How One Nonprofit Sector is Benefitting from Community and New Funding They Did Not Create

While most companies are becoming greener, some businesses are actually baking sustainability into their businesses to create breakthrough innovations, larger profits, and infectious social good. 

These ecologically-minded organizations are magnetizing consumers with a similar worldview to buy their products. And together with other like-minded individuals and entities, they are creating a “sustainable” community to help save the planet. 

This is serious business.

These social enterprises are run by savvy, passionate, and dedicated professional managers and teams not bound by the traditional demands of returning shareholder value. They are motivated by a higher calling and in many ways, act more like corporate philanthropists than C-suite executives by predetermining a percentage of their sales and/or salaries to environmental causes. And it doesn’t end there.

These leaders are not satisfied with just philanthropy. They also want sustainability built into every aspect of their business. They aspire and encourage others to become carbon neutral or better. They are not satisfied with recycling; they want to set new standards for up-cycling. They want to move beyond making a cleaner product to influencing policy on local, regional, and national levels.  

They are working on their own businesses but not alone. They gather and support each other. They seek investors and employees with similar goals. They fiercely guard their collective values and are not looking for your approval.

Make no mistake, this is more Intelligent Design than Big Bang.

It all started when two businessmen met and bonded over their shared love for the outdoors. Realizing their responsibility to protect our planet, they decided to give 1% of their sales back to the environment — whether or not they were profitable.

In 2002, Yvon Chouinard, founder of Patagonia, and Craig Matthews, founder of Blue Ribbon Flies, created 1% for the Planet and started a global movement.

1% for The Planet

1% for the Planet is a global nonprofit with a mission to bring dollars and doers together and accelerate smart environmental giving. They do this through giving programs where business and individual members pledge to contribute 1% of their sales (or salary) toward environmental causes.

Today, over 2,500 individual and corporate members give 1% for the planet, creating a living and breathing organism offering the flexibility of fulfilling some (or all) of their commitment with volunteer hours. That means up to 100% of their 1% pledge can be fulfilled by rolling up their sleeves and volunteering with any of over 3,000 approved nonprofit partners of their choosing.

1% for the Planet makes it easy for consumers to identify its corporate members by having brands and products carry a 1% for the Planet seal indicating that the business donates 1% of its annual sales to environmental nonprofits. Every time you buy a product with a 1% for the Planet logo, a portion of your purchase goes back to our planet.

Lessons For Other Nonprofit Sectors and Their Leaders

There are so many lessons here for other sectors within the nonprofit ecosystem. Here are a few starting points:

  1. If you do not have a unifying group like 1% for the Planet for your sector, create one.
  2. Seek out the business owners, impact investors, industry experts, and other influencers that have bought into your sector and want to help.
  3. Start with a gathering to initiate the conversation.

Interested in helping to move your sector into a dynamic new future?

For smart online tools that measure and improve nonprofit operational effectiveness, please visit The Capin Center for Nonprofit Excellence, where nonprofits, funders, and recognized experts work together for the greatest impact. We make nonprofits better. We can help yours.


Marc is Co-Founder and Principal Advisor of The Center. For the previous 12 years, Marc served full-time as executive and practitioner in three significant yet very different nonprofits, overseeing extensive domestic and international operations.