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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.

Maker Stories

Made (Green) in the USA

May 3, 2012

Our friends at Green 3, Jim and Sandy Martin, have helped us add some fantastic uncommon goods to our assortment. From adorable babywear like the gnome babysuit and hat and matching blanket, to the perfect-for-a-breezy-spring-day reclaimed t-shirt scarves, to the summer-friendly update on the popular recycled sweater skirt, the recycled bridesmaid dress skirt, the Martins know eco-friendly fashion.

Sandy and Jim. photo via Oshkosh Chamber of Commerce

Jim works closely with our product development team to create unique clothing and accessories exclusive to UncommonGoods, like the bridesmaid dress skirt and the comfy, casual recycled dress shirt robe. We love that these products come from recycled materials, and many are even created with the help of organizations working with disabled adults.

“My wife Sandy started the company,” he told us. “She grew up on a farm in Michigan and saw firsthand the negative implications on the farmer’s health when they are exposed to chemical pesticides on a daily basis. She felt strongly that her company would focus on sustainable fibers that caused the least damage possible to the environment.”

Causing less damage to the environment means using organic cotton, like that in Green 3’s babysuits, and reusing materials when possible.

Sometimes those materials, like the sweaters used to make recycled sweater scarves, come from thrift stores. Others are leftovers from apparel manufacturers. “We actually look at what types of fabrics are available to us, and then design into the fabric,” Jim explained. “Certain fabrics lend themselves to specific applications and steer us into new product categories.”

Clockwise from top left: A Green 3 Artist hand-drawing a graphic / Green 3’s warehouse storing reclaimed and excess fabrics / Tina, an in-house sewer at Green 3 headquarters.

Once the fabric is in hand each piece is inspected individually to insure it meets aesthetic and quality standards. Thrift store items are washed before being deconstructed and prepared for cutting and sewing, so even though the garment created may be made from secondhand materials, it’s as good as new.

The processes of selecting, inspecting, and preparing fabrics and creating the final products are all done in the United States. “Sandy and I had both been in the corporate apparel industry for over 20 years. During that time we watched a steady flow of jobs going overseas,” said Jim. “We just felt strongly that we could do it here and bring a few jobs back. What we’re finding is that we’re not the only ones that feel this way. More and more like minded companies are partnering, and quickly it is becoming more than just a few jobs. In our community alone we employ 20 people. But our network of partners employs thousands.”

One partner helping Green three create handmade upcycled products for uncommon goods is Aspiro, a non-profit organization offering job training and career options to cognitively disabled adults in Green Bay, Wisc. “We contacted Aspiro after learning of them through a news report,” Jim said. “Their facility has been doing cut and sew work for years and they have a highly skilled labor force. When we toured the facility and saw the pride and passion of the workers, and how this opportunity for independence positively impacted their lives, we knew wanted to support the initiative any way we could.”

Reclaimed T-shirt Scarf / Dress Shirt Robe / Recycled Sweater Scarf / Recycled Bridesmaid Dress Skirt / Gnome Babysuit(TM) & Hat / Gnome Blanket

By partnering with Green 3 and other apparel manufactures, the skilled sewers at Aspiro earn fair wages and are given opportunities for independent living.

Thanks to these dedicated workers, secondhand and leftover fabrics, and the imaginations of Jim, Sandy, and the talented designers at Green 3, we’re always seeing updated products and trendy upcycled fashions. Which Green 3 design do you love most?


The Judges, the Lunch and the Winner!

April 25, 2012

 Last week the judges of the Summer Picnic Design Challenge met at Eat in Greenpoint, Brooklyn to discuss the top five voted designs and decide on a winner. Around the table were Candace, the tabletop buyer for UncommonGoods, Ian Yolles from RecycleBank, and Jessica and Emily of Susty Party. The food was farm fresh, the weather had us in the mood for a summer picnic and the judges were ready to deliberate.

Blown Dandelions by Kendall Walker won the popular vote. The design reminded Candace of being a little kid and blowing dandelions in her back yard. Jessica loved the simplicity of the lines yet thought the image had movement.

Jessica loved that Watermelon by Tanya Alexander was such a solid design that would use a lot of ink and look really bold on a cup and plate.

