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Book excerpts: Ecoman

Extracts from ecostore founder and CEO's new book Ecoman: From a Garage in Northland to a Pioneering Global Brand.

See also:
Ecoman - Malcolm Rands
From a Garage in Northland to a Pioneering Global Brand
Malcolm Rands celebrates book launch & 20 years of ecostore
The untold story of ecoman, the guy behind ecostore
Campbell Live visits the ecovillage where ecostorel began



Ecoman excerpts:

‘We’re not doing business as usual’. In fact, ‘business as usual’ is not only not the answer; it might even be the problem. We have always challenged ourselves to do things differently, but at the same time, we are just doing what we do, and I still sometimes find it amazing when people from the outside are astonished at what we are doing.
All things are possible when you change the game.

Aiming for sustainability is aiming too low. It’s like saying: let’s not make things any worse. Permaculture, on the other hand, is about every time you touch something you try to improve it. One of the dreams I have for ecostore is that every time you use an ecostore product you are actually improving the planet, not just making it worse.
Most manufacturing is cradle to grave – you pluck materials out of the ground, you use them and you throw them away. But there is another paradigm, in a cradle to cradle system you pluck your materials from somewhere, you use them, and then throwing it away is the start of something else, so there is no waste at all.

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Right from the beginning we promised: ‘If you’re not happy we’ll give you your money back.’ And it is an attitude that continues in ecostore to this day. If there are any complaints we hope at the end of the process that those people will be our good friends. I have always told my team: be generous with people who complain. Give them more than they expect. Give them their money back straight away and give them something else as well. Don’t even ask for the product back; tell them to give it to someone else. Don’t be mean-spirited.
Feedback is a gift. If anyone has the energy to complain, it means they’re in the game. They care. The ones you can’t do anything about, and it’s a tragedy, are the ones who, if they don’t like something, just give up on you and walk away. If someone has taken the time to complain, it means there’s still a relationship. Some of our very best customers are those we responded to in the right way when they had some complaint with us.

What you do makes a difference to the environment — but it has been a hard message to get across. People are not as motivated to act to save the environment as they say they are. And that comes back to the main theme of ecostore. We look after the planet — of course — but we offer more than that, and the second part of our message became very clear very early on. Right from the beginning we received many phone calls, letters and now emails — hundreds and hundreds over the years — and they have all said the same thing.
“Since using your products the rash I’ve had for years has disappeared.”
“I’m not sneezing any more when I clean the house.”
“My eczema’s gone away.”
“My asthma seems to be getting better.”
That was a huge revelation to us, and that’s why your health became a key part of our message to the market. It has become especially powerful as, over the past decade or two, people have been getting sicker and allergies are becoming not the exception but the norm.
According to Allergy New Zealand, one in ten babies born in New Zealand will develop an allergy. One in three children has asthma.

Trust and authenticity are everything to us, so the most stressful times of my career have not been about business deals or making money — they have been around issues where we have stuck our neck out without knowing how it was going to turn out.

I was very shy as a child. I wasn’t like the other kids, and I was painfully aware of that fact. I was the kind of kid who was caught up in his own fantasy world. Despite being slightly dyslexic I was an early reader, and I had a taste for history, adventure and warfare, and then, when I discovered Tolkien, for fantasy and, later, science fiction. I wasn’t sporty. Being different is no asset when you’re a kid.
The Lord of the Rings was great because of the battle scenes — not that I liked them for the violence, but rather for the drama, the strategy, and the nobility of the ideals. In The Return of the King there’s a really big battle, and the Riders of Rohan come to the rescue. They didn’t have to be there, but they turned up and that always gave me a real tingle. Something really moves me about that: when you’re in trouble and people help you even though they don’t have to.
I tried it myself when I was about seven. I’d just read my first ever real book — an adventure story about emperor penguins, full of courageous acts — and it inspired me. So when I saw someone being bullied at school, I decided to step in and stop it.
All that happened was that I got a hiding and made a complete dick of myself. I thought, ‘There’s something wrong here!’ After that, it seemed a lot easier to read a book than to get out into the playground and take on the bullies.
Every now and then the local Boy Scouts would have bottle drives, where they’d collect bottles and make money by returning them to the manufacturer. Being Methodist I had to be in the Boys Brigade, even though the Scouts seemed so much cooler. So I wasn’t part of the bottle drive, but I would pick up all the bottle tops — red, white and silver — and take them up to the tennis courts and set up huge battles, using the bottle tops as my soldiers.
Strategy and warfare became a real obsession. I spent hours and hours poring over huge sheets of paper, drawing these incredibly detailed pictures of soldiers going off to war, on sailing ships, crossing seas and attacking castles — whole stories unfolding. I spent so much time on it that Mum and Dad became worried there was something wrong with me and took me to a child psychologist, which was a pretty radical thing to do in the early 1960s. Luckily, he told them there was nothing wrong with me.
I still love strategy, but as an adult that love is channelled into making things happen: the arts, the ecovillage, ecostore, the Fairground Foundation. All the things I loved way back then as a kid playing out battle scenes from The Lord of the Rings, I still thrive on today. Being put on the spot and having to work things out. Do or die, and having your troops backing you up. Belief in something bigger than myself. Loyalty. It’s rousing stuff, and it’s very important to me.

Do one small thing every day . . . make a big difference.

If the pinnacle of success is a person doing something for the benefit of our planet and its people, then Malcolm Rands is a very, very successful man. Malcolm is a true ‘eco warrior’ who lives and breathes environmental sustainability in every facet of his life and business practices.
I remember one day Malcolm picking me up in his car, which was being fuelled by recycled chip-frying fat. The car was petulant at start-up and uncertain in acceleration, but Malcolm beamed that it was the Rolls Royce of sustainable urban transportation.

The world needs more people like Malcolm Rands. The future wellbeing of our planet and its people depends upon it.
— Sir Ray Avery GNZM


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