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The Uncommon Life

Environmental ABC’s: 26 Ways to Go Back to School Green

September 6, 2012

It’s back-to-school time, giving us an excuse to get all educational on you, with tips and ideas about how you and your family can live green this fall. Parenting–and teaching–innately imply thinking about the future, and eco-sensitive lifestyles help ensure that the years ahead will be bright for today’s children. In that spirit, we present to you our ABCs of going back to school in sustainable style.

A

Art. Let’s start with something wondrous: Fabulous art–made from garbage. Some of the best art in the world today is being made out of trash. Check these out:

http://www.etsy.com/listing/101674993/trash-bird-sculpture-three

Inspiring, right? Talk to your school’s art teacher to see if they’d be into working on a trash art project. (There’s a good chance they already are.)
For art-making at home, keep a scrap paper bin of paper that’s printed on only one side. Kids can doodle, or do multiple drafts of drawings or paintings on the scrap paper. When they want to make a keeper version, that’s the time for the “good” paper.

At UncommonGoods, we love unique and beautiful works of art made from recycled and reclaimed materials that would otherwise have ended up as plain old garbage.

B

children-riding-a-horse-to-school-glass-house-mountains-queensland-1928-small
Bike, walk, skateboard, scooter or ride the bus (or a horse!) to school instead of driving or even carpooling. Kid energy is a renewable resource. UncommonGoods employees are encouraged to use bikes as transportation, and we offer several convenient, effective and cool bike safety items.

C

Copy machines: Do you really, truly need to make a hard copy of that document? If you absolutely must, use both sides of the–ideally, recycled–paper. In fact, how about making double-sided printing and minimal ink use the default settings?

You could also buy refillable cartridges containing bio based, sustainable inks (like soy). If for whatever reason that’s impossible at school or work, at least try to recycle your used ink cartridges.

D

Disposable items are uncool. Whenever possible, buy re-useable items. Tossing disposables into a recycling bin is at best, a very pale green: It takes energy to recycle and re-manufacture things, and if you throw them away after only one use, a lot of that energy has been wasted.
Prime culprits of back-to-school disposability crimes include:

  • Pens. The ballpoint pen was invented in 1938. In 2005, Bic celebrating selling its 100 billionth pen. 14,000,000 BIC Cristals are sold a day. And that’s just one brand. Six billion pens are thrown away every year in the US! 

Buy a refillable pen. Metal ink refills can be recycled. Vintage advertising pens are nostalgic, super stylin’, and the sins of their manufacturing are in the past. UncommonGoods’ selection of refillable pens ranges from funky to girly to sporty to arty.

  • Coffee cups. Americans buy 14.4 billion cups a year of coffee in disposable cups, which take energy, trees and water to make and transport. It’s not only styrofoam cups that are an environmental disaster; because the paper kind are lined with plastic, they can’t be recycled either. Get a mug.

You could go crazy upscale and get a cup decorated with  24 karat gold, blue cobalt, and diamonds. 

Or get an equally covetable but rather more sensible one.

  • Razors. Cut out (yep, we went there) disposable razors. Each year, Americans buy, use, and toss two billion razors and the packaging they come in. Instead, how about trying a solar-charged electric shaver, or at least, an Energy Star model? Electric shavers do use energy, but not water. A recycled razor is another possibility; one brand is made of recycled yogurt containers. The blades in the (disposable) cartridges can be kept sharp much longer by using a razor-saver gizmo.

If you’re feeling a luxe goth vibe, we’re pretty sure that our skull razor is the coolest thing going.

 

Opt for Don Draper’s safety razor (they use recycleable metal blades) and you’ve got an excuse to buy a retro-hip shaving brush. (The gratuitous photo of shirtless Jon Hamm is here for strictly educational purposes only, honest!) But whatever you do, don’t shave in the shower–especially women, who have the most acreage to denude. As this Slate article informs us, “Shaving for 10 minutes with a typical 2.5 gallons-per-minute shower head, you’d waste more than 24 gallons of hot water, 4.1 kilowatt-hours of electricity, and 5.3 pounds of carbon dioxide in your warm, misty tub. It would take less than three days of shaving to account for the energy you’d use by shaving in the sink for an entire year.”

