One person can make a difference....with 1% for the planet!
Patagonia's founder explains the secret to his company's record sales in 2008
By: Yvon Chouinard
More than greed caused the financial crisis. As counterintuitive as it may sound, America's indifference toward the environment is largely responsible for the meltdown. If we'd been thinking about the planet first, we would have avoided the parallel problems of urban sprawl and subprime mortgages. The toxic lending was driven by the fiscal ideology that housing prices would forever climb as long as we continued to develop the next parcel of desert or forest. This thinking, we now all know, was incredibly shortsighted and unsustainable. If we had put the environment first, America would already be leading the green-energy economy of the 21st century. We'd be building high-speed railroads, public transportation, eco-friendly automobiles, and renewable-energy infrastructure to power a sustainable future much like Europe has done. Instead, our politicians, bankers, and business leaders were caught asleep at the wheel. As America picks itself up by its bootstraps, we all have to realize that business and ecology are inherently linked. David Brower of the Sierra Club puts it this way, "There is no business to be done on a dead planet."
That's all to say that most of our social problems are really environmental problems. It's why a few years ago, I started 1% For The Planet with my friend Craig Mathews, the owner of Blue Ribbon Trout Flies, in West Yellowstone, Montana. We were fishing on the Madison River one day, and I was telling him how Patagonia gives 1 percent of its gross sales to the environment. I call it the cost of doing business, an Earth tax. Craig said to me, "God, Yvon, I've been giving 2 percent." And he explained how he gets orders from across the country for $700 fly rods even though these guys can buy from their local fly shops. They do it because Craig sends 2 percent back to the rivers. I said, "Geez, that's fantastic." So we decided to start an organization and see if we could get other companies to join us. That was in 2002.
Today, we have 1,044 members in 37 countries, and we've donated more than $42 million to environmental organizations. Understand that this isn't 1 percent of profit, this is 1 percent of gross sales, which is a whole lot more. Even if you're not profitable, you still have to give the money away. And you know something else? In October, when the markets imploded, we signed up 48 new members—one and a half a day. And get this: Our largest members (Patagonia, New Belgium Brewing, Clif Bar, and Sigg) all had some of their best years in 2008. It's karma. During recessions, customers who appreciate what you're trying to do will still support you. At Patagonia, we give to 400 organizations, leaning heavily toward activist groups, the radical ones that are too controversial for most people. And that's why, instead of retiring, I'm still in business: to take the radical side of things. I want to show other companies that protecting the environment means protecting your financial bottom line as well as your future.
How to Join 1% for the Planet
Becoming a member of 1% For The Planet is simple and can be completed within 48 hours
First, you'll fill out a simple questionnaire about your business. Next, an agreement will be drafted for you to sign, essentially stating that you agree to donate 1 percent of your gross sales to either one or a combination of 1,600 approved environmental organizations. In exchange, you'll be able to use the 1% FTP logo on all of your goods and services. At the end of each year, you'll be required to present 1% FTP with a tax return that proves you've been meeting your end of the bargain. You'll be driving positive environmental change while making your company more attractive to customers.
Yvon Chouinard, 70, is the founder of Patagonia.