Editor’s Note: Davis Smith is the founder and CEO of Cotopaxi, an outdoor gear brand committed to fighting poverty. The opinions expressed in this commentary are his own.
When I was 4 years old, my family left the United States and moved to Latin America, where I spent my childhood and much of my adult life. My father always had a new outdoor adventure planned, whether fishing for piranha on a self-made raft in the Amazon, climbing volcanoes or surviving on uninhabited islands. When I wasn’t exploring the outdoors with my dad and brother, my mom was organizing service projects to orphanages and impoverished communities near our home. Our family didn’t have much, but we had so much more than others around us — and we had done nothing to deserve it.
I was very young when I began to understand the responsibility I had to others, and by the time I was in college, I understood my life’s calling. I wanted to be part of the movement to both eradicate extreme poverty and help reverse the devastating impact that humans are having on the planet.
Saving our planet and saving humanity go hand-in-hand because sustainability is not one-dimensional. We must find ways for the planet’s inhabitants and the earth to co-exist. This is something that no country, government, industry or individual can do alone, which often means change happens too slowly.
But we can no longer wait to take action. It’s time for business leaders to step up and play a bigger role in solving some of the world’s most challenging problems. They know how to move quickly and navigate with certainty during crises. Now, they must have the courage to make bigger and bolder decisions that put people and the planet ahead of profits.
Here are some ways they can start:
Create a giving program or a company foundation
Companies can make a hugely positive impact. And if done right, doing good can be good for business. This year we’ve seen a wave of ethical companies winning in a big way.
Warby Parker, which successfully went public this year, has distributed more than eight million pairs of glasses through its “Buy a Pair, Give a Pair” program, which helps some of the 2.5 billion people around the world who need glasses but can’t get them.
While the “buy one, give one” model is increasingly common among consumer brands, other types of businesses can easily build giving into their business models as well. Spiff, a sales commission software company based in Utah, donates 1% of its revenue to poverty-fighting initiatives in places like Madagascar.
Giving programs like these have the potential to radically transform the world, and are increasingly important to a younger, purpose-driven workforce.
Take action to reduce your company’s environmental footprint
Hyper-consumerism, a hallmark of capitalism, is the driving force behind the destruction of our planet. We need to find ways to more sustainably consume and produce products if we want to curb the soon-to-be irreversible damage we’re doing to our planet. Businesses have an opportunity to lead before it’s too late.
Allbirds is a great example of this leadership. The company is changing how we think about making shoes through regenerative agriculture, renewable materials and responsible energy use. And its successful IPO last month showed just how interested investors are in sustainability and companies that act responsibly.
Support vulnerable communities where you live
Here at Cotopaxi, we created a Job Club in conjunction with the International Rescue Committee, where team members volunteer to help newly resettled refugees create resumes, practice for job interviews and find job opportunities. Whenever a customer orders a Cotopaxi product, they also receive a handwritten thank-you card from one of 200-plus refugees who got their first job through the program.
Encourage volunteerism within your organization
A recent study sponsored by Johnson & Johnson shows a connection between volunteering and employee satisfaction. Younger workers increasingly care about working for organizations that embrace equity, purpose and mission. Corporate volunteering programs can make long-term, strategic impact in our communities, too.
As leaders work to make these organizational changes, they should ask their teams for help. They will appreciate the passion to do more and will gladly join in exploring ways to do better.
Businesses have significant resources, some of the most effective leaders and large megaphones to effect change, and it’s time for the corporate world’s leaders to take bold action. This isn’t about one business doing good things. It’s about coming together to sustainably lift people and protect our planet.