Gaiam and The Conservation Fund Go Wild for Go Zero: Part 1

How Go Zero® has supported Gaiam's goal of sustainability: A Q&A with Chris Fisher, Gaiam's director of customer experience

In 2006, as part of efforts to improve the environment, build sustainable economies and promote healthy lifestyles, Gaiam, an eco-healthy lifestyle company, and The Conservation Fund, a top non-profit, launched the world's first sustainable shipping program. Participating consumers can easily “zero out” the carbon emissions associated with shipping a Gaiam product by donating funds to plant trees in protected parks and wildlife refuges across the nation. The ground-breaking initiative has given Gaiam’s online customers the opportunity to add a small donation at checkout that goes directly to The Conservation Fund’s Go Zero® program.

Already, Gaiam and its customers have helped the Fund plant 120,000 trees across six National Wildlife Refuges. As the trees grow into healthy forests, they are expected to trap nearly 100,000 tons of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. What’s more, they clean the air we breathe, filter the water we drink and create new places for both people and wildlife to play. That means big returns for our climate, our forests and our peace of mind.

Chris Fisher

Gaiam’s Chris Fisher, director of customer experience, helped to design and launch the partnership with The Conservation Fund’s Go Zero® program. For part one of our series, we sat down with Chris to understand how the partnership with the Fund builds on Gaiam’s sustainability platform and strengthens its brand as an eco-healthy lifestyle company.

Q. Why partner with The Conservation Fund?

A. Gaiam is an environmentally sustainable company, so we wanted an environmental partner. We really did our research first.

The Conservation Fund is a top-notch organization that has been rated the highest in its field by independent, third-party charity watchdog groups. Also, individual donors tend to rate the Fund highly. But perhaps one of the biggest factors in choosing our partner for this program was evaluating how the organization uses its donations — how much of each donation goes directly to the programs versus administration. The Conservation Fund allocates a very high percentage of its donations to programs, which is a good fit for Gaiam.

We also wanted to support a program in which our dollars would do the most good. The Conservation Fund’s Go Zero® program is a great fit, particularly because it focuses on planting a mix of native tree species to restore high-priority conservation lands. Once those lands are restored, they are managed and protected for the benefit of both ecosystems and society. The donor investment and the permanence of each gift are ensured with public stewardship. This land belongs to everybody — even future generations.

Why offset the shipping, specifically?

We wanted to implement something simple — easy for the customer to use and to understand — that could be easily replicated with each order to tie the shipment of a product to the carbon footprint of that shipping process. So the opportunity to Go Zero with every order is strategically placed at the end of the purchase path to encourage the greatest level of customer participation. The Go Zero donation amount is small compared to the total amount of the order, but the donations collectively make a big environmental impact. Every time they shop, customers can give back to the environment.

Why does the partnership work for Gaiam?

With The Conservation Fund, we have a true partnership — not one that dictates one-sided terms. In this case, both partners sit down at the table together to come up with new ideas and modify existing ones that aren’t working — and then support each other in continually fine-tuning the program. It took hard work in the beginning, but once we invested in the initial brainstorming sessions with the Fund and our team and in developing the basic program structure, it was really very simple.

Partnering with The Conservation Fund has also helped us better tell our conservation success stories. By educating others about our Go Zero program, we are inspiring our peers in the private sector to follow suit. Since we launched in 2006, Dell, Delta and The North Face have initiated similar customer-facing carbon-offset programs with Go Zero. Our communications with our customers and the general public about this program have resulted in thoughtful, positive coverage since the program’s inception — from articles on Gaiam and Conservation Fund Web sites to joint interviews in the Wall Street Journal, local TV coverage at restoration sites, blogs and viral marketing campaigns, lectures and case studies for MBA classes, and more.

Why does Go Zero work for Gaiam’s customers?

Go Zero is something our customers understand, something they care about and something that’s easy to do. The impact on the customer’s wallet is minimal, and many people are excited and happy to do something small to help the environment with each purchase. All of these little actions add up over time to make real impact.

How has the program grown?

Since our launch in 2006, the Go Zero program has included:

  • Planting a tree for our Gaiam Best Customers at no cost to them during the holiday season
  • Offsetting the carbon impact of shipping our catalog paper from the mill to our printer
  • Offsetting the carbon impact of energy used to operate our Colorado headquarters
  • Cross-marketing Go Zero on our website and in our catalog
  • Creating new eco-friendly Go Zero branded products, including our organic cotton Go Zero “Thoughtful Tees” message T-shirts
  • Giving the “Gift of Zero” by making a donation directly to the Fund to automatically offset the shipping of certain products we offer, including Seventh Generation cleaning and recycled paper goods

What are your measures of success?

Our two biggest measures of success are: 1) how much we reduce overall impact on the environment and 2) customer satisfaction.

We know we’ve made an impact. Approximately 20 percent of customers who make a purchase on Gaiam.com also add Go Zero to their order, offsetting the carbon impact of shipping that order via a donation to The Conservation Fund. Everyone has the ability to add an additional donation to their order, and many do. Already, we’ve helped The Conservation Fund plant more than 120,000 trees across six National Wildlife Refuges.

To measure customer satisfaction with the program, we’ve set up an easy-to-use online review feature for Go Zero — so they can review the program just as they can review any of our products. From these real-time sessions, we can answer frequently asked questions and ensure that our customers are getting the most from their donations.

Read parts two and three of Gaiam and The Conservation Fund Go Wild for Go Zero.

Watch this video to see how The Fund's partnership with Gaiam has helped address habitat loss and climate change.

Feature photo by Jean LeMunyon Photography. Native seedlings are helping wildlife and climate at Marais des Cygnes National Wildlife Refuge, thanks to Gaiam, its customers and Go Zero.

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