E-waste. Americans junk 30 million computers every year (those are circuit boards in the photo above). Add phones, TVs, DVD players, etc. to that list and you’ve got about 3 million tons of dumped electronics a year in the US alone. Not only does this waste reuseable materials, but 70% of the dangerous heavy metals in landfills come from all that e-junk. But it’s becoming easier and easier to reycycle old electronics, as governments require manufacturers to take them back. Here are some links to help you find e-waste collection sites.

A protective sleeve or case will help keep your mobile phone, laptop, tablet or e-reader from getting broken or wet and then sent to an early grave.

F

Food. There are so many good, green food habits to teach your kids. Perhaps the primary lesson should be about wasted food.

Just kidding. Not that kind of wasted.

We Americans waste around 40 percent of our food. The average American throws away 33 pounds–about $40 worth–of edible food each month, according to a report the Natural Resources Defense Council put out in August. That’s about 50% more than in 1974. (And we know it’s not because we’ve gotten better at portion control.)

When people talk about becoming less dependent on petro-fuels, they don’t usually think of food as part of that. But growing, transporting, packaging, selling and buying what we eat uses a ginormous amount of oil. (And fertilizer, pesticides, and water.) The NRDC estimates that approximately 25 percent of the freshwater and 4 percent of the oil Americans consume goes to edible food that’s thrown away. On top of all that, a whole lot of greenhouse gases are produced during the food cycle.

There’s also all that food packaging to consider: Every year, the average American child generates 67 pounds of trash from their school lunches. That’s 18,670 pounds per year from the average elementary school. (NY State Dept of Environmental Conservation).

As Dana Gunder, agricultural environmental specialist at the NRDC put it, “No matter how sustainable the farming is, if the food’s not getting eaten, it’s not sustainable and it’s not a good use of our resources.”

It’s very possible to quickly change this for the better. A public awareness campaign in the United Kingdom called “Love Food Hate Waste” has reduced household food waste by 18% in only five years.

A simple way to do your part to reduce waste while also ensuring that your child is eating healthy, is packing their lunches yourself in an appealing lunch bag made of recycled materials. You can also use cloth napkins and refillable beverage containers–lightweight, collapsible, BPA-free models might be best for kids’ lunches.

Whenever possible, eschew (see what we did there?) single-serve portions: ugh, all that disposable packaging! And don’t forget that in addition to their nutritional benefits, fruits like bananas, apples and oranges come with all the packaging they need.

G

Green(er) tools for school.

Avoid backpacks and school binders made of nylon or new plastics, especially PVC vinyl. Not only is it not recycleable, but some of the most dangerous environmental contaminants, including dioxins (known carcinogens and hormone disruptors, and the most toxic synthetic chemicals) are released during its manufacture and disposal. It’s worth searching for non-toxic binders, and easy to find bags made from recycled or natural materials.

Personalized backpack patches,  painted backpack,  homemade drawstring backpack

Better yet, find a gently used vintage one. I’m a lifelong thrift store cruiser, and those places always have plenty of new-looking backpacks and messenger-type bags for sale, just begging to be creatively personalized. If you’re artsy, it’d be a snap to paint a great-looking, unique backpack; sewers of even modest skill could make one from the fabric of another vintage item, like a skirt.

If you use “office” machines at home, choose Energy-star rated ones, and be sure to schedule regular maintenance for maximum energy efficiency. And it’s now possible to buy folders and binders, pushpins, rulers, scissors, paper clips, crayons, correction fluid, glue, pen and pencil holders and cases, desk organizers, and laptop sleeves made of recycled/recycleable/biodegradable/nontoxic materials.

H

Habits, like recycling, or searching for green alternatives, are easy once they become automatic. Teach kids (and pets, if you can…) to turn out the lights when you’re the last one out of the room; turn off their computer when they’re done using it; turn off the tap while they brush their teeth.

I

Inventory. Know what you already have before you go shopping for school supplies, clothes, backpacks, etc. It’s so tempting to buy scads of new, shiny pens and notebooks when they’re on sale, and parents tend to over-buy at back-to-school time. Pull out last year’s extras to save money and waste less.

