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.