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Sustainability

The Uncommon Life

3 Takeaways from 3 Days with B Corp Champions

December 18, 2014

Every year, B Lab hosts the Champions Retreat, where B Corps from around the globe come together to celebrate the success of the businesses and growth of the movement. This year I had the honor of attending the retreat in Vermont, where a multitude of events were lined up to teach, inspire, and challenge the individuals gathered to bring the dream of a sustainable corporate America into fruition.

B Corp Champions Retreat | UncommonGoods
Photo by Emily McManamy

 

Day 1 Takeaway– Sustainable sourcing is not black and white.

For the first event of the retreat, we toured the Ben & Jerry’s Ice Cream factory. Believe it or not, I was looking forward to a treat even better than free samples of their chocolate cookie dough ice cream.

B Corp Champions Retreat | UncommonGoods

B Corp Champions Retreat | UncommonGoods

Cheryl Pinto, Values Led Sourcing Manager, gave us the “inside scoop” on the amount of work and resolve needed to maintain sustainable sourcing standards within a company, a feat especially difficult since Ben & Jerry’s was acquired by Unilever in 2000. Joining us as guest speakers were some of Ben & Jerry’s suppliers: Ted Castle, Owner & President of Rhino Foods, who supplies the cookie dough, and Michael Brady, the President and CEO of Greyston Bakery, who supplies the brownies. They spoke on their own experiences in building sustainable businesses, their reasons for doing it, the obstacles they overcame, and the importance in doing business with other individuals who value people, planet, and profit. With this, they opened the floor for discussion amongst our peers for ways in which we can source more sustainably for our respective businesses. The conversation was interesting. Although the brainstorming session ended before any universally correct conclusion was drawn, it opened the floodgates to the central focus of the rest of the retreat.

B Corp Champions Retreat | UncommonGoods

Day 2 Takeaway– Ripples of inspiration and collaboration create waves of innovation.

The second day’s main event was entitled “Deeper Roots, Stronger Branches.” There was a series of speakers who touched upon the importance of spreading the message, the impact of being a B Corp, the development of the B Corp concept, and the furtherance of the initiatives created to raise awareness and encourage others to become involved.

B Corp Champions Retreat | UncommonGoods
Photo by Emily McManamy

 

Ripple” is the term used when referring to B Corp leaders spreading awareness to other business leaders, thereby helping others to pay attention to the environmental and social impact of business.  Whether or not they are ready for certification, it is helpful for companies to complete the B Lab impact assessment in order for them to understand their current impact and make goals for future improvements.

 

B Corp Champions Retreat | UncommonGoods
Photo by Emily McManamy

 

The speakers also discussed the social perception of B Corps on Millennials. Some speakers spoke about the increased demand for B Corps to come speak at schools and universities. By encouraging the next generation to pay attention to the values of their future employers, they argued that we can increase the demand for good business practices. In this way, we can collaborate with the next generation to turn ripples of inspiration and collaboration into waves of innovation.

 

B Corp Champions Retreat | UncommonGoods
Photo by Emily McManamy

 

Day 3 Takeaway– Turning ideas and challenges into solutions is no small feat.  “B inspired” to keep moving forward.

On Day 3, B Lab assembled an assortment of speakers to challenge those of us who already have an invested interest to take it a step further.

For example, Ben Cohen, the Co-Founder of Ben & Jerry’s, talked about the imbalance of corporate influence in politics. He described that corporations, on average, contribute 1,000 times more than the rest of the population to political campaigns, thereby using this tremendous influence to further their own agendas. Sick and tired of money informing politics, he founded StampStampede, a campaign to encourage Americans to “legally stamp messages on our Nation’s currency to #GetMoneyOut of Politics” and amend the Constitution.
B Corp Champions Retreat | UncommonGoods

Another inspiring example is Juan Pablo Larenas, who our founder Dave and myself had the pleasure of sharing a cab with. He spoke about the annual International Festival of Social Innovation (called fiiS in Chile), which he organizes to help spread awareness, boost the economy, and offer entertainment to the locals of the poverty-stricken ghettos of Chile.

