Browsing Tag

Sustainability

The Uncommon Life

How is UncommonGoods Becoming a Better Business?

August 29, 2014

As a company, we’ve always been passionate about sustainability. To us, sustainability is about more than how we impact the environment. It’s also about how what we do as a company affects individuals and our community. In 2007 we took an important step and turned our commitment to being a better business from a passion to a pledge when we became a founding B Corporation. This year, we made another stride toward becoming a better business by earning our B Corp recertification, and coming out with our best score yet!

We’re proud to be a Certified B Corporation because the B Corp Community is changing the way people think about business. According to the official B Corporation website, “Certified B Corporations are leading a global movement to redefine success in business. By voluntarily meeting higher standards of transparency, accountability, and performance, Certified B Corps are distinguishing themselves in a cluttered marketplace by offering a positive vision of a better way to do business.”

Those “higher standards of transparency, accountability, and performance” are evaluated on several levels, so becoming a B Corp does take time and effort. Companies must receive at least 80 out of 200 points on the B Corp assessment form, and they have to have the documentation to back up that score.

“One of the cool things about B Corp certification is that we get to back up [sustainability] claims with actual research. We can look at our numbers to see what we’re really doing,” said Rachel Foley, UncommonGoods Project Manager and a member of our sustainability committee. “You see so many products and companies out there that say they are ‘green,’ but by becoming a B Corp, you’re doing more than just talking.”

B Lab, the non-profit behind B Corp, provides an overall score and they break those numbers down into a scorecard so companies and their customers can get a quick look at the result of the assessment.

UncommonGoods B Corp Scorecard

We earned 111.4 points this time around. That’s a 13% increase over our 2012 score of 99 points. While some of the extra points were thanks to improvements to our work environment and green initiatives, we saw the greatest improvement in our “Community” score.

The Community section of the impact assessment evaluates how a company influences its community, from relationships with vendors, to diversity among employees, to charitable giving and involvement with the local community.

By hiring employees from chronically underemployed populations and communities, paying seasonal workers 50% more than minimum wage, putting in employee volunteer hours, and making donations to our Better to Give partners, our Community score is now 47% above the median B Corp score.

“We received points not only because of the things we do year-round, but also because our seasonal team is so large and diverse,” said Area Operations Manager and sustainability committee member Jason Gomer.

Jason also explained that small changes can make a big difference, and small changes are achieved when a company keeps the “triple bottom line” in mind. He explained that the triple bottom lines, or “3 Ps,” are the three facets of sustainability in business: people, planet, and profit. Our goal is to not only do good for people and for the planet, but to succeed as a business so we can continue to do good for years to come.

B Lab re-evaluates each certified company every two years, so our next recertification is coming in 2016. We hope that the next assessment brings an even better score, and we’re laying the foundation to achieve it.

“We had to reach out to many different departments [at UncommonGoods] to get all of the information we needed this time around, but once all of the information is in order we’ll be able to keep up with our internal evaluation,” said another member of our sustainability committee, ITC Coordinator Christopher McRae.

Christopher explained that going forward, our sustainability committee is working to impose company-wide criteria to not only make sure we maintain high standards in the areas where we currently excel, but also set new standards to meet attainable goals in areas where we can use improvement.

B the Change

Currently, we’re focusing on increasing awareness about B Corp initiatives to get more team members involved in composting and taking advantage of paid volunteer days. In the upcoming months, our sustainability committee will partner with teams across the company to offer resources to help them meet department-specific goals.

We’re certainly happy to be off to a good start when it comes to reaching those standards, and the 13% increase in our B Corp impact assessment score is encouraging. We’re on our way to, as Christopher puts it, “exponentially improving our overall positive impact on the triple bottom line.”

Gift Guides

Gift Lab: Get Ready to Grow with the Gardener’s Compost Container

April 24, 2014

Kara | UncommonGoods

Product: Gardener’s Compost Container

Research:
I’ve decided to test a new product our Product Development team created, the Gardener’s Compost Container. It’s an earthenware compost bin used to collect food scraps in your kitchen, while keeping away odors and flies with its two piece charcoal filter. I was excited to try this product because throughout my experience of using compost bins, I’ve never managed to find one that offered the functionality and aesthetic that I was looking for. I was hoping that this one would fit my criteria. I’ve been getting ready for summer by preparing my rooftop garden and so this composting project will be a main component of that.

Gardener's Compost Container | UncommonGoods

Hypothesis:

Based on my research, I suspect that this compost collector will perform very well as a bin that eliminates odors and keeps away the flies. In the past, I’ve tested other charcoal filters in my bathroom and in other areas of the house with great success. They not only do keep away odors, but they also reduce moisture. Since composting tends to create a lot of moisture, I’m hoping that this filter will keep the moisture to a minimum and help prevent any mold from growing in the bin.

