In 2002, Patagonia founder Yvon Chouinard and a buddy of his, Craig Matthews, who runs the Yellowstone fishing outfitter Blue Ribbon Flies, launched a business philanthropy program called 1% for the Planet. Both of these guys understand that their business depends on nature, and they devised a way to give back. They figured that by starting a platform to donate 1% of their annual sales to programs that support things like climate progress and wildlife conservation, likeminded businesspeople might be inclined to join them.
They were right. Today, more than 1,200 companies from 48 countries have donated more than $100 million to environmental causes through 1% for the Planet.
While my own small business is not among the companies that get the honor of printing 1% for the Planet’s iconic blue logo on their products (I’ll be investigating membership in the future), this program inspired me to give 1% of the revenue I earned since starting my business in September 2015. I gave to two causes: Mt. Ashland, the community-owned ski area where I took my first turns, and Outdoor Afro, a program started by one of my Oakland neighbors, Rue Mapp, to celebrate and inspire African-American connections and leadership in nature.
Before I started my business, I thought I would have some extra time on my hands. To put it more bluntly, I didn’t think I would generate as much paying work as I have been able to. Not wanting to be idle, I put together a pie chart for how I would spend my time: One wedge would be work that would generate the income my family and I needed to live on, another wedge would be work that paid a little less but represented work I liked to do, and the third wedge would be work that might not pay the bills but that would fulfill my passion or give back to causes I care about. Ideally, I would eventually earn a living in that third wedge. That rudimentary pie chart was my business plan.
As it happens, I have had the privilege of spending most of my working hours in that third wedge, helping tell stories that matter on responsible business, girls education, climate change, protecting our oceans, investing in ecosystems, exploring the role of media in India’s sustainability, building the livelihoods of people in the Muslim world, and more.
During my vacation at the end of 2015, I had the chance to reflect on the unexpected success of my business launch. While I had planned to “give back” through pro bono work throughout the year, I didn’t end up having the time to do that. Instead, I found myself in the position to give a little back financially.
Here’s why I chose to divide my own “one percent for the planet” between my home hill of Mt. Ashland and my neighbor Rue Mapp’s Outdoo Afro.
All Lines Lead Back to Mt. Ashland
Located in the Siskiyou Range of Southern Oregon, 7,533-foot Mt. Ashland has always had a significance in my life disproportionate to its stature. Mt. Ashland won over Telluride, Colorado, as the mountain that brought my dad West when he was looking for small ski towns where he could raise his kids and practice medicine. Every winter weekend, my dad piled us into our brown Suburban and then swung by the Hammock’s and the Dunlevy’s houses to pick up my brother’s friends before driving up to the mountain for training with the Mt. Ashland Racing Association. We spent our summers raising money for season passes and weight training in our garage so we could keep up with my dad on the moguls.
As I got older, several bad ski years prompted my family to give up our passes at Mt. Ashland and instead drive three hours to the higher-elevation Mt. Bachelor in Central Oregon. But I still spent much of my youth in the shadow of Mt. Ashland, racing cross-country track in the fall against the unbeatable Ashland High School girls team and spending summer weekends mountain biking on the logging roads that flank Mt. Ashland’s lower slops.
By the time I got to high school, year after year of warm, dry winters left Mt. Ashland near bankruptcy, and the owner threatened to dismantle the lifts and use them at his other mountain, Washington’s Steven’s Pass. In 1992, the community rallied around a “Save Mt. Ashland” fundraising campaign and successfully transformed the ski area into a nonprofit (the High Country News has a great profile of Mt. Ashland’s nonprofit model).
Over the years, though, the relatively low-elevation mountain has suffered due to global warming, and in January 2014, the mountain canceled plans for its 50-year-anniversary celebration and held a “Pray for Snow” party instead. The mountain did not open at all that year due to lack of snow, and season pass holders were given the option of getting a refund or donating the cost of their pass to keep the ski area afloat.
I was thinking about Mt. Ashland when I attended the COP21 climate talks in Paris in December. The week before the Paris Agreement was signed, I sat in on a panel discussion hosted by Al Gore’s Climate Reality Project and Protect Our Winters (which goes by the clever acronym “POW”), an organization founded by big-mountain snowboarder Jeremy Jones to raise awareness within the winter sports community about how climate change is affecting our fun.
A lot of the discussion on this panel revolved around how POW can influence affluent skiers with second homes in places like Aspen, a much more famous ski town than Ashland that, impressively, is one of three U.S. cities to run on 100 percent renewable energy. While I agreed with the end goal—to get more people to act on climate change—I was frustrated with the focus on the wealthy. We don’t just need the people of Aspen to care and act and vote to protect our climate; we need action by the people of Medford and Grants Pass and other working-class towns like the ones surrounding Mt. Ashland.
I believe that by getting more people out skiing and hiking and mountain biking at places like Mt. Ashland, we’ll have more people devoted to protecting our environment. With a goal to “provide fun and enjoyment for all demographics and social classes,” Mt. Ashland gets half of my one percent this year.
Rue Mapp and Outdoor Afro: Changing the Face of Conservation
Although I have not yet had the chance to meet Rue Mapp, I have encountered her on Twitter, via her writing on her blog, and in person at Oakland’s Redwood Park, where she has led hikes for Outdoor Afro and where my family and I go several times a week to run the trails and build forts in the forest.
In 2009, Mapp founded Outdoor Afro, whose cheeky tagline, “where black people and nature meet,” is a reference to a much more significant purpose: The group’s 30 leaders across the United States connect thousands of people to outdoor experiences. And those people are, as she writes on her website, “changing the face of conservation.” Her invitation is inspiring: “Come out in nature with us, or be a partner to help us grow our work so that we can step into our destiny to lead the way for inclusion in outdoor recreation, nature, and conservation for all!”
For me, Mapp’s words recall those of the African-American writer Eddy Harris, who wrote a beautiful essay for Outside magazine almost 20 years ago: “The natural world is neither black nor white. It is forest green, desert ocher, deep ocean blue. If there are barriers that keep us all from immersing ourselves in it and savoring its riches, they may be reducible, in part, to economics, to geography, to history, and to culture. But mostly they exist in our minds, in the fears and misperceptions that continue to keep us suspended in our separate limbos, unable to come together, even in a place as universally inviting as the world outside our doors.”
Mapp’s enthusiasm is infectious, and I love her group’s mission to get more people from more walks of life to experience the great outdoors. We need more people like her, so the second half of my 2015 one percent goes to Outdoor Afro.
Did you donate money or time to a cause last year? Please share your story in the comments field. I’d love to hear what inspired you, and which efforts you are investing in.