Jitterbugz by Caty Batholomew was a favorite of Candace. She thought it was a great design for a family and had a fun illustrated style. To her it screamed summer and she thought it would get people excited about the warmer months and upcoming picnics.

Bonnie Christine’s Nature Walk- Bird made us all want to “put a bird on it”. Emily thought it was a very pretty design and would look nice on anything, especially sustainable dinnerware.

But the design that stole the judge’s hearts was Danae Douglas’s Bike. Ian loved that Danae’s design promoted sustainable living and made him happy as an avid biker. Emily thought the design made living an eco-friendly lifestyle look very glamorous. Jessica loved the clean, crisp lines and Candace reaffirmed that UncommonGoods shoppers love bicycle designs and thought it would be a big hit.

 We asked Danae about the inspiration behind her design. “I wanted to show a picnic as an opportunity to enjoy the outdoors, as well a chance to travel greenly to get there. Biking is an excellent way to stay healthy, to take in your surroundings, and to get you where you’re going without doing any harm to the environment (and it’s also really fun!).”

To stay creatively inspired, Danae peruses books and magazines in addition to staying on top of local and global issues. “As a designer I think it’s really important to be globally minded and try to take in as many different perspectives as you can.”

Help us congratulate Danae on her victory in the comments below. She won $500 and will see her Bike design stamped onto sustainable cups and plates from Susty Party and sold at UncommonGoods.

Gift Guides

Biodiversity Bombs

February 2, 2011

Punxsutawney Phil has spoken, and if the groundhog is to be believed, it looks like spring is right around the corner. Time to start thinking about spring flowers?

Last week, Treehugger blogger Sami Grover wrote about a growing movement of people swapping seeds. These folks are planting more than plants and vegetables; they’re committed to biodiversity in their gardens. Many will be meeting up in England for a “Seedy Sunday” this weekend.

But if there’s too much snow on the ground to make it to a seed swap in your area, get started with our brand new wildflower seed bombs. Choose a packet from your region, and you’ll be ready to go with wildflower seeds native suited to your area. Each bag contains 5 seed bombs, plenty to fill your backyard or share with your neighbors.

Originally these bombs were created as a way to revive vacant lots in Cincinnati. But I think they might just revive all of us from the winter blues!

Read on for a full list of seeds included in each set.

Continue Reading…

Gift Guides

Gift Lab: Laura’s Fishing Expedition

November 4, 2010

On a recent fishing trip to the Catskills Mountains, Customer Service Supervisor Laura Frost tests out a solar-powered water bottle to see whether it holds up in bear country.

1) Product Name: Solar-Powered Illuminating Water Bottle

The water bottle in action


2) Background Research: I haven’t been camping or fly-fishing in years, and I was itching to embark on a nature adventure. I also have quite the collection of electronic gadgets that I didn’t want to drown while on the river. I needed the phone since I was out on the water by myself, a flashlight in case I was still out after twilight (when the trout are happy and active), and a camera to document my trip. On top of all that a night-light is a must have for dark, Catskill nights… in bear country. Gulp!

3) Hypothesis: This double-duty bottle can be a gadget-container during the day and a cheery night-light at night.

4) Experiment: Use the bottle to carry my camera and cell while on the river during the day and have a light that won’t depend on batteries at night while fishing and camping Willowemoc Creek in Sullivan County, NY.

5) Results: If you haven’t ever fly-fished a river know that you have to carry a lot of gear. There’s the rod, the net, the fly vest full of tackle and what-not, plus water-proof waders, and heavy felt-bottomed boots. One is then expected to traverse moving water going over slick, mossy rocks. Grace while doing all this is not an easy thing to pull off. Within the first 10 minutes on the Willowemoc on the first day I stepped on a slick rock and found myself sitting in 10 inches of creek. The good news? My camera and phone were perfectly safe in the Bottle, bobbing in the water while attached to my waders!

This water bottle features a really wide mouth, so my camera and phone fit with room to spare. The draw-sting that comes with it turned out to be handily adjustable. It attaches to the lid and the bottle, so I could attach it to my fishing waders without the worry that I’d drop the bottle while walking the stream.

Back at camp I emptied my gadgets and clicked the light on. It gave off a both a soft white glow and a red glow, which the packaging claims is better for night vision. The light was really handy while I prepped my hot dogs and s’mores.

