The Spotlight is on: TheUncommonGreen

These days, we all seek ways to “go green” and reduce our carbon footprint. TheUncommonGreen, a contemporary product & design house based in Boston, helps keep green in style with their barware and home accessories. I spoke with the founder of theUncommonGreen, Brian Johnson, who tells us more about his company as part of this week’s Women’s iLab Startup Spotlight.

WiLab: How did the idea for theUncommonGreen come about?

BJ: I started theUncommonGreen in 2009 simply as a creative outlet to design things I wanted in my own apartment. I was exploring designing shelves using laser cutting and metal forming that would yield little to no waste. These were designed to be minimal and functional, but also interesting to look at. When I designed our Pi Bottle Opener (a rugged steel bottle opener in the shape of the Pi symbol) and started selling them successfully on Etsy and at a few street fairs, I knew there was potential for a more robust business. I then asked Dave and Neil if they wanted to help and it grew from there. When we came out with our line of etched Maps Barware, our design aesthetic began to come into focus along with the concept of making timeless yet functional art that people want to bring into their daily lives. The concept continues to evolve, but any time we start a new design or idea, we ask ourselves: Would we want to use this every day?

Maps Barware. Photo from theuncommongreen.com

Maps Glassware. Photo from theuncommongreen.com

WiLab: Can you share a bit about yourself and your team? What are your backgrounds?

BJ: I’m a mechanical engineer and designer by trade, but I’ve always had an interest in functional art and incorporating creative concepts into design for the home and daily life. I love exploring new materials and using conventional materials in different and unexpected ways. When I asked two of my good friends from college, Dave Reddy and Neil Angis, to join me on this little adventure, the goal at first was mainly to have fun and ask questions later. Dave is a math and finance whiz, so he brings an invaluable perspective and skill set to the business, plus he’s really tall so he sees a lot of things that the rest of us can’t (sorry, couldn’t resist). Neil comes from a writing/editorial background and has been integral to establishing the company’s voice in everything from our marketing to our customer interactions. He’s a hero to English majors everywhere. From a business standpoint, it’s great working with people who bring different backgrounds and ideas to the table, but what really makes it rewarding is that we all have the same core principles — to design products that people love, to do it in a way that is as environmentally friendly as possible, to treat everyone we deal with like close family, and to use the business as a vehicle for supporting worthy charitable causes. And we still have a lot of fun doing it, so that’s good, too.

WiLab: What do you want people to know about theUncommonGreen?

BJ: First and foremost, that we’re a design company that strives to create products that please our customers, and do it in a way that is both socially and environmentally responsible. We believe wholeheartedly in sourcing materials locally whenever possible, and in working with other small businesses as often as we can. Pretty much everything we make is made in the USA. We try to have as small a carbon footprint as possible, from our operations and manufacturing processes to our post-consumer packaging. Last but not least, we want people to know that when they buy from us, they’ll get the best customer service possible and that part of their purchase will go back into the community through our charitable giving efforts to causes like education, disaster relief, animal welfare, and others. For example, in response to the Boston Marathon tragedy in 2013, we designed a special release 26.2 Marathon Maps Pint glass showing the route and famous landmarks, and we donated all proceeds to the One Fund that year. For this year’s Marathon, we’re donating proceeds of the glass to Dream Big, a local non-profit that helps girls from low-income families participate in youth sports and other healthy activities.

store owner Sofi Madison (middle). Sofi owns and operates a very cool boutique in the South End called Olives and Grace. She's been stocking our Boston Maps Glasses for a while now and is really incredible, very involved in the local small business community.

Store owner Sofi Madison (middle). Sofi owns and operates a boutique in the South End called Olives and Grace, and has been stocking theUncommonGreen’s Maps Glasses at her store.

WiLab: What would you say are the biggest trends and defining characteristics within the community of online startups that are “green” mission-driven and environmentally conscious? How does theUncommonGreen’s philosophy reflect these trends and help propel green home products into the future?

BJ: The biggest trend or characteristic we see, which start-ups are ideally positioned to incorporate, is thinking holistically about “green” practices in building the business — not just taking an existing product or business and trying to force “green-ness” onto it. For us, eco-awareness has been at the core of our business philosophy from the beginning and drives decision-making at all levels of our operation and growth. As makers and sellers of goods, it makes some decisions more challenging but it just drives us to be even more creative in finding solutions. Our hope is that by doing this AND making great products, it validates the concept for the customer and encourages them to seek other eco-friendly products.

AE: How is theUncommonGreen different from other environmentally friendly home goods products that you can purchase? What makes these products “green?”

BJ: Being a “green” business is about doing everything possible to reduce carbon footprint while maintaining healthy growth, so the business can thrive and be a good example for others. Everything from powering down our computers when we’re not using them, to minimizing manufacturing waste, to using reclaimed and post-consumer materials whenever possible contributes to our products being environmentally friendly. For example, shipping glassware requires a lot of packaging for protection, and traditionally the best packaging for glass is not the most environmentally friendly, but we have worked really hard to find and test post-consumer packing material that would do the job equally well. We even have three locations we ship products from — on the East Coast, West Coast, and .in the Midwest — to minimize shipping distances and save fuel. Any little thing helps, so we’re constantly assessing how we can be leaner, more efficient, and ultimately, nicer citizens of good old planet Earth.

One of theUncommonGreen's first products: the Pi Bottle Opener. Photo from theuncommongreen.com

One of theUncommonGreen’s first products: the Pi Bottle Opener. Photo from theuncommongreen.com

WiLab: Do you have any advice for aspiring entrepreneurs? 

BJ: Stop aspiring and start doing! There is no shortage of information and resources for entrepreneurs these days, so it comes down to conviction and having the gusto to just dive in. You can start a viable business right now, this very minute, with very little or no capital up front. But as you grow, be strategic about how you invest time and resources. Recruit trusted advisers, solicit sound, and unbiased opinions before you place a big bet on your business idea.

WiLab: What’s next for you and theUncommonGreen team?

BJ: As a business, we’re working on several new products at the moment that we’re really excited about. Without giving too much away, one is a big expansion of our Maps Barware line that we hope will be on a lot of holiday wish lists later on this year. We’ll start releasing details on the launch through our website and social media in the coming months, so for anyone who wants a sneak peak, friend us and follow us and all that good stuff. We’re also working on some new gift sets and better personalization options as part of our constant efforts to improve the customer experience. But as humans, we’re just looking forward to more sunshine and backyard barbecues here in New England — something we can all raise a glass to!

State Slate, Photo from theuncommongreen.com

State Slate, Photo from theuncommongreen.com

 

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: AMANDA EFTHIMIOU

IMG_9202I’m the Senior Editor of Women’s iLab and the Director of Operations for Kite, an app that allows you to share news and articles. One of my labors of love is co-organizing #ArtsTech meetup, which focuses on the intersection of art and technology. One of my greatest passions is world travel: when I’m not home in New York City, you’ll find me somewhere in Europe, Asia, or Latin America. I graduated from the George Washington University with a BA in Art History. Get in touch with me on twitter @amaiou.
 
Twitter
 
Read more about and from the author: Amanda’s WiLab Profile

Originally posted 2015-04-23 08:00:16. Republished by Blog Post Promoter