How 1% For The Planet makes 100% business sense

Kate Williams is CEO of 1% For The Planet
Progress, not perfection is the goal for changemaker Kate Williams, CEO of 1% For The Planet – the global movement making inroads across Asia-Pacific

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 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.

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.

Making inroads in Asia-Pacific

The Asia and ANZ region is well represented, with more than 300 companies pledging their support in Australia alone.

“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. 

“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.”

Kate highlights two examples of how 1% For The Planet members are making a difference in Asia & ANZ.

UK-based Pukka Herbs has been supporting TreeSisters since 2018, funding projects across India and the Amazon. In 2022, they restored the Cauvery river basin in India, which gave local farmers a chance to turn toward agroforestry and diversify their income. Farmers in the region planted 100,000 trees, which will support the health and livelihoods of 84 million people. 

In Fiji, Anarchist Wine Co. partnered with Counting Coral (a partner that has received 40% of their funding from 1% For The Planet members) to create an underwater sculpture supporting coral growth. Their logo was etched into the installation – to forever commemorate the partnership and the marine life that it will protect in the coming years.

Andrew Escaler is EVP of Pasudeco, an investment company in the Philippines that is proud to donate 1% For The Planet. Pasudeco’s stated aim is to be the most helpful shareholder for companies that improve the health of the planet, people, or automate.

He says they signed up because “saving our planet should be everyone’s number-one priority”. In addition, Pasudeco benefits by connecting with other like-minded people who are also interested in saving the planet.

“You have no business without a hospitable environment so you should be doing as much as you can to keep the environment friendly to humanity,” says Escaler. 

Taking meaningful action on your own sustainability pledges is good business, according to Williams. She believes, 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,” she says. “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 continuing into December, and increasingly alarming climate change, there is a greater focus on sustainability 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. 

“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.”

1% For The Planet community volunteers with the Surfrider Foundation
1% For The Planet CEO Kate Williams with co-founders Yvon Chouinard (Patagonia) and Craig Mathews (Blue Ribbon Flies)
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