J

Jobs. Green ones. Meaningful employment is one of the main reasons people go to school and get an education in the first place, right? Lots of interesting and fulfilling jobs are popping up in the fields of sustainability and environmentalism. Inspire your kids by talking with them about the possibilities. For teenagers and college students, there are internships galore.
Many colleges and universities throughout the U.S. now have an “Office of Sustainability” or a less formal task force, through which students can become involved in greening their campus. A geographically diverse sampling:

A few resources to help find green/environmental/sustainability internships:

K

Kvetch. And vote. It’s never too early to teach your kids that the squeaky wheel gets the grease. (OK, we take that back. It is sometimes too early.) Help them understand what democracy is and the effectiveness of action within it. Teach them about the history of environmentalism (maybe brush up on it yourself, first) and how people got together to push for societal change.

L

Laundry. Living green sometimes takes a little extra effort, but occasionally it’s less work, rather than more. Here’s an example: don’t wash your clothes and bedding so often. You can tell when fabric needs cleaning: it’s either dirty or…fragrant. If neither is true, skip the wash.

Set a family laundry schedule and stick to it. Getting the whole family on board could avoid unnecessary runs of your machines for a basketball uniform or dance costume. When you do wash, use natural and non-toxic soaps, and line-dry whenever possible. In the summertime, use the great solar dryer in the sky. In the wintertime, damp articles of clothing hanging indoors are electricity-free humidifiers.

UncommonGoods offers a nicely designed indoor clothesline, as well as this aroma-tastic natural laundry soap. It’s packaged as a manly item, but who doesn’t like “rich smelling sunflower, coconut and rosemary oils”?

Stunningly beautiful clothesline photos to inspire you, collected by Pinterest-poster Mei-Mei:

M

Meat. Eat less of it.

Issues of morality and health aside, meat is simply far less energy-efficient and far more polluting than non-animal sources of protein. Audubon magazine: “The UN Food and Agriculture Organization reports that livestock production worldwide is responsible for a whopping 18 percent of the world’s total greenhouse gases–more than all the cars, buses, planes, and trains in the world combined.” Nathan Fiala, a doctoral candidate in environmental economics at the University of California-Irvine, estimates that to produce 1 pound of beef, 15 pounds of carbon dioxide are created.

According to Department of Agriculture estimates, it takes about 15 pounds of feed to make 1 pound of beef, 6 pounds of feed for 1 pound of pork and 5 pounds of feed for 1 pound of chicken. Even farmed fish eat up to 5 lbs of wild-caught fish per pound that we can eat.

That doesn’t even take into account the energy and other costs of raising, butchering, packaging, refrigerating and transporting. For instance, according to the Worldwatch Institute, producing one pound of beef can use up 50,000 liters of water.

Children will love the following info-tidbits about the inevitable noxious “output” of so many animals: Massive amounts of #s 1 and 2 from pig factory farms leak into nearby water supplies. Burping and farting livestock produce 16 percent of the world’s annual production of methane, which is 23 times more powerful as a global warming gas than carbon dioxide (CO2). So. You can start small by participating in Meat Free Monday, the worldwide campaign of the cute Beatle. Or start big and do the opposite: eat meat only on Mondays.

N

New. Old is the new new. If vintage clothes are cool enough for super-rich and fashionable movie and pop stars, it’s possible that your kids (and you) could deem them adequately fabulous. They require zero energy and resources to make, because they’re, y’know, already made. We did a little searching and found these adorable clothes that we thought were perfect for back-to-school.

1960s snap-front western shirt,  vintage dress and sweater,  Garfield brand vintage polo shirt,  1960s plaid skort / culottes

Then there are clothes made from recycled or salvaged fabric and fibers. They’re green no matter what color they are.

UncommonGoods Recycled Bridesmaid Dress Skirt and Recycled Cat and Owl Scarves

O

Organic foods don’t pollute our environment with toxic pesticides or petroleum-derived fertilizers. They usually (but not always) take a lot less energy to grow, too. You’ve probably had your fill of info about eating organic, but perhaps your kids are interested in growing it!

It’s tough to make a living as a small organic farmer, but the non-financial rewards are inspiring more and more young people to give it a whack. If your teens or college students would like to taste life on the chemical-free farm, here are some resources to help them find a volunteer or paid position–maybe next summer?

P

Paper. You already know that paper requires the death of innocent trees (and destruction of animal habitat). But you may not know about the rest of paper’s massive environmental impacts.

Paper milling is one of the most energy and pollution-intensive industries in the world, emitting lethal chemicals into the air, water, and when the 12 million tons a year of paper solid waste are disposed of, the earth. Some of them stick around for a very long time and gradually enter the food chain. Others deplete the ozone layer. As if that’s not bad enough, its manufacture uses more water per ton of product than any other industry.

