1% for the Planet

, January 6, 2012

For larger organisations involved in travel and retail, a growing consumer demand for corporate transparency has influenced a proliferation of creative environmental projects in the adventure industry. But for smaller companies who want to focus on reducing their environmental impact, the cost of developing imaginative platforms such as mobile apps or entire platforms can be excessively burdensome and inefficient. Founded in 2001 by Yvon Chouinard and Craig Mathews, 1% for the Planet offers a solution to the problem, inviting large and small companies to donate a one percent portion of their sales to environmental causes. In exchange, 1% allow for their logo to be used on member companies’ websites and products as a mark of a solidarity to environmental causes.

In its first three years, 1% signed up nearly 50 members mainly from the West Coast of the US and outdoor industry.  After Jack Johnson came onboard as the 50th member in 2004, he released his album In Between Dreams in support of 1%, selling millions of records worldwide with the 1% logo printed on the cover, From then, 1% started to gain an international reputation outside the outdoor industry. By the end of 2005, Jack Johnson’s album and Yvon Chouinard’s book Let My People Go Surfing had helped bring the membership total to a ripe 200 companies. Following an update of the project’s website and logo, 1% drove hard through the unsure economic climate of 2009, pulling in nearly a member a day to raise the total numbers of members to over 1000 by the end of the year.

Beyond the immediate environmental gains of 1%, the project has nurtured the growth of a sizeable business community of like-minded companies. Kim Jordan, CEO of member company New Belgium Brewing Co.., places a value in the association of people who are doing interesting, creative things with their ventures. Indeed the formation of a dynamic and connected network rooted in environmental values is one of the project’s enduring strengths.  With nearly 1500 members by the close of 2011, 1% has the opportunity to encourage mutually beneficial relationships between brands in similar sectors.

Given the relevance of environmental issues to the outdoors, it’s no surprise that companies involved in adventure have be drawn to the values of 1% for the Planet. Chouinard, also the founder and CEO of  Patagonia, signed up his Californian-based brand as the first member. Since then, nutritional brand Clif Bar have joined the project alongside PR company Terra Public Relations, production agency Teton Gravity and many others.

With a number of social and environmental certifications on high street products and services, the task for the consumer now is to differentiate between the effective and the less effective. As a cause that acts after sales, 1% positions itself outside the rigor of factory inspections and manufacturing techniques, two areas where smaller, younger brands have less clout. Indeed the simple message of 1% is its defining strength, offering a focused goal for the non-profit, and a recognized and understood logo for consumers.

As 1% grows in prominence in the next year, it shall be interesting to see whether their model of sale-and-donate gains a critical mass to influence the way the mainstream market consumes. 2012 promises the growth of the Sustainable Apparel Coalition and another model that will make the sourcing of products available to consumers on a ranked basis – certainly one to watch.