Recent research from Bain & Company and EcoVadis covering 80,000 private companies and 20,000 listed companies came to one powerful conclusion – a more sustainable business is a more profitable business.
And when it comes to companies doing the right thing, few have better sustainability credentials than outdoor apparel brand Patagonia. Founder Yvon Chouinard famously gave the billion-dollar company away in 2022 – putting it into a Trust and non-profit dedicated to defending nature.
That is not Chouinard’s only legacy. The story goes that keen rockclimber Chouinard was out fly fishing in 2002 with Blue Ribbon Flies CEO Craig Mathews when they hit upon an idea of how businesses large and small could all make a difference and take responsibility for their impact. That’s how 1% For The Planet was born.
Kate Williams – who became CEO of 1% For The Planet in 2015 after working in the environmental nonprofit and outdoor adventure space for more than two decades – explains how it all began.
“The idea for 1% For The Planet sparked from a discussion on the environmental impact of business – and how business owners have a responsibility to give back to the planet,” she tells Business Chief.
“It started small, with most members being outdoor brands already focused on environmental advocacy. But the network grew rapidly as the logo and mission gained recognition. Today we have over 5,500 business members in more than 60 countries, spanning across almost every industry you can think of. From legal services to baby products, 1% For The Planet members no longer fit in any one category.”
Williams says she realised she wanted to pursue an environmental career when she was 18 and on a challenging group backpacking trip in the mountains of Wyoming.
Finding herself in a leadership position and dealing with injuries, bad weather and tasked with keeping up morale, Williams had something of an epiphany – that compassionate leadership was at the core of how she shows up for people and the planet.
Collective action matters
Joining 1% For The Planet is the culmination of those early ambitions. While Williams’ personal beliefs make her involvement a no-brainer, what about the businesses that are signing up to literally give away 1% of their total sales? What kind of companies are they?
“Though they cover a wide variety of industries (no more than 10% of our network is in any single industry), 1% For The Planet members all have one thing in common: a commitment to do better for people and the planet,” says Williams.
“Lots of brands say they give back, or give the impression of environmental action through ‘green’ packaging and vague statements. 1% For The Planet membership is a way for both businesses and consumers to cut through the noise – to make real impact and reject business as usual.”
Of those 5,500 business members, the most recognised is of course Patagonia. Other noteworthy larger businesses include home and kitchen brand OXO, Avocado Green Mattress and life science company Cell Signaling Technology. To date, all member companies have contributed around US$450 million to good causes.
“Most of the network is made up of small businesses, which goes to show how much 1% adds up – and the importance of collective action,” says Kate.
Every 1% For The Planet member donates 1% of all sales, not profits, directly to one or more vetted environmental partners. Then, those companies show proof of donation and 1% For The Planet certifies their giving, providing them access to use the logo to share their commitment. This model allows for meaningful partnerships to be built between businesses and environmental partners.
Although the organisation was founded in the US, 57% of the 1% For The Planet network is from outside the US, with Europe being particularly well represented.
“We are working on expanding our reach every day, and are hoping to significantly increase brand awareness in all regions within the next decade,” Kate tells Business Chief.
While there are an increasing number of companies in the Middle East and Africa signing up to pledge 1%, Williams and her team are working hard to encourage more members to join, and ways to make the network more accessible for a diverse range of businesses and environmental partners.
“The 1% For The Planet logo holds credibility and recognition around the world, so a large selling point is increased success in the global market,” says Kate.
Middle East, Africa companies reaping the benefits
For Hesam Miri, MD of Dubai-based company United Bluerise, joining 1% For The Planet was a no-brainer due to the company philosophy in taking active steps to address health and environmental challenges.
“We are a water-oriented company, and so we recognise that access to quality water is a fundamental need, while reducing waste is also critical to a sustainable future. By joining 1% For The Planet, we aimed to align our mission with our actions and establish long-term partnerships with individuals who are willing to contribute to the betterment of our planet and its sustainable future.
Joining has brought a number of benefits to its business, including strengthening the brand reputation as an environmentally responsible company.