More than anything, this retreat drove home the indisputable fact that upheaving the current paradigm of a successful business to a model that puts others before its own needs is no small feat. But rather than discouraging companies from attempting change, the retreat emphasized setting realistic goals. Even if goals that you think are practical end up being a bit of over-ambitious, at least you will “fail forward” and create ripples for others to build momentum for a better future.

 

B Corp Champions Retreat | UncommonGoods
Photo by Emily McManamy

 

The Uncommon Life

How to Reduce, Reuse, Recycle and Revamp Your Gift Wrap

December 18, 2014

One scroll through the 200+ pins on our “Yum” Pinterest board would reveal that we drool over a perfectly plated photo as much as the next social media fiend. That little extra TLC in the presentation makes all the difference in a meal. We think the same phenomenon applies in gift giving. Just like a perfectly plated meal, a beautifully packaged present makes the gift giving experience even more joyful. Careful wrapping can require the same attention to detail as decorating a cake. Finding the right spices is just as crucial as sealing a present with a beautiful bow.

B Corp Champions Retreat | UncommonGoods
Photo by Justina Blakeney

 

Just as we wouldn’t want a gorgeous meal to go to waste, we don’t want to see pretty gift wrap overflowing out of the trash can. Unfortunately, though, it’s said that Americans alone contribute around 5 million tons of extra waste between Thanksgiving and New Year’s Day, a great portion of which is from disposable wrapping paper and shopping bags. Yikes! Instead of feeling discouraged, it’s time to get creative and plan ahead! For those who opt out of our gift wrapping option, we gathered some of our favorite DIY wrapping ideas from Pinterest and the “blogosphere” that will give your wrapping game a sustainable face-lift while honoring the gift that you worked so hard to find.

Revamp With Nature

Justina Blakeney, one of our all-time favorites, finds creative gift wrapping inspiration in her own backyard! Check out how she made these “junglelicious” designs here.

Sustainable Gift Wrap | UncommonGoods

Sustainable Gift Wrap | UncommonGoods

 

Repurpose “Furoshiki” Style

Furoshiki, or “the art of wrapping with fabric,” is a creative way to give scarves, pocket squares, handkerchiefs, and other fabrics a second life. We recommend this step-by-step guide to Furoshiki gift wrapping and this tutorial by Omiyage.

Sustainable Gift Wrap | UncommonGoods

 

Reuse Retired Maps

Your map collection shouldn’t be collecting dust now that smart phones are taking over. Wherever your gift is heading, this nostalgic technique by Country Living will be sure to make your giftee smile.

Sustainable Gift Wrap | UncommonGoods

 

Revive Newspaper and Sheet Music

When you’ve already caught up on the Sunday comics, or mastered every chord of Jingle Bells, consider saving these elements for your next gift. See Page Smith’s design for inspiration!

Sustainable Gift Wrap | UncommonGoods

 

Revisit Old Book Pages

Our team loves all things literary, especially literary gifts.  We instantly fell in love with Erin Nish’s vintage design below, which will make a great presentation for small gifts. For larger items, we recommend trying this DIY garland design by Better Homes and Gardens. 

Sustainable Gift Wrap | UncommonGoods

Sustainable Gift Wrap | UncommonGoods

 

Rip Out Your Favorite Calendar Pages

When you’ve flipped through your wall calendar and reflected on the last 12 months, save your favorite pages for your next gift!  Real Simple recommends this method for wrapping paperback books and other small items.

Sustainable Gift Wrap | UncommonGoods

 

Record with #BringBackTheBow

As you may have read in our last blog post, we’re pretty giddy about our newest social media contest: #BringBacktheBow. We’re asking the craftiest gift gurus around to share their prettiest wrapped presents with the hashtag #BringBacktheBow for a chance to win a $50 gift card! If you tag your giftee, both of you will be in the running for $50 at UncommonGoods! Extra points if you can exercise gift wrap RRR. Let the green “Giftstagrams” commence!

Enter to win our #BringBacktheBow contest!

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!