Business

July 19, 2016

Roughly a year ago, we proudly launched The Uncommon Collection. While all of our goods are “uncommon,” the Collection is special because it’s a culmination of efforts to create an assortment of well-designed items made responsibly by businesses who embrace thoughtful and sustainable business practices. The Collection presents opportunities for our manufacturing partners to share the spotlight with their products, telling the stories behind those products and connecting our customer with the people who made them. We have grown a lot since introducing the Collection last year, both in terms of number of items and makers contributing to the Collection and in our understanding of the challenges and opportunities such an initiative presents.

The Uncommon Collection | UncommonGoods

What we’ve learned:

Companies come in all shapes and sizes

We approached the development of Collection criteria based on values we as a company hold ourselves and devised for manufacturers in a general sense. At UncommonGoods we work with companies both large and small, in widely varying industries employing teams all across the skill-level spectrum. It was important to us that this not be an initiative with criteria that artificially closed us off to certain industries or company sizes, but rather was as potentially broad-reaching as possible to raise the bar for as many companies as possible.

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Maker Stories

Uncommon Impact: Counting Beads, Caramel, and the IRC

June 22, 2016

As a certified B Corporation, UncommonGoods is excited about sustainability. That means more to us than just being “green”–we strive to offer products that reflect the environmental and social best-interests of everyone. So, when our makers are as concerned with sustainability as we are, we’re always eager to learn more about their process and the positive impact they’re having on the world.

While many of our makers rely on sustainable practices at one point or another in their process, we’re especially excited about those who place the wider world at the forefront of their craft–those who are making an uncommon impact.

IRC | Uncommon Impact | UncommonGoods

The International Rescue Committee is providing cash support to women-led households with the greatest need. Here, IRC staff ask a Syrian refugee about how effective she thinks the program is and whether it can be improved. | Photo: Ned Colt/IRC

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The Uncommon Life

UncommonGoods for the Common Good

May 13, 2016

While our business has grown a lot since our founding in 1999, UncommonGoods’ commitment to positively impacting the communities we touch has not wavered. If you’ve shopped with UncommonGoods before, you know that being socially conscious is a concept baked right into our company DNA. From founder and CEO Dave Bolotsky meeting with President Obama, to advocating for small businesses, to paying our lowest-paid seasonal workers more than 50% above the federal minimum wage, to advocating for mandated paid family leave in the State of New York, UncommonGoods has been able to successfully champion progressive business practices since from day one. Below are a few choice highlights from our mission in promoting social good.

American Forests

Photo courtesy of our Better to Give partner American Forests

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Maker Stories

Inside the Artist’s Studio
with Vedat Ulgen

March 10, 2016

Vedat posing on the patio of his Redhook Studio | UncommonGoodsVedat Ulgen outside his Brooklyn studio, photos by Rachel Orlow

UncommonGoods is a place that celebrates entrepreneurs and makers and wholeheartedly embraces creativity. If you’ve spent much time shopping with us or reading our blog, you’ve seen this celebration shine through the stories we tell about our products and the designers who make them. These stories share what really makes the pieces we sell and the artists we work with unique.

While every product we sell meets standards that make it an uncommon good, every once in awhile something comes along that is truly weird. Weird in the best sense of the word: In the way that weird, new music makes you want to listen again and again. In the way that a brilliant invention makes you ponder how in the world someone actually came up with that. In the way that an eccentric person makes you want to get in touch with your own beautiful inner weirdo.

Vedat Ulgen’s Worn Sleeve Vase and Worn Jeans Stool are perfect examples of this type of “weird” design. They are totally unexpected, look one way and feel another, and are as useful as functional products as they are intriguing as art.

Thislexik Designs Products | UncommonGoods

These designs are made from upcycled clothing, so they should be soft, right? But they have a unique texture that’s smooth and doesn’t feel anything like you’d imagine.  It seems like the sleeves shouldn’t stand upright and the stools shouldn’t hold the weight of a full-grown person, but they do.

Like his products, Vedat’s studio, Thislexik, isn’t exactly what it seems. From the street, it looks like a stack of shipping containers. Get a bit closer to the five colorful containers, and it becomes clear that the stack is actually a building with a living roof and windows perfectly placed to let in enough light. Inside, Thislexik is rooted in sustainable practices, fueled by experimentation, and filled with dozens incredible designs.

I had the pleasure of visiting the Red Hook, Brooklyn studio myself recently, and as a proud proponent of the aforementioned brand of weird, I was in paradise. It’s hard to convey how inspiring this space is to someone who hasn’t been there, how cool these designs are to someone who hasn’t interacted with them, and how innovative Vedat is to someone who hasn’t met him, but I hope these photos and this interview are at least a start.

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Maker Stories

Uncommon Impact: From Laos with Love–Clearing Bombs, Crafting Beauty, Creating Hope

December 1, 2015

As a certified B Corporation, UncommonGoods is excited about sustainability. That means more to us than just being “green”–we strive to offer products that reflect the environmental and social best-interests of everyone. So, when our makers are as concerned with sustainability as we are, we’re always eager to learn more about their process and the positive impact they’re having on the world.

Laos A village in Laos, Photos courtesy of Elizabeth Suda

While many of our makers rely on sustainable practices at one point or another in their process, we’re especially excited about those who place the wider world at the forefront of their craft–those who are making an uncommon impact.

In the case of Elizabeth Suda, founder of Article 22, making a positive impact is, in part, about helping to heal the negative impact the imposed on Laos  during the Vietnam War. The Peacebomb Jewelry designs produced by Article 22 aren’t just fashionable accessories, they’re also symbols of hope.

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FAQ

What can I do to make my packaging processes more sustainable?

November 16, 2015

We have a wide array of vendors. Some vendors ship out of their apartments, some vendors ship out of large distribution centers and others operate somewhere in between. Despite their operational distinctions, a common challenge these businesses face lies in understanding the differences in efficiently packaging and shipping their products for e-commerce retailers like us which may differ from their practices with brick and mortar sellers.

Here are a couple ways businesses of all sizes can start to incorporate sustainable packaging solutions into their operations:

Make sure your boxes fit products as snug as possible

If you want to eliminate waste in your shipments and prevent damage, then make sure the packaging you are using is strong enough to survive the trip to the customer. We recommend shipping fragile items in a corrugated box as opposed to a paper or cardboard box that may be more flimsy. We use Box on Demand, a machine that allows us to produce custom corrugated packaging right in our Brooklyn, NY warehouse. The way it works is that we feed it the max length, width and height of a product that we sell and the machine creates a box that perfectly matches the item’s dimensions. Having a nice, tight fit is going to eliminate air in the box and eliminate the raw materials used. Eliminating air in a box means there is more space on the shipping truck. Now our parcel carriers can fit more boxes into a truck. More space on the truck means fewer trucks on the road and a reduction in the fossil fuels needed to deliver our products. Space is at a premium for us because we have a fairly small facility compared to other fulfillment centers of companies our size, so the less space something takes up the more room we have to bring in more inventory.

Try out alternative packing materials

We also recommend trying out alternative packing materials like corn starch peanuts instead of Styrofoam peanuts. Corn starch peanuts are compostable and readily available from shipping product distributors like ULINE. ExpandOS is particularly good for shipping glassware and other fragile items.  Heavyweight craft paper that is 60# or higher is another good void fill for packaging. Its rigidity helps keep things in place and provides a nice buffer for fragile items. Another great and sustainable packaging option are biodegradable custom molded pulp trays and clam shells like the ones produced by Salazar Packaging.

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