The good news is that making new paper out of old is energy-efficient, cost-effective, uses far fewer resources, and obviously, reduces the amount of waste. While it takes from 2 to 3.5 tons of trees to make 1 ton of virgin paper, a ton of recycled paper can make nearly equivalent amount of new, while using only 10 to 40 percent of the energy, less water, and far fewer chemicals. Buying recycled paper is voting for more recycling.

The most toxic chemicals involved in paper making – the various types of seriously carcinogenic chlorine used for bleaching, which produce, among other things, deadly dioxin (as we mentioned in letter “G,” above, the most potent carcinogen known)–aren’t necessary. There are plenty of non-toxic chemicals that can whiten paper, including the same stuff that’s in Oxy-Clean.

Not all paper has to be white, anyway–paper towels, and toilet paper, for instance. Avoid using bleached paper products whenever possible. Buy non-bleached brands instead.Processed Chlorine-Free

When you do buy bleached paper, choose chlorine-free brands; specifically TCF (Totally Chlorine-Free) or, best of all, PCF (“Processed Chlorine-Free”). The latter is a lousy name for a good product; it refers to papers that contain a minimum of 30% post-consumer recycled fiber, have not been re-bleached with chlorine-containing compounds, are made in mills without outstanding environmental violations, and use TCF virgin pulp (when virgin fiber is included in the paper) that did not come from old growth forests. (Don’t be confused by ECF, “Elementally Chlorine-Free, which uses other types of chlorine, just not its “elemental” form.)

The Chlorine Free Products Association (CFPA) certifies all of this. You can use the Paper Calculator to figure out the environmental impact of various kinds of paper, and look up every possible sort of paper on Conservatree, in order to find green paper brands. You can even buy recycled sticky notes!

Q

Questions are the starting point of changes. Moms and dads, encourage your children to ask questions about the family’s new habits and ask them if they can think of new ways to decrease the family’s ecological impact. You might be surprised by their answers.

R

Read. The New York State Department of Environmental Conservation’s magazine, Conservationist for Kids, covers a wide range of topics that are fascinating to kids, written just for them, and accompanied by great photos. All past and current issues are available online.

S

Statistics. We know we’ve flooded you with facts here. But they’re meant to inform, not overwhelm. Negative statistics can make one feel powerless and discouraged. But you yourself, reading and practicing a few (or a lot) of these green ABCs and sharing them with friends, who share them with their friends, and so on, could start generating statistics we all like a lot better. Yes, really.

T

Think (it only takes a moment) before you buy or use anything and everything. That’ll give your mind a chance to recall some of the tips and factoids you’re reading here (and elsewhere).

U

Unplug electronic gadgets and appliances when not in use, due to…

V

Vampire power. Also known as “standby power,” this is the electricity used by many electronic devices, chargers, appliances, and equipment when they’re switched off, but not unplugged. The name comes from those black power supply cubes; their metal plugs are like fangs, sucking power out of your walls.

Depending on how much electricity costs where you live and how many devices you have plugged in, trickles of vampire power can really add up. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the Department of Energy’s joint Energy Star program estimates that “the average U.S. household spends $100 per year to power devices while they are off (or in standby mode). On a national basis, standby power accounts for more than 100 billion kilowatt hours of annual U.S. electricity consumption and more than $10 billion in annual energy costs.”

As you can imagine, the billions and billions of devices sucking electrical “blood” out of the world’s power grids collectively waste a tremendous amount of electricity. And because most energy plants emit a great deal of carbon dioxide (one of the major culprits of global warming) and sulpher dioxide (which causes acid rain), plus various other pollutants, eliminating vampire power with smart power strips, etc. is a no-brainer.

W

Water. Most Americans have never had to give water a second’s worth of thought. This summer’s drought, however, has caused many of us to begin waking up to the reality that water is a limited resource. How about trying to use less? It’s painless, once you start paying attention.

Some simple ways to conserve water: If you’re a gardener, grow plants that thrive in dry environments. Notice when you’re using running water’s physical force to push food off plates or dirt off of whatever, and begin using elbow grease instead, cleaning with a brush or rag–with the tap turned off. In fact, start paying attention every time you turn on a tap or shower. How long does the water really need to be running? During the hectic morning rush, setting a timer for morning showers will limit bathroom time per family member while saving many gallons of water.

