Greening Your Business Is Not Enough

It's Earth Day, and companies large and small are taking stock of their environmental commitment. Recycling program? Check. Energy efficiency? Check. Mass transit incentives and telecommuting? Check.

All these things are great for the planet. And they are signs of a wave of corporations embracing the triple bottom line - people, planet and profits. But the urgency of our environmental challenges requires that businesses committed to sustainability do more.

The environmental movement - from small neighborhood creek-restoration groups to multi-national science and policy powerhouses - has consistently imagined a better future and inspired us to achieve it. But only 2 percent of all charitable giving in the United States goes to environmental causes, and only a small part of that comes from the corporate sector.

It's not enough to green your business. Environmental progress within a company can only go so far unless we change the context - the larger system in which all businesses operate. And only a more engaged and activated public will change that context. That's what the best non-profits are working to do, but all too often with a deck that's stacked against them.

That's why Yvon Chouinard, founder of Patagonia, started 1% for the Planet - to help businesses help the movement, and also help them communicate their commitment to a growing base of consumers that support values-aligned businesses.

We now have 1,284 member companies, from Apartment Therapy in New York City to Zed Skimboards in Victoria, B.C -- 38 countries in all. Each of them has pledged to donate at least 1% of their pre-tax revenues to environmental charities. Last year, companies from the 1% network invested more than $15 million in environmental causes, up 25 percent over the previous year.

Despite the tough economy, we continue to add new member companies every day. They share a belief that sustainability of the environment is fundamental to the sustainability of business. They're working with us to establish environmental giving as a central tenet of the socially responsible business model. By taking a lead role in environmental stewardship, they set an example for the rest of the business community.

1% members include icons of socially responsible businesses like Patagonia, Clif Bar and New Belgium Brewing, fashion icons Barneys of NY and Loomstate, and hundreds of small companies worldwide. A number of large companies also participate at the brand level including, Diageo (Sterling Vineyards), McNeil Nutritionals LLC (Sun Crystals), Roll International (whose brands include Wonderful Pistachios, FIJI Water, Spring Fresh and Paramount Citrus), and Volcom (V CO Logical).

We're also proud to count as members a growing number of performing artists including Jackson Brown and Josh Ritter. They're two of the artists featured on 1% for the Planet Music, Vol. 1, a specially-priced 41-track album available by download only. (You can buy it here.) The album has reached the upper levels of the Amazon, Billboard and iTunes charts. All proceeds support our work to help environmental nonprofits around the world.

"Slacker musicians aren't in as good a position to help out the planet as, say, a really smart scientist," says Michael Flynn of Slow Runner, another of the bands on the album. "But I'm pretty sure that a compilation of songs by really smart scientists would suck, so we're doing what we can to help out and hope everyone else does the same."

From Joni Mitchell's "Big Yellow Taxi" to James Cameron's Avatar, popular culture is a powerful vehicle for spreading the message of the urgent need to curb global warming, stop toxic pollution and protect our natural resources. But you could say the same about any business or brand. Artists and brands have this in common: access to and influence with the consumers we must reach if we're to make the kind of major changes in individual behavior, corporate conduct and government policy that are needed to achieve a sustainable future for the planet.

As any business owner knows, donating 1% of revenues - as opposed to profits - is a high bar to meet. It's a way to inspire or even dare others in your field to join. We need more bold business leaders who are willing to challenge others to step up. On Earth Day 2010, we salute those who already have.