The One for One Concept: Donating a Product for Each One Purchased
This fairly new One for One concept, as trademarked by Blake Mycoskie of TOMS Shoes, is one example of the social entrepreneurship that is sweeping across the land. One for One certainly has the power to help change lives in disadvantaged communities. But, in the wrong hands, it may be the greatest example of greenwashing we have seen so far.
Toms shoes had garnered accolades and kudos the world over before anyone questioned their business model. But once it was questioned, it fell apart. It turns out that no one had actually thought to wonder whether those receiving shoes actually needed them.
The problem with One for One (or Buy One, Give One) programs is that they don’t necessarily address underlying causes. This can actually hurt local economies. In the case of Tom’s, shoes were flooding impoverished areas in third world countries but not the countries where they were manufactured. The shoes then hurt local businesses like cobblers and manufacturers, which in turn hurt the local economy.
Realizing the Mistake
Where One for One always works, is in the intention. Blake was originally inspired by the poverty he saw in the world around him. When the actual consequences of his actions came to light, he sought to change his ways. Toms has addressed many of the concerns raised by their program and have taken great strides to correct them.
“People often ask me what I consider my goal to be at TOMS…When we first began, the goal was to create a for-profit company to help the children that I met in a small village in Argentina…But recently my personal mission has changed. Today, I would say that my goal is to influence other people to go out into the world and have a positive impact, to inspire others to start something that matters, whether it’s a for-profit business or a nonprofit organization. I feel a deep sense of responsibility to share everything that we’ve learned from TOMS, so that others can learn from both our mistakes and the counterintuitive principles that have guided our success.”
– Blake Mycoskie, from Start Something That Matters
Who’s Getting It Right?
The concept of One for One gradually evolved into Buy One, Give One. This idea broadens the parameters of what can be accomplished. Businesses are now using this idea to plant trees, provide education, and create jobs. Here are just a couple of the companies using Buy One, Give One to create positive change:
- WeWOOD makes stunning watches, sustainably, and plants a tree for every purchase.
- Tentsile plants 3 trees for every one of their tents sold. Their tents are also hammocks. Need I go on?
- Tentree plants 10 trees for every item of clothing you buy (get it? Ten-tree?). And, if you haven’t come across their Juniper jumper yet, then you need to check them out!
- Panda Sunglasses pairs with Optometry Giving Sight to provide optometry training to locals.
- Similar to Panda, Warby Parker uses their eyewear to promote training, but instead of optometry training, they provide (through their partner) sales training to locals and the appropriate eyewear to sell.
- THINX has created a line of underwear designed to be worn during menstruation. Your THINX purchase not only provides sanitary products to girls so that they may attend school, they also provide training to women that encourages self-sufficiency.
Remembering It’s a Balance
We cannot assume that every company that tries is succeeding. If a company plants trees with every purchase, for example, they also need to source their virgin wood from managed forests. Re-planting deforested areas is a very good thing, but it can not mitigate the damage created by clear-cutting old growth forests. Forming their own micro-ecosystems, old growth forests capture and store carbon. Disrupting that system releases the stored carbon back into the atmosphere.
The concept of “extension” is also important. Companies that donate glasses and eye exams may not directly hurt the local economy, depending on the area. However, extending the goodwill to include the training of local people to undertake the exams is the extension that allows for self-sufficiency. In the fight for global equality for all peoples, the idea of self-sufficiency is taking root as the most important element.
Giving Is Giving Is Giving
Shopping is a personal experience, not just an act of self-expression. It also allows us to test and rise to our own moral standards. Finding a company that participates in social entrepreneurship programs like One For One or Buy One Give One is a start. But, unless that company also complies with your own expectations regarding sustainability, you are wasting an opportunity. Finding a company you love, that also seeks out a way to act for the greater good, is like making your dollar vote twice.