X

Xx.  We hope you don’t think we’re fresh, but…here’s a smooch, for getting your green on.

YRecycling symbol tattoo,  glitter green platform disco shoes,  eco-mack daddy vegan fur hat and vest, recycling symbol nail art

You’re a shining star
No matter who you are
Shining bright to see
What you could truly be

–Earth, Wind, and Fire

(Set a good example!)

Z

Zzzzz. It’s easy to drift away from the great schedule that you started at the beginning of the school year, but keeping bedtimes early means fewer lightbulbs burning in the night. Besides, Benjamin Franklin says it will make you healthy, wealthy and wise–and he was not only one of our Founding Fathers, he’s also the Father of Electricity!

He also said the words we’d like to close with:

Tell me and I forget. Teach me and I remember.  Involve me and I learn.

The Uncommon Life

A Rockin’ Sinangag (Filipino Garlic Rice) Recipe

August 31, 2012

I had a bunch of leftover cooked jasmine rice in the fridge and a new UncommonGoods gadget I wanted to try, the Garlic Rocker. So I did the math and came up with Garlic + Rice = Garlic Rice. Clever, eh?
Googling “garlic rice” in search of a recipe led me to the discovery that in the Phillippines, it’s a breakfast staple called “sinangag” in Tagalog. Garlic for breakfast?! I was on it like white on rice.
Because fried rice doesn’t require exact measurements–you can judge just by looking how much of each ingredient you want to add to it–I looked at several recipes and more or less winged it from there. (The recipe links are at the bottom of this page.) I also consulted UncommonGoods’ two Filipino software developers, Albert Tingson and Orlando Geronimo.
Orlando (right, in photo) said, “How about if you bring the sinangag to work and we’ll have a good breakfast with some tapa and fried egg. We call it ‘Tapsilog.'” All three of us were enthused about this idea until we remembered that we have no way to cook fried eggs at work.
With any kind of fried rice, you want to get all the elements (except herbs, if you’re using them) cooked and chopped before the “frying” begins (actually, sautéeing in my case, as I used a flat pan instead of a wok).
I put some “fancy” generic store brand frozen peas in a bowl and defrosted/cooked them in the microwave. When they were done, I set them aside.I started scrambling a couple of eggs. The secret to good scrambled eggs is low heat, minimal scrambling, and removing the eggs when they’re still slightly underdone, because they’ll cook a little more from their internal heat. That way, the eggs turn out soft and delicious rather than rubbery and tasteless.
When the eggs were done, I sort of stab/chopped them into irregular, bite-size chunks with the plastic spatula I was using in the non-stick pan. Then I set them aside.I took my leftover rice out of the fridge and broke up the stuck-together hunks so that it’d be ready to be scattered into the pan when the time came. I set that aside, too.Then I cut each garlic clove in half lengthwise so that it would lay flat and stable.Now I was ready to ROCK. I pressed the rocker down onto a nice, fat garlic clove and rocked it back and forth to cut through the whole clove.Oh, how beautiful the results were. Perfect little bullets of garlic that resembled part of a honeycomb. Without bothering to scrape off the “bullets,” I put another couple of cloves underneath the tool and pressed/rocked them, too.Because I’m a garlic glutton, I rocked a few more cloves. Then it was time to sauté the garlic bullets.
I used peanut oil. Chinese cooks normally use it because it has a high “smoke point” – meaning it can get a lot hotter than, say, canola oil, corn oil, or butter, before it starts smoking and burning. Also, its flavor goes better with Asian food than olive oil’s does. (If you live near an Asian grocery, buy it there. It’s a lot more expensive at typical American groceries.)I put maybe three tablespoons more into the pan than I needed for sautéeing the garlic, so that there’d be plenty of gloriously garlicky oil left over to fry the rice with.
I’m an impatient cook and I hate to watch over things, which is why I very often overcook my hamburgers and burn my garlic. Burning garlic ruins it. It tastes really acrid and bad. So I made myself pay attention and kept the heat low-ish. I didn’t ruin it! OK, actually a few pieces were overcooked, but I deleted them.One of the recipes I’d found said to add the rice to the garlic in the pan, but I didn’t want to risk cooking the garlic any longer. Instead, I set it aside with the other prepped ingredients, leaving as much as possible of the now-flavored oil in the pan.
It was time to put together the sinangag. I raised the heat to high and added the rice, stirring it in order to make sure it all got some oil on it. I cooked it for maybe three minutes, not enough to brown it, but sufficient to get it hot and give it some of the character of the hot oil. You can smell when it’s right — it’ll remind you a little bit of popcorn cooking in oil.
I added the peas and eggs and stirred to more or less evenly distribute them in the rice and to get all three elements to flavor-kiss a bit. Then I turned off the heat, added the garlic, and stirred some more. A wave of garlic bliss came over me while putting so much into what was only a couple of servings of rice.And there you have it. In imitation of the photo accompanying one of the recipes I’d found, I pressed it into a little bowl-type thingy (I don’t know what to call it because it isn’t round like a bowl — mini-crock?) and made it look all nice and photogenic.
I served some of it into a bowl that I know is an actual bowl because it’s rounded, added a couple of dashes of soy sauce, and dug in. It was a beautiful, heavenly, garlic symphony, much more than the sum of its humble parts.