Experiment:
I began my experiment by setting up the compost bin in my kitchen. Even though I would have loved to display this beautiful compost bin on my counter, I have very limited counter space so instead I placed it under my sink. I had a little trouble when I first placed the bio bag in it. The bio bag that comes with the product isn’t a perfect fit, so the edges of the bag did not fasten securely to the sides of the bin. It was an easy fix, though! In order to keep the sides of the bag from slipping, I used a rubber band to fasten the bag around the edges of the bin. Once the compost collector was set up, I was ready to start testing.

Open container with bio bag
Bio bag with band

For the next couple of weeks, my roommates and I put our food scraps in the collector. Our food scraps included fruit, vegetables, breads, pastas, tea bags, coffee grounds, processed foods, and more. Since meat and fish are typically geared for backyard composters and not indoor compost bins (as they are likely to attract pests), we did not put this in our compost.

Full Compost Container

When we filled it for the first time, I ran into a problem when trying to empty the bin. When I tried pulling the bio bag up and out, it ripped due to the weight of the compost, leaving a mess of food scraps at the bottom of the bin. To remedy this, I recommend not waiting until it’s completely full to change the bag. Since my bag was so full, I had to dump the compost into a grocery bag, carefully avoiding any spillage. Not only was this a hassle, but it defeated the purpose of avoiding regular plastic bags, which will need to be thrown away in the trash because they are not compostable.

Removing compost bag

Throughout these weeks of composting, I constantly checked the bin with no signs of odors and flies. My roommates had confirmed that they had not noticed any odors or flies in the kitchen either since the start of this experiment, which is a good indication that the charcoal filter is functioning as it had been described it would. In addition, I did not see any mold growing inside of the bin, which indicates that the filter is doing its job of reducing the moisture created by the compost.

Conclusion:
In conclusion, I found that the compost collector performed very well when it came to eliminating odors, reducing moisture, and keeping away the flies. The charcoal filter functioned as it said it would, leaving me and my roommates very pleased with the sustained hygiene in the kitchen. Through this experiment, I did come across a couple of problems that I did not expect to run into. The bio bag that came with the compost collector isn’t specifically made for it,so it’s not a perfect fit. It also tore when I tried to lift it out of the bin.

5 - under sink

When I use this bin in the future, I’ll look for other alternatives that would function better. One solution could be to go bag-less and use Bokashi-style composting in order to keep the compost manageable. Bokashi style composting is a method that uses a bran (which consists of a mix of microorganisms) to cover and ferment food waste to decrease odor and flies. Without the bag, people may be concerned with the hygiene of the compost bin, but Bokashi is a great way to solve the bag problem while keeping the compost collector sanitary. Without the reliance on bags, the compost process is naturally more environmentally sustainable as well. However, this solution also creates inconvenience for those who need to carry their compost to a drop-off at a local farmers’ market or community garden. For those who would prefer to use a bag, I would suggest that they use a small, fitted burlap bag, which is sturdy and can be reused over and over again without the concern of wear and tear. These bags are also breathable, letting in plenty of air to help keep the compost from smelling. Most community gardens and farmers’ markets do not accept bio bags, so this makes for a great solution.

Kara with Compost Collector

Overall, the beautiful design and charcoal filter feature make the Gardener’s Compost Container a functional design without sacrificing aesthetic. With a few adjustments to the use of the bin (eliminating the bio-bags for a more practical alternative), it makes a perfect compost collector. NYC Recycles is piloting an organics collection program where they will be picking up compost in my area this summer. So I look forward to using this to collect lots of food scraps, especially in the upcoming months!

Design

Creative Design to the Rescue! (Of Homeless Cats)

March 7, 2014

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My cat Eddie thinking about cats who lack a nice warm bed like his

If you love cats–as we do–it’s painful to think of them having to brave the elements on their own during a freezing northern winter, especially this year. But here in New York City, tens if not hundreds of thousands of cats have no shelter. So, if you also love creative design, and believe in its potential as a force for good–as we do–it’s nice to learn about Architects for Animals’ “Giving Shelter,” a yearly funds-and awareness-raising initiative founded by animal lover Leslie Farrell.

CatHaus

“CatHaus” by Francis Cauffman Architects was voted the favorite of the 2014 attendees

Since 2010, every year, Farrell, Director of Client Development at architecture firm Francis Cauffman, has convinced a handful of top-notch architectural design firms to design, build and donate innovative outdoor winter shelters for homeless cats. Their creations are put on public display as a one-night benefit event for the Mayor’s Alliance for NewYork City’s Animals. Attendees vote for their favorite, then all the shelters are donated to caregivers who work with needy animals.

