07/19/2012 11:16 am ET Updated Sep 18, 2012

Sustaining a Lifestyle

Each of us defines the kind of lifestyle we want. Sometimes, we define it quite unconsciously as we allow trend, tradition and friendships to define how we live or what "we should want and have." Our food choices, clothing styles, what we enjoy and how we spend our free time all add up to the definition of our individual personalities. I have always defined my own lifestyle consciously, even as family and friends thought me weird. So mine was always a trip to the organic market, then to a healthy food shop, off to teach or practice yoga, meditation and the thrill of climbing or enjoying the serenity of Mount Banahaw while helping the local community with attempts at livelihood projects. And in the course of it all, I found many kindred souls, many who like me, embrace a more conscious way of life attuning to the planet. Whenever I would meet up with such people, there was always a similarity in our desire to help the growing awareness of developing the inner self as we moved through the transitions of our life journey, embracing community by wanting to help others and the urgent desire to nurture our sadly ailing planet.

Fast forward to three and a half years later. I happily receive the news that I am one of three finalists from Asia to compete in the Cartier Women's Initiative Awards in Paris for my social enterprise called ECHOstore Sustainable Lifestyle. This news had just come on the heels of my trip to the Hague, upon the invitation of the United Nations Sustainable Development Group and the Netherlands Government to be part of business consultations for input into the Rio+20 Agenda, representing ECHOstore, small SMEs and women groups from Asia.

ECHOstore Sustainable Lifestyle (ECHO is the acronym for Environment Community Hope Organization) is a green and fair trade retail store that I opened with two friends in the Philippines. Now coming close to four years, it has won awards, and has become the voice for Sustainability in the country. Today, this store has become a tri-concept of the ECHOstore (selling green and sustainable items made by marginalized community groups and women groups, women prisoners, foundations and charitable institutions with diverse products such as non-toxic body care, home cleaning solutions, gifts, fashion accessories, books and other lifestyle products); the ECHOmarket Sustainable Farms (with fresh organic and natural produce and farm staples, frozen food, community made jams, non-GMO and lactose free diary etc) and ECHOcafe: Culture, Community, Coffee that serves healthy food using the ingredients sold at the store and market. We are all about sustainability, rallying consumers to be conscious and caring around the tri-philosophy of nurturing and sustaining the self, community and planet, engaging companies to reduce-recycle-reuse, making the sustainable lifestyle fun, hip, logical and friendly. We even have a small ECHOfarm where we plant the vegetables we sell and use; as well as an ECHOyoga center focused on wellness.

What made us pioneering in our blue ocean direction? We kept mindful of what hasn't been done before, how to innovate from the givens, how to be constantly creative with our unique talents despite small capital -- and courageous when a great idea makes itself known. Before ECHOstore opened, there was never any green retail store quite like this in a high-end mall. ECHOmarket was the first natural and organic produce place people could go to in a mall open seven days a week until 9 p.m. Previously, people only had weekend Sunday markets to go to. And the ECHOcafé was a natural outgrowth of the store and market.

While we never really set out to be a woman's company, we have realized that ECHOstore is indeed a woman's led and owned company, where almost 85 percent of our consumers are women, and where almost 90 percent of our supply base are women's group, most of them from rural communities. By creating the enabling environment for these women, households are helped, earning capacities are expanded, livelihood is created and sustainability can be reached.

Sometimes, there are moments when, blessings and graces of wonderful ideas come and root, and are born. And we who are recipients are mindful of the gift, the responsibility even to make the seed grow and flourish. We often tell people, we want everyone to follow our concept, echo it over and over again. We are all consumers and have to purchase products and goods anyway --then why not buy a double gift where you get something you need and at the same time help a community. And we would look to the communities and ask them whether their own processes are sustainable for the environment too. Wouldn't it be a great high to see such stores carry the best of the Filipino artisan pieces, or carry the spirit of care and nurturing for the planet, become as common as a convenient shop in every corner? Where organic brown, violet and red rice by farmers from the mountain communities are sold, where organic virgin coconut oil, coco sap and muscovado sugar are plentiful to help customers have a choice, where recycled items are beautiful and functional once more, and poor marginalized people have steadier sources of income because of fair trade? Now wouldn't that vision of an ECHOstore in every corner be a goal to go after?