Recipe: Sinangag (Filipino Garlic Rice)

Ingredients
(I’m not giving amounts because it’s up to you and how much leftover rice you have.)

Leftover cooked rice (it should be at least one day old)
Frozen green peas
Eggs
Garlic cloves (lots)
Peanut oil
Salt or soy sauce

Preparation steps
1. Break up the rice if it’s sticking together; set aside.
2. Defrost and cook the peas. Set them aside.
3. Gently scramble the eggs; then break them up into small pieces. Set them aside.
4. Peel and cube (or “rock” – but do not use garlic press) the garlic into quarter-inch-size chunks and saute until golden–not dark–brown.
5. Set frying pan or wok on a burner and set heat to high.
6. As soon as oil has a subtle, shimmery sheen (but before it smokes), add rice and cook for about 3 minutes, until the rice is hot and perhaps very slightly browned in a few places, but no more. Turn heat down to medium.
7. Add the peas and eggs and stir to mix; cook for about a minute.
8. Turn off heat; add garlic and stir.
9. Add salt or soy sauce to taste.

Recipe links
Sinangag – Filipino Garlic Fried Rice
Garlic Fried Rice
Sinangag – Eggs and Peas Fried Rice
How to cook fried rice (Sinangag na Kanin)

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

Vote on Designs to Take Home the Prize!

August 6, 2012

Since we launched our community voting app we’ve heard some great feedback from voters like you. Some exciting new designs have entered our assortment with the help of all of those thumbs up, so we’re thanking our community with the chance to win the latest batch of up-for-voting goods.

Vote and Comment to Enter:

1. We’re giving away each of the items up for voting this week. Every vote gets you an entry, so vote on each product under consideration for more opportunities to win.

2. Share your votes on Twitter or tag us in a comment on Facebook along with a link to our voting page for another entry.

3. Leave an insightful, constructive comment telling us what you love about the product or how you think it could be improved. Again, you can comment on each product under consideration, giving you even more chances to win.

Two Ways to Win

Win with a vote…
One winner will be chosen from the voters of each product from this week’s new up-for-voting selection. We do encourage honesty, so a thumbs down vote could still win. In that case the voter will receive a gift certificate in the amount of the value of that product. If one of the products doesn’t make the cut, the winning voter will receive a gift certificate in the amount of the value of that product, so they can choose something else they’ll love.

Win with a comment…
The best comment left over the course of the week, as selected by our buyers, will win a $50 gift certificate. Tip: We want to know what makes a product an uncommon good. Tell us what you love about the design or how we could make it better. Share how you would use the design in your life, or let us know whether or not it would make a great gift for someone special. Our buyers take every comment into consideration, so make yours count!

Visit our community voting app to get started!

*This contest is open to those in the 50 US states and the District of Columbia, as we do not offer international shipping at this time. Voting/commenting to enter ends 8/15.

The Uncommon Life

Baby Shower Decor: DIY Tassel Garlands

July 30, 2012

Paper tassels garlands are so popular now. And rightly so – they add the perfect pop of color and whimsy to any room or party space. And they’re fairly easy to make… with a small team of crafty friends you can get through a couple yards of garland. Last week I embarked on making over one hundred paper tassels for a friend’s shower and thought it would be the perfect decor DIY to share during Baby Week!