It was also a welcome night light in my tent. The solar panel charged all day, so it was ready to glow for 8 hours. (It has a really cool, smart solar panel so the light won’t glow using precious battery life, while the sun’s shinning.) The red light was good inside the tent while I settled into my sleeping bag for the night.

The only let down? It was not a good flashlight for getting to the campground’s restrooms. The glow is good in a contained tent, or sitting on a picnic table, but couldn’t throw a long beam like a flashlight can.

The rest of the weekend I kept a mini-flashlight tucked in the bottle along with my cell and camera. My feet got steadier, and I was able to fish deeper water with confidence that my electronic gadgets would be safe. I was able to get some beautiful pictures of the stream and the rainbow trout I caught as well as get a good night’s sleep with my night light nearby.

The perfect view
The Uncommon Life

World Wildlife Fund

November 3, 2010

Who hasn’t come across the renowned World Wildlife Fund (WWF) panda logo before? World Wildlife Fund (WWF) is the world’s leading conservation organization, working in 100 countries for nearly half a century. With the support of almost 5 million members worldwide, WWF is dedicated to delivering science-based solutions to preserve the diversity and abundance of life on Earth, halt the degradation of the environment and combat climate change.

I embrace WWF’s work because I see the organization as very caring, responsible and credible. I’ve learned from early on how important it is to conserve earth’s resources and that it’s more efficient to work with nature instead of against it. From the Amazon to the Arctic, WWF is building a future where human needs are met in harmony with nature. By 2020 their goal is to conserve 19 of the world’s most important natural places and significantly change global forces to protect the future of nature. Their experts are active at every level – from field work to government – conserving the largest tropical rain forests, the most diverse coral reefs, and the world’s most endangered species.

Some of WWF’s current projects include:
• advocating for the protection of Arctic species including the polar bear and western gray whale
• calling for moratoriums on gas and oil exploration in the Arctic, as well
• advancing grassland conservation in the Northern Great Plains by establishing conservation areas and protecting species, such as bison and prairie dogs
• empowering communities in Namibia to manage their natural resources
• creating protected areas in parts of Asia where tigers are losing their habitats due to deforestation

There are so many reasons why the work of WWF is so important and should win the Better to Give contest. Most importantly, conservation and restoration is something that needs to happen on a large scale and on a global level and WWF has the resources to reach out to and work with people all around the world. In order to achieve its goals, WWF partners up with different groups, such as other NGOs, governments, businesses, scientists, investment banks, farmers, fishers, businesses and local communities.

WWF also uses its resources to run public campaigns that are designed to influence decision makers and educate people on how to live a more sustainable life. Thinking about the big picture of our changing climate, it is apparent that a behavior change needs to happen on many levels and having a widely-recognized brand and strong public outreach programs helps in getting things done.

– Trini Gantner, UncommonGoods Sustainability/Product Development

Agree with Trini, our sustainability expert? Vote here to put WWF into the final round for the Better to Give contest.

The Uncommon Life

East New York Farms

November 3, 2010

East New York Farms is no regular farm. It is an “urban farm” that was created in one of the poorest neighborhoods in Brooklyn. The organization literally transformed once abandoned lots into beautiful fields of fruits and vegetables. Its farmers are the young people who live in the community. The food they grow is sold at a bi-weekly farmers market, only to residents of East New York at a price they can afford. They also provide workshops and cooking demonstrations to make health eating more accessible.

They hire a small staff a folks who oversee the operations and development of the youth, including my friend Sarita, who is honestly one of the happiest people I know. It is clear to me she is fulfilled by the mission of organization.

I am passionate about this organization, because I too have been transformed by produce. I got interested in cooking ten years ago after discovering a farmers market across the street from my office. I made simple dishes based on quality ingredients, and slowly over time noticed my health improving. I eventually lost 30 lbs and had a number of health conditions clear up. My experience taught me that improving our food is the best way to improve our health.

It’s the unfortunate truth that poorer neighborhoods, like East New York, generally have higher incidents of obesity and diet-related health conditions. And I think a big reason for that is little access to fresh food and less education about the issue.

East New York Farms is the perfect model to address these issues. I encourage your support by voting for ENY Farms on Facebook.

– Ameet Maturu, Online Marketing Manager

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