A Healthier Planet: Q & A with 1% for the Planet’s Gaelan Brown

As environmental awareness gains priority in both the public and private sectors, few organizations have made as significant an impact as 1% for the Planet. This focused and effective organization introduced a totally original process regarding the financial support for nonprofits and their efforts to raise environmental awareness and action.

I asked Gaelan Brown of 1% for the Planet to describe the ins and outs of their work:

Alec Ross: What is 1% for the planet all about?
Gaelan Brown: We’re an alliance of businesses financially committed to a healthier planet. We work at trying to elevate the impact and awareness of the environmental question, making sure that our member companies have made the commitment to giving 1% of revenue to the cause. It’s important to recognize the difference between revenue and profit, however. Every company within our members list have made the commitment to giving 1% of their annual revenue to nonprofits. Depending on the size, scope, and nature of the particular company, 1% of revenue can be a considerably sizable amount of profit. The companies that make that commitment are not examined or audited; we just make sure that companies that are doing environmental work are getting the funding they need.

AR: What motivated 1%’s inception?
GB: 1% for the Planet started in 2002 by Yvon Chouinard of Patagonia, and Craig Mathews of Blue Ribbon Flies, to preserve a big stretch of land in Montana that was proposed for residential development. They were trying to get the whole business world to see the value of environmental sensitivity. Yvon Chouinard described it as a “voluntary earth attack”. From then, it took off. Now we deal with hundreds of organizations and millions of dollars.

AR: What do you guys do on a daily basis?
GB: I spend every day doing public work. My goal is to make the public see what we’re doing as a legitimate and worthy investment. I communicate with our member organizations as well as our network of nonprofits.

AR: Tell me about your member organizations.
GB: We have an expansive list of member organization, most of which are in the USA. However, we have developed a prominent presence worldwide. We have expanded to nations including Japan, Australia, Germany, the UK, and France. We’re seeing good momentum. The thing is, it takes a big company to take the charge, and the rest follow. It’s a “tribal horsepower”. The companies in our members list are wildly successful. When the recession hit, we examined all of our members revenues. We found that despite the recession, it was a time of growth for many of them. These companies are backing up their talk. They’re making good products, and are being very responsible with their money. I think that’s a common characteristic of all our member organizations.

AR: What are current issues being dealt with at 1%?
GB: Well, historically, we have never gotten involved with specific environmental issues. But within the last year, we decided to curate and elevate partnerships within political efforts and the outdoor industry. For Instance, in California, a bunch of companies that we work with pushed a piece of legislation that was very environmentally sensitive. Also, we engaged in a project called “Vote the Environment”, which was a social media campaign. We tried to engage people to think about the environmental impact. We tried to motivate people to get informed and make a difference, which is really what we’re all about at 1% for the Planet. We want to mobilize the network and encourage companies to support nonprofits that are doing good work. At the end of the day, it’s driven by the leading companies in our network. Cliff Bars, Patagonia, Clean Canteen, and Nature’s Path are just a few of our members list. But the story is not over.

AR: What is next for 1% for the Planet?
GB: We’re in our tenth year, but we are still focused on expanding. Looking back, we’ve seen over 100 million dollars that have been donated by our member organizations to nonprofits. One key premise at 1% is that more giving be directed at specific environmental issues. We need to build the financial horsepower by getting bigger and bigger companies in our network of donors. That builds our brand value. We have to convince brands and corporations that having the 1% logo on their product is a good move for them. One thing we are excited about is the launch of our new website. Sometime in March, we are going to turn the network into a content destination. Every nonprofit will have a blog on the site. But specifically, we want to turn every donation into a story. We want the website to have thousands of stories. Also, we plan to include a comprehensive directory of all the nonprofits and member organization involved. Ultimately, we want to have as much reach as the notable figures in the industry like the Huffington Post. We have credible, real people, that are passionate about their work. It’s more than politics. 1% for the Planet is about people in the trenches working on progressing their passion: our planet.