Getting to know EcoMan Malcolm Rands

Author: Frederic Riviere

When Malcolm and Melanie Rands started ecostore in 1993 their dream was to create a values-based business that could sustainably fund a not-for-profit arm called ‘Fairground Foundation’. Since 1994, ecostore has researched and brought to market New Zealand’s leading range of healthier, eco friendlier household cleaners, body care and baby products with a focus on looking after the health of people and the planet we live on.

ecostore has won countless awards and is widely viewed as a leader in the field of eco-business. We interviewed the EcoMan himself to get to know him a bit better ahead of his event we are hosting in partnership with NZTE 'Pioneering the ecostory' on October 1. Get tickets here.


First of all, let's go back a bit and hear about your early years. Can you tell us what were your parents like?

Completely eccentric. Dad was very conservative politically and in his job as an engineer, but in his private life he was into yoga, health food and fasting - in the 50s! Mum was an anything-is-possible person. Her number plate was YN0T. 


Fast forward a few decades - in 1986 you and a group of friends bought a large piece of coastal Northland and set up ... what exactly?

We call ourselves an eco village. We're not a commune. We spent a year working on the constitution and we went into it completely mindful. These projects have a huge failure rate because people think "we're lovely people, this is a wonderful idea". And as it goes wrong, they've got no structure and they blow apart.


So how did you make it work?

People need their own space. There are six households and we all have our own houses, our own jobs, often even our own friends. But what we've done is we've clustered the houses close together around the commons. You walk out of your house and you bump into your neighbours and that's where all the action happens. By the time Keva, our youngest daughter, was 1, we could sleep in because our two daughters would be out the door and with a tribe of kids and we knew they were safe.


What have you learned about human nature by living so closely with five other families?

People are essentially good. When you've been sharing a piece of land for almost 30 years you see someone going through a phase and you think, "oh that's just Jimmy doing that, he'll come back".


Your successes are pretty much public knowledge in NZ, can you talk about a time when things weren't going so great?

In the early 90s I was trying to set up a winter festival in Whangarei, but the [financial] rug was pulled out and what I thought was the best thing I'd ever done just turned to dust. That was the galvanisation for starting Ecostore. I had $30,000 I'd borrowed from my brother. I started the business as mail-order only. A mail-order dishwashing liquid company is nuts. After six months we'd run out of money.


How many customers did you have doing that?

Oh ... zero. It was coming into winter. For the first time in my life I went into what was probably a clinical depression. I remember walking the streets of Whangarei and everyone I saw I would think, "I wish I was them, they've got a much better life". But then I got a business mentor and Spring came along. The orders started pouring in.


What been the most rewarding thing for you through this journey, or any final thoughts?

Showing that idealistic things can work in practice. My motto is, imagine the future (that you would love to live in) and do it now. I have shown you can create a business based on high ethics and selling real products that people really need....and still be successful. Same with our eco village - on my personal plot there I have actually been creating new top soil.  The opposite of current agriculture around the world! 



More of Malcolm Rands:

- Member of the New Zealand Order of Merit for services to business, conservation and philanthropy.

- Executive Chair of Fairground Foundation

- Founder of ecostore

When Malcolm and Melanie Rands started ecostore Company Limited in 1993 their dream was to create a unique values-based business that could sustainably fund a not-for-profit arm called Fairground Foundation (FGF).

Since 1994, ecostore have researched and brought to market, New Zealand’s leading range of healthier, eco friendlier household cleaners, body care and baby products with a twin focus of looking after the health and wellbeing of people as well as the planet.

True to Rands original vision, ecostore has channelled a percentage of its profits over the years in the FGF. Having sold the last of their ecostore shares, 2017 marks the first year in which the Foundation is Malcolm total focus.

What’s next for ecoman?

FGF tackles social and environmental challenges that need feet on the ground and practical action. Projects that help speed up the creation of the future it imagines – one with healthy people, healthy communities and a healthy planet. From bringing snow to the streets of Whangarei to setting up organic gardens in schools, to its current project working with others to protect flora and fauna, and its urban eco neighbourhood initiative, Fairground Foundation is challenging the status quo.

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 and most recently Malcolm has been added to the World Class New Zealand International Network. ecostore won two awards at the 2014 NZI National Sustainable Business Network Awards in the Mega Efficiency Innovation category and Malcolm was the joint winner of the Sustainability Champion award.

ecostore has been voted by Kiwis as leading the way in sustainability in Colmar Brunton’s Better Business, Better World survey for three years running, (2014, 2015, 2016).  

In 2013 Malcolm released his book called ‘ecoman’ which tells the story of his personal 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 people’s health that really work.

In September 2014 ecostore launched a world first by being the only manufacturer to convert all of its proprietary bottles to a plastic made from sugarcane. ecostore calls it their Carbon Capture™ Pak because as sugarcane grows it captures CO2 from the atmosphere, which is stored in the plastic. This revolutionary packaging helps people to reduce their carbon footprint, which can help to reduce climate change.

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.


Fairground Foundation's current projects


Most people on the planet now live in cities and Malcolm believes it’s everyone's right to live in affordable and sustainable housing with easy access to green space. He also believes it’s everyone’s right to live in a neighbourhood where they feel they belong; a neighbourhood where everyone knows your name when they 'bump' in to you. Fairground Foundation and its ethical partners will build the first ‘Bumpspace’ development in Auckland, making a profit in the process. Following its success, they will share the intellectual property with any other developer that wants to follow suit. The principles-based focus of ‘Bumpspace’ as well as its commercial success and replicability will ultimately be used to help make our world an even better place. 


A bucket is a gardener’s best friend and it’s the name of a soon-to-be-launched crowdfunding platform with an environmental focus. Its aim is to connect different groups of people who share a love and dee concern for New Zealand’s unique flora and fauna. One of these groups has money but not necessarily the skills (they may even be living overseas) and the other group is made up of the hundreds of community groups spread across the country that are already volunteering their time and skills to environmental restoration projects with a record of success.  From increasing endangered species populations, to eradicating pests and repopulating native flora and fauna, ‘Bucket’ will help us to work together to create a better world for generations to come.

If you’re interested in following or being part of our journey there are ways to stay in touch, or sign up for updates on Bucket and Bumpspace on the Fairground Foundation website.