Here are the steps I took to make my paper tassel garland:

Lay the tissue paper on a flat surface so one of the shorter sides of the rectangle is facing you. Fold the tissue paper in half lengthwise. Turn the tissue paper so the long, open edge is facing you and the folded side is on top. Fold in half twice widthwise.

Cut thin strips from the bottom, open edge to the folded edge, leaving a one inch space. I used a rotary cutter for speed but plain craft scissors will do.

Open up the paper and lay it out with the fringe out to the left and right. Comb all fringe so the paper lays flat.

Roll the paper up from one end to the other.

Now your tissue paper should look like a pom-pom or Red Fraggle’s hair. Make sure your fringe is combed while you are rolling. Once the entire piece has been rolled up the delicate fringe can break if you try to comb it.

Twist the center of the pom-pom.

As you twist, fold the pom-pom in half creating a small loop. Use glue or a clear twist-tie to secure your tassel on string or twine.

Marvel at your perfect tassel, but not for too long. Get back to work! One tassel does not a garland make!

Have you made a paper tassel garland? Tweet photos of your tissue paper masterpiece at @UncommonGoods.

The Uncommon Life

DIY Project to Welcome Baby by Rubyellen of My Cakies

July 30, 2012
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Collaborative family projects are the best. We first did a family art piece (see here) before Soul was born and now we finally got around to creating one for Glow. I asked the girls what colors come to mind when they think of their baby sister and those are the colors we used. All of us took turns painting on it and we went back a few times to let layers dry before adding more. It’s a sweet pop of color perfect for a baby room! 

We loved Rubyellen’s idea of coming together before a new baby is born and creating a piece that is unique and memorable from the entire family. It not only can serve as a personalized piece of art but a special keepsake for the rest of their life! Visit Rubyellen’s blog, My Cakies, to learn more about her incredible family and check out her hand-picked collection of UncommonGoods baby gifts.

The Uncommon Life

Oh Baby! A Week of Baby Gifts and DIYs!

July 30, 2012

It’s a Boy! It’s a Girl! It’s Baby Week here at UncommonGoods. We are celebrating everything related to the little bundle of joy — from baby shower DIYs to gifts for babies.

Visit the hand-picked collections of UncommonGoods baby gifts from our featured bloggers like:

Justina Blakeney

Design For Minikind

Cakies

Oh Dear Drea

Browse through our Oh Baby Pinterest board dedicated to the pitter-patter of little feet and all things baby.

Don’t miss the blog this week! We have DIYs for baby showers, baby gift ideas, Justina Blakeney’s favorite baby Pinterest boards, and more.

Sweeten Up A Baby Shower

Raising Your Kids Green

Top Baby Gifts From Our Buyer

Baby Carrier Gift Lab

A DIY Project to Welcome the Newest Addition to Your Family by Rubyellen of My Cakies

Justina’s Favorite Baby Pinterest Boards

DIY Baby Shower Decor: Paper Tassel Garlands
 

 

The Uncommon Life

How To Sweeten Up Any Baby Shower by Kenda of Remaking June Cleaver

July 30, 2012

Well hello there! I’m Kenda, author of Remaking June Cleaver and I don’t know about you, but I’ve been to a lot of baby showers this year! I love all of the adorable decorations and excitement. Mommy’s-To-Be are getting very creative with their party planning – even with the food they serve. I’d like to share with you two unique (and sweet) ideas I’ve seen.

Animal Cracker Fun Dip
I think it’s so cute when even the shower food reminds you of times with your little ones. What better symbol of fun snack times than animal crackers. Using a tasting platter, serve the cookies with several fun ‘dips’ for your guests. Start with whipped cream and then add sprinkles, crushed peanuts or crushed peppermint. Guests can create their own flavor combinations. An animal cracker has never tasted so good!

Ice Cream Sandwich Platter
Having a summer baby shower means you may need a way for your guests to cool off. Pass on the usual sorbet punch and serve up homemade ice cream sandwiches instead. One great tool for serving is a sushi platter – it can be chilled in the freezer beforehand so that your sandwiches don’t melt as quickly and it gives you a perfect spot to pile on the whipped cream for endless dipping. You can add sprinkles, colored sugar and more to make your ice cream sandwiches something to write home about!

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