Is Conscious Consumerism the New Conspicuous Consumerism? 1% for the Planet's 1,000 Members Think So


Craig Matthews, Terry Kellogg, and Yvon Chouinard of 1% for the Planet in New York to celebrate the organization hitting the 1,000-member mark. Photo courtesy 1% for the Planet.

There's been a lot of talk about will happen to the green movement as the economy slips into further turmoil. Will bad financial news eclipse the environment's media spotlight? Will the need to pull purse strings tight turn consumers into shoppers who care about nothing more than the cash register's tally? We at TreeHugger believe that the economic downturn is less a threat to the green movement than it is an opportunity--we're simply shifting part of our focus to the relevant topic of how going green can help save money. But it turns out our fears about conscious consumerism diving with the Dow may be unfounded. In fact, 1% for the Planetis seeing an uptick in membership (it reached the 1,000-member mark in February), and, perhaps more impressively, member businesses are reporting an increase in sales, even while conventional businesses flounder.

So will the triple bottom line finally become business as usual? And what can conscious consumers do about it? We caught up with Yvon Chouinard, co-founder of 1% and founder of Patagonia, 1% co-founder and owner of Blue Ribbon Flies in Montana Craig Matthews, and 1% CEO Terry Kellogg, who weigh in in the videos below the fold. Since 2007, more than 430 companies have joined 1%--an alliance of businesses that donate a portion of sales to environmental non-profits. That's pre-profit sales. And remarkably, even as global financial markets collapsed last October, 1% saw its biggest growth during that month. So why would companies offer to pay what Chouinard and Matthews call a "self-tax" in the face of economic calamity? “It’s a clear indication to me that consumers and companies alike are seeking a better kind of capitalism," says Kellogg.

Terry Kellogg, CEO of 1% for the Planet, on the surprising growth of the alliance during an economic downturn.

Today, 1% members include businesses such as Patagonia, Clif Bar, and New Belgium Brewing, which are already synonymous with social responsibility, as well as less obvious suspects such as Barneys New York, and even artists like Jack Johnson. Together, they give out roughly $10 million per year to 1,600 environmental organizations, with total donations coming to $42 million since 2002.

But what's most amazing is the trend of success and increased sales and growth among the members themselves. "The top six companies in 1% for the Planet are all reporting the best year they've ever had, and in a terrible economy," said Chouinard during an intimate press conference held in New York. And while Chouinard and Matthews--old fly fishing buddies--say they never imagined they'd have 1,000 members when they started the organization, now their big challenge is to figure out how they can get public corporations to join in. Convincing CEOs who report to shareholders that a self-tax for the environment is worthwhile has been tough, despite the fact that 1% members seem to be proving that it can indeed result in added financial value. But, as Chounard points out in the video below, consumers have the upper hand when it comes to changing the marketplace.

Yvon Chouinard on why consumers have the power to change the marketplace.

While Chouinard and Matthews conceived of a 1% contribution of sales as a self-imposed tax rather a philanthropic move, it may be that spirit of responsibility and caring for the wellness of others that attracts shoppers. "We felt we needed to tax ourselves one percent -- an Earth tax, if you will -- for doing business on our planet," says Matthews, whose unflagging optimism was seemingly immune to even the most curmudgeonly reporters' questions, and is clearly part of the reason for the organization's success (it was impossible not to feel inspired by these guys). So is conscious consumerism the new conspicuous consumerism? As Chouinard might say, well, that's up to you.

Craig Matthews, co-founder of 1% for the Planet, on how the alliance was founded and where it's headed.
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Is Conscious Consumerism the New Conspicuous Consumerism? 1% for the Planet's 1,000 Members Think So
There's been a lot of talk about will happen to the green movement as the

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