Jeff Goldberg was looking for a way to tie his passion for the environment more closely to his work. After spending four years in San Diego's biotech industry, the avid surfer and outdoorsman found an answer: bamboo. It's the fastest-growing plant in the world, good for building, and grows naturally without requiring extra water, energy, or fertilizer. Even better, from a business perspective, the market for building with bamboo was almost nonexistent in the U.S., he says, so there was lots of opportunity. And so Cali Bamboo was born to market the plant as a sustainable resource.
A month after launching the company in 2004, Goldberg found another way to connect his commitment to the environment with his business. Cali became a member of 1% For the Planet (www.onepercentfortheplanet.org), a nonprofit group through which companies donate 1% of sales to pre-approved nonprofit environmental groups. In return for being able to market themselves with the group's 1% logo, companies submit tax forms to prove they've donated 1%, and charitable groups confirm they've received donations. Consumers have confidence that a company is making a commitment, and "it's a way for small businesses to band together to make an impact environmentally," says Goldberg.
The organization was launched by Patagonia Chief Executive Yvon Chouinard and a friend in 2001. Their reasoning: If companies are going to profit from the environment, they should give something back. Since the group's start, membership has soared, zooming from 90 to 450 just in the past 18 months. Members range from midsize Patagonia to tiny outfits, but most companies have sales of $1 million or less.
So far members have donated more than $12 million. This year the total was $4 million. The fact that donations are tied to sales rather than profits is crucial, says Terry Kellogg, the group's executive director. "Sales is a transparent number, and it's a significant commitment for companies."
Thus far the organization has approved over 1,000 environmental groups, from the Bat Conservation Society in Austin, Tex., to the Appalachian Mountain Club. Last year, in its first year of giving, Cali Bamboo donated a total of almost $5,000 to the San Diego chapter of Surfrider Foundation, San Diego Coastkeeper, Amazon Watch, and Rainforest Relief. In the past year business at Cali has quadrupled, and so will its giving. Says Goldberg: "It gives us hope that the little guy can still make a difference."
By Jeffrey Gangemi