While our business has grown a lot since our founding in 1999, UncommonGoods’ commitment to positively impacting the communities we touch has not wavered. If you’ve shopped with UncommonGoods before, you know that being socially conscious is a concept baked right into our company DNA. From founder and CEO Dave Bolotsky meeting with President Obama, to advocating for small businesses, to paying our lowest-paid seasonal workers more than 50% above the federal minimum wage, to advocating for mandated paid family leave in the State of New York, UncommonGoods has been able to successfully champion progressive business practices since from day one. Below are a few choice highlights from our mission in promoting social good.
Along with creativity and the artist community, sustainability is important to us at UncommonGoods. As you may know, we’re a founding B Corporation – a movement that designates companies who are using the power of business to solve social and environmental problems.
Enjoying the sights in Portland, Oregon, Photos by Sean Cullen
Every year, B Lab hosts the Champions Retreat, where B Corps from around the globe converge to celebrate the success of the businesses and growth of the movement. This year I had the honor of attending the retreat in Portland, Oregon, with HR Project Coordinator Sean Cullen, where over 300 B Corps gathered to exchange best practices, attend un-conference sessions, and brainstorm ways to further promote business as a force for good.
This year’s retreat theme was “Building Bridges.” This theme was meant to inspire reflection on ways to expand the B Corp movement. There was talk of building bridges between individuals and businesses within the B Corp community could build to make B Corp a better ally for issues like diversity, small businesses, and the potential B Corps of tomorrow.
Sean and I write down the bridges we’d like to build in the B Corp community.
To better illustrate this, the end of the retreat was rounded out by the TED-inspired B Inspired Talks. The talks featured inspiring individuals who paved the way for using a force for good, such as Perry Chen of Kickstarter, David Griswold of Sustainable Harvest, and Maya Rockeymoore of Global Policy Solutions. You can watch the full set of B Inspired Talks over at the B Lab.
The conference ended with a festival celebrating business as a force for good in Pioneer Courthouse Square. B Corp vendors such as New Belgium Brewing, Ben & Jerry’s, and Tony’s Chocolonely handed out samples while a DJ played music for the crowd. It was a great week to be part of the B Corp movement!
Learn more about how we’re learning from our fellow B Corps with these take-aways from past retreats.
The New York City Economic Development Corporation and B Lab, the non-profit organization behind the B Corporation network, are calling out New York City businesses to become Best for NYC! The Best for NYC Challenge is a free impact assessment to help business leaders identify where their businesses excel and where their business could improve to strengthen the bottom line and New York City. Through this campaign, B Lab will provide tools for small businesses to measure, benchmark, and improve their economic and social impact like the leading B Corporations.
At the end of 2015, NYCEDC and B Lab will celebrate businesses that have taken the Best for NYC Challenge and are working to build a better business and improve quality of life for all New Yorkers.
UncommonGoods is proud to be a model for the Best for NYC qualification challenge. Check out the video below of UncommonGoods CEO David Bolotsky to learn more about UncommonGoods’ journey to socially responsible business. You can join the conversation on social media by using the hashtag #BestforNYC.
Editor’s note: Daniela De Marco is the Director of Marketing at ecojot, the folks that helped us bring you our exclusive City Prints by artist Carolyn Gavin. In this guest post, Daniela explains what it means to be a B Corp and how B Corps can work together to “B the Change” that they want to see in the world.
First, you may be thinking what are B Corps? “B Corps are certified by the non-profit B Lab to meet rigorous standards of social and environmental performance, accountability, and transparency.” That means that B Corps are assessed for their impact on the environment, workers, customers, community and governance. When we here at ecojot joined the Certified B Corporation community in 2011 we knew that we weren’t just validating our good business practices. We were spreading the word to inspire other businesses and people to follow the lead in redefining success in business.
As a B Corp we are rigorously assessed for our better businesses practices. Whether it’s ensuring we live up to our GIVE Program initiatives, making our products locally, keeping them green, or treating our employees respectfully. B Corporation is not just another certification to stamp on our products. Instead, it’s a movement for change, to make better choices when it comes to business, people, and our environment.
Best of all, special things happen when you’re a B Corp. We are automatically part of a movement that is changing the way business operates for the better. We get opportunities to discover and collaborate across nations with like-minded businesses that may not have been possible. With these collaborations we are spreading the word even further.
Check out the B Corp Anthem video to see what we mean:
When we met with the people at UncommonGoods we were over the moon excited for the opportunity to work together. Not only do we get to partner with an insanely well-known organization who can help grow our artist, Carolyn Gavin’s vision for our happy earth friendly ecojot brand, but they are a B Corp too! Meaning we share the same values to give you, our consumers, a product you’ll love, enjoy, and be proud of.
