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A Q&A with 1% for the Planet’s Rebecca Calahan Klein
When Patagonia founder Yvon Chouinard and Blue Ribbon Flies founder Craig Mathews got together for some fly fishing on the Madison River in 2001, talk about fishing quickly turned to talk about business, and, more importantly, about how their businesses survive when the environment does. With this goal of protecting the natural resources that kept them in business, the pair founded 1% for the Planet, the nonprofit organization dedicated to encouraging businesses to donate 1% of their annual sales to environmental groups.
What started out as a dream on the Madison River is now a successful reality and a growing network of businesses financially committed to creating a healthy planet. Today, 1% for the Planet has grown from their two companies to more than 1,400 companies and 2,800 nonprofits, with combined contributions of more than $100 million donated to environmental groups worldwide.
“In our business, if the environment is not healthy, then business is not healthy,” says Rebecca Calahan Klein, Vice President of Organizational Development for 1%. “Companies see value by following the dollars—what matters gets investment. The motto for 1% says, ‘Let’s put our money in places that matter most to our business, and let’s do it year after year.’”
And year after year, they do. 1% acts as a watchdog to ensure financial investment in the earth. Although a lot of companies say they donate a percentage of their profit or make contributions to environmental causes, often they promise more than they deliver. 1% follows through, making sure donations are fulfilled. Companies in the network donate at least 1% of their sales to the nonprofit of their choice. The 1% model makes sure there’s steady funding flowing to the nonprofit community.
The deal is mutually beneficial—companies work with nonprofits to make donations to specific causes, and in return the nonprofits and companies have an exchange of knowledge and project-sharing. Companies that follow through with donations of 1% every year also have exclusive access to the 1% logo, which is currently featured on more than 1 billion products, and growing. The 1% brand has worldwide recognition and provides credibility for consumers, which influences people’s willingness to buy a product.
Where do proceeds from 1% donations go?
Over 20% of proceeds go into environment education, sustainability education, and literacy, Rebecca says.
“People need to know that they’re connected to the environment, and in particular kids, so that they can start to value it. Climate change has been, and continues to be, an area where people are giving. They want to see something done.”
Generally, the environmental groups receiving donations work directly on climate change with policy reform, clean energy generation, sustainable energy—things that have substantial footprints.
“We have a lot of companies that give to, for example, a whole variety of bike alliances around the country. These alliances are focused on getting people out of their cars with alternative methods of transportation, and promoting bike sharing across metropolitan areas.”
So what are some of the companies in the network?
Companies in the network are varied—from apparel to eco-tourism to restaurants; from health and wellness to the movie and music industries—including singer/songwriter Jack Johnson, who has produced songs that directly benefit the cause.
Meanwhile the number of supporters continues to grow.
“Once you start a hub, then that hub grows,” Rebecca says. In addition to founding companies Patagonia and Blue Ribbon Flies, other well-known companies include PETCO, Clif Bar, Jackson Hole Mountain Resort, Trailblazers, FIJI Water, and more.
“When you go into 1% companies, it’s not that they all live off the grid, but…these companies aren’t turning a blind eye to the cause and saying they have no environmental impact. And yet they aren’t creating what I think of sort of as a ‘perfectionist immobility,’ where you always say you can’t do anything until you get it totally right… then you’ll never do anything. We have a lot of companies that care about these [environmental] values. I think about companies like Klean Kanteen that, say, want their employees to ride to work. Their [and other company’s] understanding of that connectedness of their company to the earth and the climate, and supporting and giving to groups that actually can do things that help people change the way that they live and also create possibilities to build you as a business. You know it all goes around.”
Many of the companies in the 1% network are less than 10 years old, with outdoor-loving founders who really know the environment; they are connected to the environment, and, as Rebecca sums it up, “They get it.”
Additionally, 1% has 50 media partners who donate 1% of annual sales in terms of ad space for marketing campaigns. This year’s current campaign focuses around talking to people about things they can do in their ordinary daily lives to help the planet.
What can be done to get people more involved in helping the planet?
Four years ago the climate had a prominent role in the presidential debates. This year there’s not been a peep about climate change and global warming. Asked why and what we can do to get people to be forward-thinking about the long-term problems of climate change, Rebecca surmised:
“Climate change solutions require people to step out of the box, and with this campaign being so close, the candidates are sticking to the traditional topics….A full 80 percent of all people today believe that climate change is a reality, which is up significantly from four years ago. The reason for this is because people are not just hearing about actual solutions but are starting to see them, from the windmills to the hybrid cars, from the solar panels on rooftops to bike lanes in major metropolitan areas. It’s starting to make it more real for people. And, even though the candidates aren’t talking about it, other people are.”
And people are talking. Patagonia’s “Vote the Environment” campaign (#BecauseILove) encourages people to share what it is that they value most about the environment because that’s what matters most. The campaign focuses on getting people to open a dialog (regardless of party lines), and to talk about the environment—not just during the political season but all year long. And 1% has been working with other companies in their network to join the campaign, to get more people to think about the environment and to ask about it in this campaign.
“It’s interesting to see in the last eight weeks the exploding conversation,” Rebecca says. 1% has contributed to the campaign by adding widgets on its site, as well as getting members and nonprofits to add widgets to their sites, to tweet, and to share the message.
What are some sustainability practices that other businesses can use to help affect climate change?
Rebecca stresses that all companies should look into their business practices. They should ask themselves: Where are there environmental impacts, both good and bad, in the business? How can we not only tweak our procedures to have less of an environmental impact, but how can we get our employees to take up the cause, as well?
1% member Clif Bar, for example, recently led a “2-mile challenge” campaign within its workplace. Employees were encouraged to get rid of just one 2-mile trip by vehicle and instead to walk (or bike) it to their location. This small change, when compounded, can make a huge climate impact.
“Companies should be aware of where they’ve been doing well, and where there’s a need for change and innovation. There’s always room for improving your model and procedures to rein in your environmental footprint.”
That’s where BCorps, or benefit corporations, come in. In addition to focusing on the three biggies of climate impact and sustainability—energy, water, and waste—companies can become registered B Corporations. “Certified BCorps“ are corporations that “meet rigorous standards of social and environmental performance, accountability, and transparency.” Backed by the nonprofit B Lab, which works with businesses to solve social and economical problems, BCorp-certified leaders, such as Patagonia and Ben & Jerry’s, have worked to pass legislation in more than 11 states (more states are reviewing the legislation) to create a new type of corporation that “best meets the needs of entrepreneurs and investors seeking to use business to solve social and environmental problems.”
“So therefore,” Rebecca explains, “when the company is set up, you can say that you’re here to help protect the environment and to help build communities. Putting it in the legal [contract] of a company allows that company to do different things that it wouldn’t do otherwise.”
BCorp offers a free assessment tool to help companies see where they can do well for the environment and where they can improve. Because doing well for the environment, as 1% founders Yvon and Craig first noted more than 10 years ago, not only benefits the companies, but also helps ensure a healthy planet for generations to come.
Photos courtesy 1% for the Planet.