Doing Well by Doing Good -- Together

In an era in history when so many of the companies and brands we once trusted have come to let us down, it's comforting to find entrepreneurs who believe in the basic tenet that to do well in business involves some degree of doing good. Any entrepreneur worth their salt knows that their brand is worthless if it doesn't somehow contribute to society or the overall good of the planet. And with the current state of the global economy, this principle appears to have added weight and urgency.

It was heartening to discover than many businesses, despite their own financial hardships, are recognizing this fact. I learned this during my interview with Terry Kellogg, CEO of 1% For The Planet, a nonprofit whose sole purpose is to help businesses help the environment by providing a third-party seal of authenticity for their philanthropic efforts -- a Good Housekeeping Seal of Approval for the 21st century, if you will. One percent of total sales may not sound like a whole lot, but let me assure you that it can amount to quite a commitment, especially for businesses struggling during the economic downturn.

Kellogg informed me that not only is his organization doing well in this economy but that 1% For The Planet has grown to the point where it is adding a new member per day. Businesses are lining up to give their money to a cause that they not only believe in but believe is necessary for their future growth, both in terms of their reputation to their customers and preserving the natural resources that allow them to be in businesses to begin with. It's the right thing to do, in every meaning that phrase holds.

The brains behind 1%, fishing buddies Yvon Chouinard and Craig Mathews, both practice what they preach. In fact, they were practicing before they were preaching, having come up and executed the concept of donating one percent of their companies' earnings -- Chouinard at Patagonia, Mathews at his flyfishing outfitter, Blue Ribbon Flies, near Yellowstone -- before they decided to spread the idea to other forward-thinking ventures. It wasn't long before the idea caught on and new members were being reeled in hook, line, and sinker.

What makes 1% even more intriguing in concept is not just that it gives businesses credibility in their philanthropic efforts; any charitable donation comes with a tax receipt. Kellogg's organization takes it a step further by assisting businesses in matching them with the nonprofit organization that best suits the company's individual environmental goals. In that sense, it's sort of like Earth's own personal matchmaker.

By facilitating the matchmaking process, 1% helps make the environmental impact that much greater, by bringing together various entities who might not otherwise have joined forces. Imagine how much more influence 50 mom-and-pop shops can have when their combined one percent of sales is pooled to help clean up their local beach. Or when several companies spread across several states commit to supporting the research of renewable energy sources, which they may one day incorporate into their own business. Any one of those businesses on its own would have made a ripple, but together they can form a tidal wave of change.

With so many businesses now touting themselves as green machines, it's important for customers to be able to identify the real deal. How will your company set itself apart and relay its environmental story in a way that's both credible and commendable? I want to emphasize how important it is for a company to ensure that its hard work pays off, both with the nonprofits it supports and the public. Our society has become increasingly cynical of self-congratulatory corporations, often with good reason, so having a reputable third-party certify your efforts can help stave off some (although never all) of the critics.

Helping the planet is now easier than ever. The economy is no excuse. If you want to have a business once the Great Recession is behind us, philanthropy must be a part of your plan. Customers want to get behind a brand they can believe in, and if you're not part of the solution, they'll assume you're part of the problem. And that's an assumption no company can afford right now.

"Doing well by doing good." It's not just a good saying for a bumpersticker. It's a basic tenet of business that just might ensure the survival of your company -- and the planet.