After travelling and working as a radiographer in Australia, the USA and the UK, Malcolm returned to New Zealand and a not-for-profit career in the community arts. What struck him was how much time he spent securing funding rather than doing his community work.
A combined interest in fostering communities and green activism led Malcolm and friends to establish an ecovillage in Northland. However, all the time he kept thinking how sensible it would be to establish a business that would be so successful it would be able to fund a charitable foundation. From there, in 1993 Malcolm and wife Melanie founded ecostore, a mail-order business to sell eco-friendly products for cleaning, body care, pet care, and organic gardening. Today it is New Zealand’s leading manufacturer and retailer of environment friendly, chemical-free household cleaners and body care products.
His business model, in which a commercial business supports a not-for-profit has been so successful that in 2017 Malcolm and Melanie made the decision to work solely for the Fairground Foundation.
Malcolm has been active in the sustainable scene for over 33 years. He co-founded New Zealand’s first permaculture eco-village in 1986, and was a foundation member of the New Zealand Sustainable Business Network. He has been awarded the Green Ribbon Award from the Ministry for the Environment, plus two environmental awards from the Auckland Regional Council while invited to be part of the World Class New Zealand International Network. Malcolm was the joint winner of the Sustainability Champion Award at the NZI National Sustainable Business Network Awards in 2014.
For two years Malcolm appeared on TVNZ as ‘ecoman’, giving advice on how to ‘green up’ your life. As well as an astute businessman, champion of strong communities, Malcolm is still a keen organic gardener. He is a regular contributor on Saturday Morning with Jack Tame on Newstalk ZB.
In 2013 he released his book called ‘ecoman’ which encompasses his personal, philanthropic and entrepreneurial life, the 20 years of ecostore’s remarkable development and his courage to take on the multinationals and create safer plant based products for our health that really work.
On 31 December 2015 Malcolm was awarded a Member of the New Zealand Order of Merit as part of the New Year’s Honours for services to business, conservation and philanthropy.
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Here’s your chance to learn more about one of New Zealand’s most recognisable eco-entrepreneurs:
Why did you decide to sell 100 percent of your ecostore shares in 2016?
Right from the start ecostore was designed to be a cause-related business that channelled a percentage of profits to a not-for-profit arm called Fairground Foundation. One of the challenges of being a pioneering brand is that it took many years before the sustainability proposition of our products became mainstream and we started making a profit. When we reached that point I felt it was time to follow my heart and concentrate my energy in the Foundation.
Why is Fairground Foundation so important to you?
Fairground has the opportunity to make a difference by taking on difficult problems like housing and conservation in New Zealand and the world and to create sustainable solutions for them – to imagine the future and do it now. ecostore has already shown that its possible to have an ethical business and be successful and now Fairground gives me the opportunity to keep doing that.
You have two very exciting projects under Fairground, Bumpspace and Bucket – what’s your elevator pitch for both?
Bucket is a new app that partners grassroots environmental volunteers with other people who care about the environment. As Kiwis we’re lucky to enjoy spectacular surroundings, and many of us share a responsibility to protect what we have for future generations. Bucket was created with this in mind, it brings Kiwis together to fund local projects that help restore and protect our unique biodiversity.
Bumpspace: Most people on the planet now live in cities and we believe it is everyone’s right to live in affordable and sustainable housing with easy access to green space, in neighbourhoods where they feel they belong, where everyone knows your name when they ‘bump’ in to you. Fairground and its ethical partners will build the first “Bumpspace” development in Auckland, making a profit in the process and sharing the Intellectual Property with any other developer that wants it.
What’s one change every Kiwi household could make which would significantly better our environment?
Easing pressure on the environment by moving away from meat consumption towards a plant based diet and sharing backyard vegetables and garden surplus with friends, family or neighbours. If we can enrol others in the causes we believe in we can achieve a lot more than we can as individuals.
You live between Auckland and a permaculture eco-village in Northland, what advantages does living in an ecovillage give you?
It’s very grounding and allows me to follow my passion for developing a permaculture food forest, which is a low-maintenance and sustainable food production system that includes fruit and nut trees, herbs and vegetables and even free range chickens.
What has been the most memorable experience in your illustrious career to date?
When ecostore finally made it onto supermarket shelves in New Zealand and Australia and went head to head with some of the biggest corporations in the world – because it shows that when you do the groundwork, then values-based, ethical businesses can thrive.
How did it feel when you were awarded a Member of the New Zealand Order of Merit as part of the 2015 New Year’s Honours for your services to business, conservation and philanthropy?
I saw this as an award that was not just for me but an acknowledgement that the things I’ve always found most important like social enterprise, organics and sustainability were becoming mainstream.
What is one goal you want to accomplish in your lifetime and why?
Finding an easy way for people to live in neighbourhoods where they feel they belong which are built of good quality materials and are affordable. Bumpspace projects.
If you weren’t an eco-entrepreneur what would you be doing?
I’d be a full-time permaculturalist, growing food.
What was the best piece of business advice you received?
Listen with empathy.
What’s one thing most people don’t know about you?
My first job was a professional musician in a rock band.