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Ecostore shows how to make money, be green and not for profit

Malcolm Rands
Malcolm Rands

Malcolm Rands who founded New Zealand company Ecostore with the express strategy of raising funds for a related not for profit foundation spoke at the Purpose conference in Sydney this week to share his vision.

Ecostore, the company that distributes green laundry wash, and started out in business with the dominant intention to generate funds for not-for-profit purposes is scouring the market in New Zealand to build an urban-eco village.

Since launching its first product in 1994, this New Zealand born and bred company has grown into an operation that has products stocked in New Zealand, Australia and Asia.

In the meantime it has generated millions of dollars for its sister organisation, the Fairlight Foundation, which will be developer of the eco-village.

Founder and chief executive Malcolm Rands who spoke to The Fifth Estate during his visit to Sydney to address the Purpose conference this week said there’s a budget of $60 million for the project, called Bumpspace, with approved plans for a multi-residential development.

The ideal site will be within eight kilometres of a railway station.

Plans include three, two- and one-bedroom dwellings, communal space including allotments, cyclist facilities and a high level of eco-design initiatives including solar PV.

“Those things go without saying,” he says.

The project design also maximises interactions between people.

If residents come home from work, or move around the eco-village, it will be hard to do so without connecting with neighbours.

It is about bringing “the village vibe” into the city, Rands says.

purpose 2018 panel

“The biggest health problem in the western world is loneliness. People have lost their village and extended family.”

The buildings themselves will be three storey walk-ups, similar to medium density as it is done in Italy, he says. It will also be pitched to attract a wide diversity of ages and household types, and have space for children to play.

Many other medium density developments are “cookie-cutter” designs for one type of household and age group, he says.

The creation of connectivity-encouraging space is being extended to ideas such as an on-site Laundromat, so residents can get the laundry whitegoods out of their homes and make doing the washing a more sociable activity. An app will inform residents when the laundry has machines free.

The Bumpspace dwellings will be sold in the first iteration, Rands says, but going forward the foundation likes the idea of rentals being in the mix.

The development will have a body corporate legal structure, and work has been done on the constitution to enable future rental arrangements.

Another foundation project the company has raised funds for is Bucket. This is a platform that connects urban donors directly with people out in the field working on fauna conservation or ecological protection projects.

Currently, it is in the testing stage, with four donors and one involved not-for-profit conservation group.

“This process will keep scaling up until we are ready to write the final software and launch to the full public,” Rands says.

Rands says that in some ways NZ lacks the same drivers for sustainability awareness as Australia.

This is because in NZ, nature – including winds, tide and ecosystems – is still “taking care of” a lot of the mess humans make. That is the biggest challenge for Kiwis to overcome.

Rands has himself been at the edge of new green trends for many decades. When he started the company, he had been living in a permaculture eco-village for some years.

The first products all had to meet a basic criterion of whether it would be non-toxic to use on his own home garden.

Ecostore has strict standards for the ethical and sustainable sourcing of its ingredients.

The company holds several certifications including the New Zealand programmes Enviromark Diamond, CarboNZero and ISO14001.

A mix of recycled and recyclable materials is used in packaging, and waste reduced wherever possible.

A recent innovations is the use of Carbon Capture Pak, which are sugarcane plastic bottles that 100 per cent recyclable.

When the company first started, he says he had to frequently explain why the products were eco-friendly, and what terms such as “organic” and “sustainable” mean.

“Nowadays the market is much more educated.”

With the growing awareness however, has come growing amounts of greenwash.

Rands says that he doesn’t mind if big companies are self-promoting themselves as being green – because “once they say it, we can hold them to it”.

“I’d rather see that [claim] then them not caring. That’s the beginning of the journey.”

Rands says consumers should be looking for complete transparency.

There should be no “secrets” in terms of ingredients.

His company has opened up its entire supply chain to the public. Every ingredient’s information is available, including an independent assessment of its health risks.

Rands says the company is “paranoid” about the risks of ingredients when they are used on people’s skin.

“Just because it is natural doesn’t mean it is safe to be used on the skin.”

Parfum is a true mystery that might harm you

The mysterious “parfum” that is in so many household and personal care products is not used.

“Parfum” has an exemption from complete transparency under international intellectual property laws, as companies such as perfume-makers have claimed its mix is a trade secret that is fundamental to their product’s identity.

“If a company is not willing to be transparent, be suspicious,” Rands says.

He says consumers should not believe in claims a thing is “secret” because it is like “secret spices”.

“Parfum is like lumbago, which is a term doctors used in the past that meant pretty much “sore back”.

“It can be a million things.”

While some companies might use it as they have a “tiny product with a tiny label” if the term is used without clarification at their website, consumers should be “very suspicious”.

“Some products use nasty chemical preservatives that can hide as parfum. It can hide the [presence of] the nastiest chemicals.”

Even though consumers are more savvy to eco-products, the “green” qualities are not enough to guarantee market share.

“We still do need to match the chemical [products] in terms of performance and price,” Rands says.

When both price and function match the competitors, then consumers will regard “extra” things like not trashing the planet, packaging that captures carbon and products that won’t poison them as a bonus.

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