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Imag­ine a fu­ture you would like to live in, and do it now. That’s some­thing eco­s­tore co-founder Mal­colm Rands says a lot.

It’s a phi­los­o­phy that drove the young Rands to leave Auck­land for North­land in the 1980s to set up an eco-vil­lage at Mat­apouri Bay. It in­spired him to set up a lab in his base­ment so he could de­velop clean­ers and other house­hold prod­ucts that wouldn’t poi­son peo­ple or the en­vi­ron­ment.

In this year’s NZI Na­tional Sus­tain­able Business Net­work Awards, Rands has been named joint win­ner of the sus­tain­abil­ity cham­pion sec­tion, along­side Common Unity Project Aotearoa founder Ju­lia Milne.

The judges say he de­serves the tohu for his tire­less gen­eros­ity in shar­ing his story and en­cour­ag­ing other business own­ers to go down the sus­tain­abil­ity track.

That story starts when Rands re­turned from four years OE and moved back in with his mum.

“I wanted to dig her a gar­den, so I went to the li­brary be­cause I’d never been a gar­dener or a coun­try per­son.

“The book that fell into my hand was about or­ganic gar­den­ing and I’ve never turned back. As I read it I thought ‘why would you do it any other way?’ It just made so much sense. I got ob­sessed with or­ganic gar­den­ing, lead­ing on to per­ma­cul­ture.”

That ob­ses­sion prompted him to buy a house on a dou­ble sec­tion in a far cor­ner of Grey Lynn so he could have a sort of ur­ban farm with chick­ens and big gar­dens and an or­chard.

“My al­tru­ism over the years has paid div­i­dends, be­cause I bought that place in 1984 be­cause I wanted a farm, and four years later when I went to sell Pon­sonby real es­tate val­ues had come across to Grey Lynn.”

The money from sell­ing the two house lots set him up to join the eco-vil­lage with no debt.

Eco­s­tore was set up not to make him rich but as a new way to raise money for his not for profit Fair­ground Foun­da­tion, which is ac­tive in ed­u­ca­tion, stew­ard­ship and ad­vo­cacy for sus­tain­abil­ity and the restora­tion of the en­vi­ron­ment.

This year Rands pub­lished an au­to­bi­og­ra­phy, Eco­man, which is cir­cu­lat­ing the mes­sage in another way.

He cites with ap­proval one re­viewer who said he didn’t want the as­sign­ment be­cause he “didn’t want to be lec­tured by another do-gooder gree­nie about ev­ery­thing I was do­ing wrong. ‘I read the book and loved it’, the re­viewer said.”

Rands ad­mits to a stage one chem­istry pa­per, but be­lieves chem­istry is in the blood – he says his grand­fa­ther was New Zealand’s first in­dus­trial chemist and part of Ernest Ruther­ford’s team in split­ting the atom.

“My point is no nasty chem­i­cals. The world is awash with chem­i­cals that are not needed for prod­ucts, not good for the en­vi­ron­ment and not good for peo­ple. My chem­istry is find­ing out what they are and telling my bril­liant for­mu­la­tors what they can’t use.

“They need to find al­ter­na­tives that are cheap but work as well, and they have to be plant-based.”

Mean­while, Ju­lia Milne is giv­ing com­mu­ni­ties the power to cre­ate their own fu­ture. When she dis­cov­ered her neigh­bour was the prin­ci­pal of a decile two Hutt Val­ley school with a large and ne­glected pad­dock, she put up a pro­posal to turn it into a school veg­etable gar­den which could be used to feed the chil­dren.

She has a back­ground that in­cludes hor­ti­cul­ture, na­ture medicine and cater­ing, but says “be­ing a sin­gle par­ent liv­ing on ab­so­lutely noth­ing is prob­a­bly the big­gest piece of learn­ing I can of­fer.” Un­der the Common Unity Project Aotearoa, Epuni Pri­mary now has New Zealand’s largest school veg­etable gar­den.

Chil­dren and their fam­i­lies are taught how to grow and cook their own food, along­side good nu­tri­tion, en­vi­ron­men­tal choices and bud­get­ing skills. The project iden­ti­fied a strong lo­cal need for trans­porta­tion, so a bike li­brary was cre­ated. It means par­ents can get to work or job in­ter­views and chil­dren travel to school with­out the need for a car, and peo­ple learn bike main­te­nance. “It’s com­mu­nity-led de­vel­op­ment. The school be­comes a learn­ing hub and we in­vite par­ents to come to school ev­ery day with their kids and learn. We spend time with the fam­i­lies com­ing on board so they can iden­tify their own needs and we can de­velop a re­sponse to­gether.”

Sus­tain­abil­ity is built in, with lots of re­cy­cling and re­pur­pos­ing, in­clud­ing get­ting lo­cal busi­nesses to pass on “waste” food for dis­tri­bu­tion to fam­i­lies.

Milne says many of the par­ents are ben­e­fi­cia­ries with lit­tle money but a lot of time which through learn­ing and vol­un­tary work can be­come some­thing they can trade through a time bank­ing sys­tem.

A cur­rent project is the Koha Kitchen, a com­mu­nity kitchen-class­room pow­ered by green tech­nol­ogy and built in two re­cy­cled shipping con­tain­ers.

“Schools used to be the heart of the com­mu­nity, not just for chil­dren but for par­ents as well. We can mit­i­gate some of the is­sues we have by open­ing school and let­ting the par­ent body in,” she says.

Milne in­tends to move on from Epuni soon and ini­ti­ate other Common Unity Projects around New Zealand. Pic­tured: Mal­colm Rands, Eco­s­tore; Ju­lia Milne, The Common Unity Project Aotearoa.

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