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How big business can save the planet

It shouldn't be surprising that Malcolm Rands, founder of pioneering green products business ecostore, thinks stock markets are a threat to the planet.

What is surprising is that this sustainability obsessed, eco-village-dwelling former heavy metal rocker from New Zealand firmly believes big business is the best hope the planet has for survival.

But Mr Rands has spent most of his 59 years doing things differently.

He is chief executive of a growing company turning over $30 million a year, but spends his weekends as a "peasant farmer" tending the permaculture forest that grows much of his family's food.

Despite ecostore's "no nasty chemicals" sustainability mantra, Mr Rands is no starry-eyed hippie either.

He's a hands-on, self-starting type, whether it's killing his own chickens for dinner or going into business because it's how he can affect the changes he wants to see in the world.

This social entrepreneur's latest venture is a memoir, laying out the lessons learnt while building ecostore and in the unconventional life that preceded its creation in a garage some 20 years ago.

The book, Ecoman, catalogues an adventurous childhood and the search-for-meaning years of young adulthood that will be familiar to many.

It also recounts the trials that a small business faces and how, from those experiences, Mr Rands came to what he calls "a new model for capitalism": cause-related business.

"It's not just wishy washy - it's one that is actually working and one that is getting some currency around the world," he says in an interview in Sydney.

"It's about not only being authentic and quite transparent, which is quite different for business, but also being very cause-driven so people know exactly why you are in business - you're not in there just to make money."

Mr Rands' causes are ecostore's range of households products which don't contain "chemicals that you're better off avoiding" and his not-for-profit venture, Fairground Foundation, which is funded by the proceeds of ecostore.

His commitment to new ways of doing business extends to staff hires - he prefers arts graduates to those out of business school.

"Creativity is the key to future business - you need to be able to think outside the square," he says.

Cause-related, sustainable business is getting serious attention: in 2008 Mr Rands met with the board of US retail giant Walmart, which last month announced it was phasing out hazardous chemicals from some products; and German chemical company BASF has become a research partner with ecostore.

Ecostore generates an annual turnover of $30 million, split mostly between its two major markets of Australia and New Zealand.

Mr Rands wants to build ecostore into a billion dollar company, to compete with the global giants of cleaning and personal hygiene: Uniliver, Colgate-Palmolive, Procter and Gamble.

It won't be via a stock market listing though.

"I actually am very anti-stock exchange and the reason is I think the quarterly reporting cycle is one of the enemies of sustainability," he says, but anti-stock exchange is not anti-big business.

"I don't believe in government - the electoral cycle makes them too populist and leadership has disappeared in politics," he says.

"It's actually big business which going to save the world, so I just have to make myself a big business in a hurry to help."