“Customers and partners increasingly value sustainability, and our membership demonstrates our commitment to this cause. Also, being part of the community has enabled us to connect with like-minded businesses, opening up opportunities for collaboration and shared knowledge.
Meri argues that sustainability is not only ethically important but also a strategic advantage in today's business landscape. “By becoming a member, you're not only making a positive impact on the environment but also positioning your company as a socially responsible and forward-thinking organisation.”
It’s a similar story for Lubanzi Wines, a socially conscious wine company that punches above its weight and creates a difference in the lives of labourers who live and work on South Africa’s wine farms.
According to Charlie Brain, co-founder, Lubanzi was looking for ways to further its commitment to sustainability,and joining 1% For The Planet provided an easy way to showcase those values to customers.
“With so many certifications that are opaque and unclear to the consumer, we felt like the beauty of 1% For The Planet was its simplicity,” Charlie tells Business Chief. “We were drawn to the idea that if businesses and industries embraced this simple philosophy at scale it had the power to transform capitalism.”
“We carry a half-dozen different sustainability certifications as a business and have explored a dozen more over the years – in our experience, there’s no easier and more powerful certification out there than 1% For The Planet when it comes to making an impact and demonstrating your commitment.”
Kate concurs, insisting that more than ever before, consumers are looking for real commitment from brands and are well-informed on how to ensure they are making good on their claims.
“We are also at a pivotal time in our history as the climate crisis unfolds. Conscious businesses and their employees want to make change and support climate action – and we offer a simple and streamlined solution to do that.”
Williams points to statistics that show brands with strong environmental commitments are performing better with consumers than those without. A recent Gen Z purpose study by Porter Novelli found that 93% of Gen Zers believe that companies should have the appropriate programs and policies in place to back their commitments.
She also says that 1 in 3 consumers in the US recognise 1% For The Planet and 43% of them say it has a positive impact on their purchasing decisions. Suddenly, the business opportunity comes into focus.
“1% For The Planet members have consistently reported that ad materials with our logo have performed significantly better than those without,” she says. “So, we know that third-party certifications are good for business. We also know that giving back is just the right thing to do, which is why we exist.”
With COP28 taking place in Dubai at the end of this month and into December, and increasingly alarming climate change, there is a greater focus on sustainability in the region than ever. Now is the time for governments, businesses, and consumers to take decisive action.
“COP28 presents another opportunity for large-scale international action, and it is absolutely critical that the opportunity is taken,” says Williams.
“Some of the major topics I would like to see covered and acted upon are increased climate financing, supporting vulnerable communities in adaptation, mitigation and disaster relief, and nature-based solutions.
“Ultimately, we need to work with people and the planet, not against them, to make the type of stark and meaningful change that is needed.”
Rise of ethical, environmental certifications
As consumers vote for increased sustainability with their spending habits, a growing number of companies are leveraging ethical and environmental certifications like 1% for the Planet to quickly and quantitatively show consumers, vendors, partners and suppliers a commitment to these practices. So what do these mean?
Fair Trade Certified This seal on a product "signifies that it was made according to rigorous, fair trade standards that promote sustainable livelihoods, safe working conditions, protection of the environment and strong, transparent supply chains."
Rainforest Alliance Certified hotels promote environmental, social and economic sustainability in agriculture and forestry for conference locations or employee travel. Fairmont and Hyatt are among certified hotels.
FSC recycled certification An internationally recognised certification system that ensures responsible forest management and promotes the use of recycled materials in the production of paper and other forest-based products.
Climate Neutral Certified A globally recognised standard for carbon accountability. Among the 337 brands that have certified, they measured and offset 1,408,415 tonnes of carbon to account for the impacts of their last year's operations.
LEED certification The world's most widely used green building rating system, LEED certification provides a framework for healthy, highly efficient, and cost-saving green buildings, which offer ESG benefits.
B Corp Established in 2006 by non-profit organisation B Lab, B Corp certification is the only certification that measures a company’s entire social and environmental performance.