Podcast: 1% for the Planet CEO Kate Williams featured on podcast

August 7, 2016

From a small office in Burlington, Vermont, one organization is leading a global charge.

One Percent for the Planet is a network of businesses that contribute at least 1% of their annual total sales to environmental and conservation nonprofits. Yvon Chouinard and Craig Matthews founded the organization in 2002, believing that it’s good business to protect the natural resources that keep you in business.

Ten years later, their spark has ignited a global collaboration, and participating companies have given more than $100 million to environmental and conservation efforts.

CEO Kate Williams joined me on freshwater Talk to discuss how businesses are helping to bring positive environmental change through their annual commitment to meaningful causes.

Passionate about being outdoors and devoted to environmental stewardship, Kate tirelessly extends her service through involvement with environmental nonprofit organizations.

She has served as Chair of the National Outdoor Leadership School Board of Trustees and Executive Director of Northern Forest Canoe Trail, and currently sits on the Northern Forest Center Board.

Enjoy this extract from the conversation, and make sure to dive into our full discussion above.

Joe Whitworth 


Give me the quick story about 1%. How did this all come about?

It all came about with Yvon Chouinard. He and his friend, Craig Matthews, were on the shores of a Montana River, fishing, and they realized business could play a critical role in conserving the very land they were standing on. They took that idea from there to actually engage partners to save that piece of land, but in so doing to create a new model for businesses engaging in environmental solutions through giving to nonprofits.

Money goes back to nonprofits through the program and it supports a ton of environmental causes. What do you see as the top motivations or biggest issues businesses want to make a difference with? Is there any trend or is it all over the board?

In the best of ways, I would say it’s all over the board — in the sense that what our businesses do is they think through the issues that matter to them and also align with their brand. For some businesses, that issue might be water, for others it’s climate change. Sometimes it’s tied to their product; so, if it’s food brands, sometimes it’s sustainable agriculture. Sometimes it’s just tied to the passions of the individuals involved. But the net result is this beautiful collage of these different investments in solutions for the many different kinds of issues intersecting with the environment. 

Let’s talk about water. 

I will say that water is one of our bigger issues because we interact with it and the issues intersect with it in so many different ways — from drought to contamination to plastics trash to micro plastics trash. There are so many ways in which we have opportunities to make a difference in how we treat water — not in the sense of treating water with chemicals — but “treat” it in how we support it and respect it and steward it.

Why did you guys choose “1%”? How do you see that percentage changing over time? 

The goal was initially to have a number that was real and big enough — it’s 1% of total sales, so it’s a big number. To have that number be big enough that it’s meaningful and a real commitment was part of what mattered. One of the things we are wrestling with is that we want more businesses to come in and be part of this movement. So, we are exploring whether and how the model could potentially evolve to bring more members in a real and legitimate way that supports the environment.

You guys couldn’t be where you are without learning along the way. What were one or two of the most important things you have learned along the way? You personally? 

One of the things that make me feel really fortunate with this job is that I’m intellectually tired at the end of each and every day. I think one of the things that has been a learning that keeps coming back, and that I’ve definitely wrestled with the implementation of it, is the importance of focus. We have this huge global network, we’re a relatively small nonprofit ourselves based in Burlington, Vermont, with a sense of urgency and a really powerful and inspiring legacy from Yvon Chouinard to the many members. We feel a great obligation to those who have joined us in this work. So how to really stay focused while trying to accomplish big work. And I think that was one of the genius gifts of Yvon Chouinard and Craig Matthews was this 1% for the planet concept. Now as we continue to bring it to life, how do we continue to grow and evolve and innovate without losing that focus?

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