The “dating site” for Environmental Organisations Takes Manchester

2019 has been a year marked by the climate crisis—the rapidly declining state of our planet has seemed to guilt even the most stubborn into buying a reusable shopping bag. But what about the people who were there before the headlines? For those looking to do more, making the first step towards activism can be intimidating.

Patagonia, the outdoor clothing store, has identified this as a problem it wants to address. It has long upheld the importance of saving the planet. At the Manchester store—the only one in the UK so far—there is an attached events space used for various meetings and activities, which are most often environment related.  “Yvon would want us to not operate merely as a retail store, but be a gift to the community,” says Harry Brook, the store’s assistant manager and environmental coordinator.

He is referring to Yvon Chouinard, the Patagonia founder who in 2002 helped set up 1% For the Planet, a group whose retail members donate at least 1% of their sales to environmental organisations.

Growing from that has come their latest initiative, Patagonia Action Works, which Chouinard has described as a “dating site”, because it’s all about connection—it links “committed individuals” to organisations that work on environmental issues, according to the website. Visitors can type in their location and they will be shown what environmental organisations nearby are looking for volunteers, have petitions to sign or events coming up.

Click here to view a timeline of Patagonia’s environmental activism.

Several local NGOs (non-governmental organisations)—many of whom are already supported by 1% For the Planet—are using the platform already.

“We class Patagonia as one of our most valued supporters”, says Dr Paul O’Donoghue, Chief Scientific Advisor at Wildcat Haven. Working to save the Scottish Wildcat, it is one of the organisations the Manchester store is funding. “There’s a more international flavour to their social media, so you reach people that you wouldn’t normally reach”.

Action Works was only introduced in Europe in September of this year. However, it says it has reached half a million people in the US, where it has been running since 2018.

Liz O’Neill, director of campaign group GM Freeze, underlines the main benefit of the scheme from an NGO perspective: “they’re giving you an outlet for free!”. She is also grateful for its ease of use. “It’s not like it’s so much work to do it, [and] there seems to be a lot of support”. Although not currently receiving Patagonia funding, she credits a Facebook ad, a benefit of being on the platform, for taking their mailing list over 2,000 people.

Emma Richards is the project coordinator for the Carbon Literacy Project, another 1% For the Planet beneficiary aiming to teach people about climate change, their carbon footprint and how they can change it. She highlights the money her organisation may save through the project. She praises the skills-based volunteering section of the platform, which matches industry professionals with NGOs in need of specialisms. “Previously we’d have had to pay for specialist consultancy, that we would’ve perhaps shied away from in the past—having deemed them untenable due to the cost”, she says.

Richards has already seen a much greater audience viewing their events, something she anticipates will increase demand for training. She points out that “Action Works provides us with the tools of a much larger organisation”.

Everyone on the platform has their own short-term goals for it; Carbon Literacy’s focus is boosting awareness of the courses they run. GM Freeze is concentrated on building signatures on the petition they have placed on the website and Wildcat Haven would like to start putting field video on the platform. Each one cultivates the same hope: educating a willing public.

Asked about the Manchester store’s future plans, Brook only offers a “watch this space”. He stresses, however, that they are always looking for local environmental organisations to collaborate with.

“We’re flexible to the issues that matter to the city, and we want to amplify the issues that people should be aware of”, he says.

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