Carolyn signing and giving out workbooks to the children of St. Lucia. A Rainforest of Learning trip hosted by OneWorld Schoolhouse Foundation that ecojot proudly supported in 2013 through the GIVE Program.
Without further ado, this spring we exclusively launched City Print designs by our uber-talented artist Carolyn Gavin with fellow awesome B Corp UncommonGoods, who have gone over and beyond in working with us to create a set of beautiful thick stock, Portland made, sustainable wall prints that capture the colors and cultural of the cities.
Carolyn’s process involves painting and hand lettering each landmark separately. She then combines them into a bright map-style design. Watch her in action as she listens to music by harpist Brandee Younger and paints San Francisco’s Japanese Tea Garden.
Whether you want to adorn your walls with the fresh sights of San Francisco, or the magic of Paris, find Carolyn’s ten popular cities here. To find other socially responsible businesses in your area and online, check out the B Corp Community.
In 1999, UncommonGoods was founded as an alternative retailer driven by an emerging market for unique, handmade and environmentally friendly designs, as well as a conviction that business could be a force for good in the world. And over the past fifteen years, the people behind our efforts—our Brooklyn team, not-for-profit partners, and an array of independent artists and independently minded customers—have been the inspiration and can-do catalysts of our growing business. So, as we look back at 2014, we thought the best way to characterize the year is by profiling a few of the people and partners that made it one to celebrate.
Reach Out and Read: a Better to Give Success Story
Through our Better to Give program, UncommonGoods has donated over $1 million to our partner non-profits.
As an independently owned business, we have the freedom to support causes we believe in, helping them to impact the world in a positive way. Through our Better to Give program, we make it easy for you to join us in supporting these great causes—with every purchase you make, we’re proud to donate $1 to your choice of one of our non-profit partners. Over the week of Thanksgiving, we increased the Better to Give donation to $5 for those visiting our site through a special email campaign, taking us past the $1 million donation mark on Black Friday!
Our newest Better to Give partner, Reach Out and Read, joined us in 2014, and was immediately a popular choice, gaining over 35 thousand customer backers, for a total of more than $35,000 in donations. Reach Out and Read serves more than 4 million children annually, sharing the transformative power of reading with families in need nationwide. As recommended by the American Academy of Pediatrics, the program incorporates early literacy into pediatric practice, equipping parents with tools and knowledge to ensure that their children are prepared to learn when they start school.
With obvious passion for his organization’s work, Reach Out and Read’s Executive Director Brian Gallagher shared some of the ways that Better to Give has benefited their efforts over the past year:
“The support has allowed us to purchase brand-new books (our favorites include Goodnight Moon and Clifford the Big Red Dog) and to deliver critical literacy guidance to families in need. With the support of UncommonGoods and others, we have been able to grow our program in 2014, adding our unique early literacy intervention in 287 additional health centers, hospitals, and pediatric clinics nationwide, serving 230,000 more children. UncommonGoods has provided essential funding to keep our program expanding—truly helping us to change pediatrics, change families, and most importantly, change futures.”
Brian also commented on some of the benefits of our collaboration beyond the bottom line:
“In addition to the amazing financial support, the Better to Give partnership has helped educate an entirely new audience about Reach Out and Read—and the importance of early literacy and early intervention. We have seen our social media base steadily increase over the year, and feel certain that many of those fans and followers are UncommonGoods customers. We have also been able to reach shoppers who have a social conscience, and may have chosen to support Reach Out and Read additionally outside of the Better to Give partnership. We are so grateful to have had the chance to align ourselves with such a great brand, and use this platform to help us raise funds and overall awareness of our organization and our mission.”
Finally, he sees some important affinities between UncommonGoods and Reach Out and Read that make this partnership a great fit:
“We love that UncommonGoods is more than just a company—you give back to those in need and you strive to better the world, as we do through our literacy intervention. And based on the amount of support we’ve received this year, your customers are clearly people who also care about literacy and value the early interactions between a parent and a child. We are beyond thrilled with this relationship and look forward to all that is to come as our two organizations continue to work together to effect positive change.”
Nancy and Walter Warner: a Bigger Jam Session
UncommonGoods promotes the work of more than 600 small, independent makers; 80% of these have 10 people or fewer on their team.