CatHive

“Cat Hive” by Incorporated Architecture & Design

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by Carlton Architecture PC

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“Time Machine for Kittens,” by Two One Two Design

Hairball

“Hairball,” by M Moser Associates

The creative designs of these shelters help the cause architecturally (they generate good ideas for future shelters) and in other ways, too, as Michael Phillips, Community Outreach Coordinator of the New York City Feral Cat Initiative, a program of the Mayor’s Alliance, points out. “The media coverage with pictures of the flashy shelters is an eye-catcher that many people examine with interest, whereas they will skip over an article about the plight of cats abandoned to the streets through no fault of their own.”

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Homeless cat in Brooklyn (rescued and adopted a few days after this photo was taken)

Nobody knows how many homeless cats there are in NYC, but estimates range from tens of thousands up to a million. Most of them are scared of us, so they keep out of sight, which makes counting them difficult. While people often think of cats as natural loners, they actually tend to form colonies near food sources such as garbage bins near apartment buildings. Some feral moms could very well be teaching their kittens to scrounge your leftovers as you sleep. (I’ve witnessed this, a sight both adorable and sad.)

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African Wild Cat at the Johannesburg Zoo, South Africa. Photo: Sonelle

These felines are all trying to survive in what, for them, is an unnatural habitat. It’s not just that it’s so urban and industrial, but also that they’re not native to this part of the world. All of the world’s domestic cats are descended from a type of wildcat that lives in the deserts of the Near East. These cats are not designed to live in the NYC climate; those pretty fur coats are not enough protection during the winter, no matter how thick they get.

They need our help, especially as it’s humans’ fault that they’re out there in the first place. This population is made up of of strays, who are lost or abandoned tame pet cats (some of whom have regressed to a not-so-tame state), and ferals, the essentially wild (that is, not socialized to humans) offspring and descendants of non-neutered strays and pets who were allowed to roam. They have neither a consistent and healthy food source, nor shelter from the elements, nor protection from urban dangers such as cars, rat and other poisons, and cruel humans.

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New York Feral Cat Initiative logo

Fortunately, there are many (though never enough) animal-lovers all over NYC who work hard to rescue tame, adoptable cats and kittens, and feed and protect the ferals. The New York City Feral Cat Initiative is a coalition of more than 150 animal rescue groups and shelters whose joint mission is “to raise awareness about the thousands of… community cats living outdoors throughout NYC’s five boroughs, to offer solutions to prevent the number of homeless cats from increasing, and to successfully manage existing colonies.”

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Standard outdoor cat winter shelter design by Ashot Karamian

Building shelters that enable these critters to avoid freezing misery or death during inclement weather is part of the last part, managing colonies. (To read about solutions to prevent increases in the number of homeless cats, start here.) Of course, it’s not really necessary to build shelters that are more than just functional. As far as we know, cats aren’t offended by a styrofoam-and-duct-tape aesthetic. Phillips described the minimal structural guidelines as follows: “No heavier than two people can lift easily. Inner space should be no higher than 16 inches to retain the body heat of the cats with room for straw bedding.Waterproof. Constructed with weatherproof construction materials.” He added, “Water is the most destructive force. Snow does not normally damage shelters or enter shelters in comparison to driving rain or flooding.”

rubbershelter

Rubbermaid container cat shelter by by Ashot Karamian (photo by Ashot Karmanian used with permission)

“You could use a basic Rubbermaid container for a cat shelter, which is quite common and perfectly fine because it works,” says architect Sofia Zimmerman, who, along with her husband and business partner, Adam, has participated in Architects for Animals: Giving Shelter three years in a row. “But as designers,”she continues, “we love the idea of someone walking down the street and coming across something that is artful, unusual, or even beautiful. Cat shelters are often found in alleyways, parking lots, and other places where finding something delightful is rare. But here’s a chance to do something nice looking–for the cats, their caregivers, and the people that might catch a glimpse.”

zimmerman

by Zimmerman Workshop Architecture + Design

“This third one, that we did this year, is perhaps the simplest, but in many ways our favorite. It was all about upcycling. We re-used a cardboard box and sealed it with duct tape. Inside, we lined it with styrofoam that came as packaging material for a lamp. And then we had to add another layer of insulation. This was the chance to do something delightful! We collected nine pairs of old jeans, cut them into long strips, and created a very very long braid. We wrapped it around and around the box, using as inspiration braided rag rugs–the ones you see in storybooks all the time with cats curled up on them!”

She adds that “During that process, we actually learned about the environmental impact associated with creating a pair of jeans….don’t get us started!”

fiberglasspod

“Fiberglass Pod,” by Elham Valipay and Haleh Atabaki, co-founders of MishMish, an example of a structure built with camouflage in mind

Different situations may call for specific architectural strategies. Phillips describes varying and “colony needs,” such as “camouflage; difficult specific dimensions to fit an exact spot; or fitting in visually with the design of a building nearby to please a particular property owner willing but not thrilled to have shelters placed on his property.”

