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Maxwell Ryan Talks 1% for the Planet

photo by Christopher Wesnofske

January 1, 2015

Maxwell Ryan Talks About Donating and 1% for the Planet

Many people may question how and if their contributions to non-profits – whether local, regional, national or international – really make a difference. Or, if there are ways where they can leverage the resources at their fingertips to improve the condition of what they believe to be important.

For Maxwell Ryan that question crystallized when he was given Patagonia’s founder Yvon Chouniard’s book Let My People Go Surfing: The Education of a Reluctant Businessman, in which the concept of giving one percent of a company’s annual revenue to non-profits in support of the Earth was proposed. The book is about the ethics of independent or family owned, private businesses and how these types of businesses are inherently good for the people who work there and good for the planet. “I was incredibly impressed by his life story and this idea that we pay taxes to our governments for infrastructure, shouldn’t we also pay a tax to the Earth for the infrastructure it provides to us,” explained Maxwell.

The Background: 1% For The Planet 

Chouniard co-founded 1% for the Planet in 2002 with a mission to build and support an alliance of businesses committed to creating a healthy planet. Business members commit to donating 1% of annual revenues to environmental groups listed on the 1% for the Planet website. Donations are made directly to the non-profit and each year the business needs to certify its donation with 1% for the Planet to maintain its membership.  To be included in its list of approved non-profits, organizations must submit an application for review. At Maxwell’s suggestion, the Trust applied (and was accepted) to 1% for the Planet in 2009.

“The concept is a model that is both strict in enforcement but also aspirational – in that it requires commitment on the part of the business to pay that tax,” explained Maxwell. As company revenues increase, the donation commitment also grows and in some ways could be daunting, he added, however “the first year was really the hardest, after that, though the dollars were higher, the excitement to give also grew.”

The Background: Apartment Therapy

The focus of 1% for the Planet fit well with Maxwell’s company, Apartment Therapy (www.apartmenttherapy.com ), an online blog/magazine devoted to helping its readers make their living spaces beautiful, organized and healthy, which launched in 2001. Apartment Therapy is a blend of his professional experiences – first as a designer, then as a teacher (having taught in NYC for seven years), and then back to interior design —  with a focus on teaching his clients and readers how do achieve their design dreams in an environmentally responsible way. “There are some designers who prefer to work independently, but for me design is collaborative, it’s communicative – I want to help people.” There was a moment in time when he almost sold Apartment Therapy to a large corporation, the unraveling of that deal was the best thing for Maxwell, for the company – and it reinforced for him the 1% for the Planet model of corporate giving.

“It changed the way I thought. I thought that being under a large corporation that they would take care of me and the people who worked with me. Once that deal fell through, I realized that as a small business owner I could protect my business, in the same way a parent protects his or her family, and by extension could also protect the Earth.” Apartment Therapy joined the 1% for the Planet network of businesses in 2007.

How It Works 

While initially Maxwell followed suggestions offered by 1% for the Planet on where to donate, that wasn’t a requirement, which brought him back to the East End, Quail Hill Farm and the Peconic Land Trust. Having summered and spent weekends at his family’s farm in Springs, East Hampton, he was familiar with Quail Hill Farm and the work of the Trust in conserving Long Island’s working farms and natural lands. (In 1996, the Trust accepted a conservation easement donation on Fire Place Farm from Maxwell’s mother Mary Ryan.)

“I was at a fundraising event for Quail Hill Farm in 2009, and it struck me that the amount of money they were looking to raise was an amount I could easily support, significantly, with my company’s contribution through 1% for the Planet. That was very powerful to me, because I had always thought as an individual – I’m not a wealthy man – that my financial contributions couldn’t really make a difference. But through my business I could make a significant difference; and by redirecting my donation to the Farm and the Trust, I could also see and know the people and the places I was helping.”

Since 2009, Apartment Therapy has made generous contributions to the Trust through 1% for the Planet. “I recently said to Rebecca (Chapman, Trust VP for Philanthropy), companies have a lot of money and tax incentives to make donations – much more so than individuals,” said Maxell. “As a business owner, you can do a lot of incredible good, and make preservation happen on a whole different level.”