Nancy and Walter Warner, Beer Jelly Set
Part of UncommonGoods’ long-standing mission is to support the work of innovative, independent makers—artists, designers, craftspeople, and…jelly makers. Each of the 600 makers that we represent has a unique story, and Nancy and Walter Warner are no exception. The two former archaeologists moved to Vermont to pursue new ventures: Walt pursuing a career as a cultural resource lawyer, and Nancy launching a business making distinctive, artisanal preserves. Their collaboration with UncommonGoods has allowed them to take their craft from cottage industry to a full-steam operation.
Nancy Warner put her spoon down long enough to reflect on the effect of their partnership with UncommonGoods over the past year:
“Working with UG has allowed us to grow our business with confidence in 2014. The partnership and the audience UG reaches has helped us more than double our gross sales from the previous year. We thought we were full time before our partnership with UncommonGoods, but teaming up has helped us become job creators: we’ve hired four employees, invested in new equipment, and have quickly outgrown our tiny spot on the town green and are on the hunt for our next home in Vermont.”
She also commented on the esprit de corps between her venture and the UncommonGoods team:
“I believe we are a great fit with UncommonGoods because the staff there is as excited about our work as we are. True believers in the creative and uncommon process, UncommonGoods has worked with us to develop new flavors like Cabernet & Cracked Pepper wine jelly, conferenced with us regularly to be sure we’re on the same page, and supported our use of environmentally-friendly packaging (even though it may cost just a bit more). Most importantly, the UG crew reaches out to us regularly to be sure they understand our process and our limits as small producers of handcrafted items. In some ways, UG feels like an extension of our own team.”
Kenesha Phillip on the People Who Drive the Success of UncommonGoods
UncommonGoods is committed to paying a living wage, with hourly team members paid 70% higher than the Federal minimum.
Kenesha Phillip, UncommonGoods Area Operations Manager
UncommonGoods maintains a team of 120 year-round—and 685 seasonal team members in the fourth quarter (2014)—all under one roof in the historic Brooklyn Army Terminal in Sunset Park, Brooklyn. Keeping all operations in New York and in a common space has been a priority since the company’s founding. And maintaining a great team by paying a living wage, providing opportunities to grow with the company, and valuing the potential of each individual have been essential elements in UncommonGoods’ success over the past 15 years.
Despite the frenetic pace of our warehouse in December, Area Operations Manager Kenesha Phillip—who herself started as a seasonal Team Lead in 2012—took some time to reflect on the character of UncommonGoods’ team:
“I think that the recognition of humanity is a really important thing. In the world that we live in now…it’s important that people know that you see them, and that they know they’re valuable, and that’s the most important thing that UncommonGoods does. Tom or Dave [company founders] will walk into the warehouse and say that the people closest to the customer are the most important people to the business, and that’s very nice to hear and very comforting and makes people feel appreciated. If there’s one thing I’ve learned from being on the warehouse floor, it’s that people give their best effort when they feel like you see them and you value them…they feel like they’re here to help the team accomplish a bigger goal.”
Brooklyn Army Terminal
She also commented on the challenges and opportunities that come with the company’s seasonal activity which calls for a high quality team:
“The human element here is really important, and something that we fight for all the time. And it’s not an easy thing to do—the bar is raised year after year, and we need better and better people to work for us. But it’s definitely an attraction when you know you can start as a seasonal worker and move into a management role. It helps us hire a strong team and keep a strong team here. I’d worked in retail before, so I know how people are typically paid in retail and what kind of environments they are…[here] it’s just different…we pay people a living wage, and we try to treat people with respect. If you walk over to the warehouse right now, you can’t tell who’s year-round and who’s seasonal. We try to make sure that everyone has a great experience, regardless of whether they’ve been here for a few months or for years. We work together as a team.”
Regarding UncommonGoods’ commitment to keeping the entire company under one roof in Brooklyn, she observed:
“For us to be successful as a company, Operations has to go well, but everything else in the company has to go well too. We partner with so many departments every year to make sure that the customer has a good experience in the holiday season. We work with the Merchants…with Customer Service…with Human Resources…to make sure that those things all come down to the customer. So it’s a nice thing having the corporate offices in the same building as the warehouse.”
And she discussed the importance of paying a living wage for a company—and team—that calls New York home:
“It’s very expensive to live here, so people need the wages that we pay…and people always ask about it when they return because we do pay such a good wage compared to the Federal level. I know that it impacts the lives of the people that work for us in a significant way, even if it’s for a short time. It’s a significant thing, and it means someone being able to pay their rent. It makes all the difference in people’s living conditions. I know that some people that work for us have a difficult time financially, so it’s important that we continue to do this, and it’s something to be proud of.”