If you want to help feral cats where you live, Phillips says, “Offering of your time to assist a local caretaker in your neighborhood is the best way to contribute to the long-term welfare of a community cat colony. The more widespread the support in a neighborhood the more likely the cats will accepted. Volunteering to feed the colony one or more days a week is a great help, when so often only one or two people shoulder the care for an entire colony.“

Or, if you’re crafty and love the idea of experimenting with small-scale architectural design that will actually be used, here’s your chance to do it, fur real! (sorry…)

vernacular1vernacular2vernacular3

Above three photos: “Feral Vernacular” by deSoto studio architecture + design

All photos copyright Marisa Bowe, unless otherwise indicated.

The Uncommon Life

4 Ways to Build a Better Business

October 8, 2013

UncommonGoods is proud to be B Corp certified as it allows us to be a part of their amazing movement and community. B Corps are certified by the nonprofit B Lab to meet rigorous standards of social and environmental performance, accountability, and transparency. Grasping the Ghandi quote of “Be the change you’d like to see in the world,” B Lab began the campaign B the Change, a customer-facing global movement of B Corps who are redefining success in business.

Two weeks ago, I attended the B Corp Champions Retreat in Boulder, Colorado along with team members from hundreds of fellow B Corps from around the world to celebrate our community and strengthen our global initiatives. Among the many things I took away with me from the retreat, there were four initiatives in particular that stuck in mind.

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Boulder, CO

1. Build a better community. 

Building community is ingrained in what it means to truly be a B Corp. This was evident on the first day when B Lab decided to host volunteering events in order to help the Boulder community after unprecedented flooding destroyed hundreds homes and schools in the area. Understanding that it is our duty as businesses to do our part to help the community is something that B Labs expects from each and every one of their B Corps. As a business, be sure to reach out and give a hand to your local neighborhoods, schools, and venues in some shape or form whether it is through mentor programs, employee volunteering, donations, or partnerships. A well rounded business understands the importance of connecting with not only their customers, but with the outside community.

1175388_10151643037027546_643598889_nB Corp helping to clear debris for the Boulder Valley School District.

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2. Become a leader in sustainability. 

I was greatly inspired by the recent work done by many of the fellow B Corps that I was able to meet on the retreat. On the first day, we were lucky enough to take a tour at the New Belgium Brewing Company. In addition to being able to taste their amazing selection of beers, we learned about many of their sustainability initiatives including their investments in renewable energy, waste diversion, and their annual state-wide Tour de Fat bike ride that advocates for the biking lifestyle. I met plenty of other B Corps leaders who were passionate about being leaders in sustainability by constantly finding innovative ways to improve their businesses’ social and environmental impact. Learn more about their work at B Corp Best for the World.

New Belgium Brewery 1

New Belgium Brewery2

 

3. Seek mindful collaboration.

Throughout the three days of the retreat, we broke into groups and discussed several ideas and initiatives that revolved around strengthening the credibility and exposure of the B the Change Campaign. Throughout those discussions, I met an incredible group of leaders and change makers who offered inspiration and ideas that I can take forward as we look to improve our social and environmental impact at UncommonGoods. Among the many projects that I have planned for our sustainability initiatives, I am most eager to help build community and look forward to this challenge as we continue to grow with the B the Change movement.

We’ve all heard of the saying, two heads are better than one. And this is very much true in the business world. As you build your community and speak to the locals, make sure to reach out to like-minded businesses (big or small) that would be interested to collaborate.

NY B Corps Left to right: Anne Sherman |Sustainability Manager of STAACH, Liz Brenna |CEO of Socially Good Business, Ariel Hauptman |Business Development Manager of Greyston Bakery, and me!

Making commitments to B the Change

 

4. Be consistent and have patience. 

When making changes in your business, it’s natural to want to see immediate results. Yet sometimes, those results don’t happen overnight. It’s easy throw in the towel after a month of hard work of community outreach or trying to implement a sustainable business. Keeping your sense of motivation is just as important as seeing the end result, so remember, patience is a virtue!

Consistency and patience is something the B Corps community practices, and now there are over 830 B Corps in 27 countries from 60 industries around the world. There was quite a lot to celebrate as our community has grown significantly in just this past year. As of late July, laws have been passed in 20 U.S. states for Benefit Corporation. This is exciting for us; however, we also understand that there is still a long way to go. This is apparent in the idea that B Lab grasps of climbing mountains. This analogy was comprehensive, taking on the idea of building momentum at base camp, choosing paths, and climbing the mountain together. We understand that as the B Corp community continues to gain recognition and credibility, we must constantly learn and grow as individual businesses within the B the Change movement.

B Corp 1

 

B Corp

 

 

Click here to learn more about the B Corp Community and how you can be a part of it. Also, watch some of their inspiring YouTube videos, including the one below.