Always Becoming a Better Business
As a founding B Corp, we’re committed to sustainability. This year we made strides with our highest B Lab score yet.
We’ve always been passionate about sustainability, and back in 2007 we joined our fellow founding B Corporations in starting a global movement to redefine success in business. As the official B Corp website explains, by earning our certification we’re “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.”
In 2014 we showed that we’re still going strong when it comes to sustainability. In fact, we proudly announced that our Impact Assessment came back with our best score so far: 111.4 points. (That’s 12% higher than our previous score.)
Many of the improvements we made in 2014 helped us earn our recertification and earn a higher score than we’d had in the past. We formed a sustainability committee to give employees opportunities to personally impact our sustainability decisions, we implemented composting and better recycling programs, and we improved our vendor relationships.
While we are definitely happy with the changes we’ve made and our improved score, we know that working to be a better business is an ongoing process. After our recertification was complete, we sent a representative from our sustainability committee to join other representatives from businesses in the B Corp community at the B Corp Champions Retreat to bring back advice on how we can continue to grow as a socially responsible company and make a positive impact on the world.
We’re excited to continue to make positive changes in 2015, to grow and nurture our talented team, and to keep building strong relationships with our Better to Give partners, makers and artists, and customer community. Happy New Year!
During the chaos, magic, excitement, and deliciousness of the holidays, it can be difficult to take the time to pause and reflect on the past year. The end of the year always seems to sneak up like a Secret Santa gift, something that you almost forget about until it pops up on your desk unannounced. Now that the end of 2014 is less than two weeks away, there’s no better time to think back about what we’ve accomplished over the past 12 months and how we want to move forward in 2015, especially when it comes to our sustainability efforts. Each year teaches us that positive change is the result of decisions that factor our “triple bottom line,” our impact on people, planet, and profit. We’re proud of the milestones we’ve achieved in 2014, as well as the initiatives that continue to support our company mission. Here’s this year’s impact in review!
B Corp Recertification
In 2007 we took an important step when we became a founding B Corporation, a certification that has since expanded to a network of companies that use the power of business to help solve environmental and social problems. Earlier this year, we made another stride toward becoming a better business by earning our B Corp recertification, coming out with our best score yet! We earned 111.4 points this time around, which equated to a 13 percent 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. Check out the full story!
Better to Give: Thanks a Million!
We launched the Better to Give program in 2001, which allows customers to select from one of our non-profit partners to receive a $1 donation from us at checkout. Over the week of Thanksgiving, we raised that donation to $5 for those visiting our site through a special email campaign. We saw the donation rate skyrocket during this time, taking us past the $1 million mark on Black Friday! Check out the announcement to learn how we’ve now donated over $1 million to our Better to Give partners.
At UncommonGoods, we pay all our workers, including our seasonal team, above the minimum hourly wage. Back in September, our Founder and CEO Dave Bolotsky participated in the #RaisetheWage campaign with Business for a Fair Minimum Wage. To show your support, spread the message by sharing this video with the hashtag #RaisetheWage and help “give America a raise!”
Earlier this year, we teamed up with Vokashi Kitchen Waste Solutions to start implementing an in-house compost collection. Collection buckets are strategically placed around our headquarters to collect employee food scraps, which are used to compost at various community gardens and public green spaces. We’re excited to continue improving our waste management during 2015!
The B Corp “Ripple” Effect
Sustainability committee member Christopher McRae and CEO and founder Dave Bolotsky traveled to Vermont to attend this year’s B Corp Champions Retreat. Check out Chris’ experience from three inspiring days of learning from other B Corps, celebrating the movement, and discussing future goals.
Product and Operations
From operations to product development, our team works hard to implement sustainable solutions whenever possible. We try our best to minimize our impact by shifting more business online, limiting how many catalogs we mail, and printing our catalogs on either recycled paper (virtually all of which is from 30% post-consumer waste) or paper sourced from FSC certified forests (which are harvested in a sustainable manner). Around 20 percent of our products are made from upcycled or recycled materials, and about 50 percent are handmade, none of which contain leather, feathers or fur. Additionally, we continue to save resources by using packing materials that can be inflated in our warehouse, and bale recyclable cardboard to return to our vendor, making for a closed-loop system. Throughout 2015, we plan to continue working on energy efficiency, sustainable sourcing, and sustainable product development.
We welcome you to send any questions, comments, concerns, or ideas to email@example.com. As always, thank you for supporting our mission. From all of us at UncommonGoods, we wish you and your loved ones a happy holiday season and a happy new year!
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.
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.
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.
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.
“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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.”