Why Askov Finlayson Decided to Pledge $1M to Fight Climate Change
This week Askov Finlayson turned heads with a pledge that was bold for an ambitious but still relatively small clothing company: They plan to give at least $1 million over the next five years to fight climate change.
It wasn't just the money that made the proposal unique, but also the methodology behind it: The company will calculate the yearly cost of their carbon footprint, and then donate 110 percent of that figure to organizations dedicated to stopping climate change.
Since determining the carbon expense of the supply chain (from the raw materials to sale) may take time, Askov committed to the $1 million figure as a way to “jumpstart this initiative,” as co-founder Eric Dayton noted in a post announcing the project.
Of course, Askov Finlayson, known for branding Minnesota as “North,” on winter beanies, and their outdoor men's clothing line, isn't just any small business. As our sister publication Mpls St Paul noted, “Dayton and his co-founder/brother Andrew are the sons of Gov. Mark Dayton, whose family of founding members of Target Corp. is estimated to be worth $1.6 billion… So regardless of how many North hats he sells, Dayton has the means to fund his ‘Keep the North Cold’ campaign.”
Adam Fetcher is the man Eric Dayton has charged with implementing the project. The 34-year-old grew up in North St. Paul, worked in the Obama administration (as press secretary for the U.S. Department of the Interior, among other roles) and was most recently the head of global communications for Patagonia for about three years before joining Askov Finlayson in December. His title: Vice president of environmental impact and policy.
In his conversation with TCB, he struck a tone of being humbled by the task before him while also being excited to take it on.
Q What stands out about this project is that you’re linking your carbon footprint to what you’re giving, and then giving more — the 110 percent. Why did you take that approach as a business?
Business not only contributes to climate change, business arguably created climate change. But the fact is that it is industries around the world that have caused and have continued to contribute to climate change. To me, that tells me that business needs to be part of the solution. There’s a lot of great businesses that are doing a lot of great things in terms of reducing their carbon footprint or creating other measures to reduce the negative impact they have on the environment. What we wanted to do was rethink our relationship with the planet and create a net positive for climate change, meaning that we would measure our footprint and then give away more. And by that way we could do more good than harm.
Q Why do you think Askov Finlayson or other businesses have a responsibility to “do more good than harm?”
To me, it gets back to to the issue of accountability. As a business that has an impact on the planet, how can we look our customers in the eye and say we're working to keep the north cold? I think over the past few years we've had a strong program, but it would certainly be hard to argue that it's accounted for the full climate cost of our business. So for us, this is taking a step toward accountability and then some — to do more good than harm and actually create that net climate benefit through running our business.
Q Do you hope this approach becomes a model that other businesses follow?
That's for others to say. I think we're going to stay focused on creating an example that can be followed. We want to prove it's possible to succeed in business while also succeeding in creating a net positive for the planet. Other business leaders who understand the climate crisis is reaching a fever pitch around the world might see ways that they too can create a net positive that fits within the financial goals of their company. To the extent that we're hoping to serve as a model — we're looking forward to proving that it can be done, and if other businesses take notice, then that's great.
Q You’re from Minnesota. How does that relate to how you see this project?
I'm really excited about it for a lot of different reasons. I think first and foremost, Minneapolis is the number two city in terms of where climate change is hitting the hardest. Our winters are warming faster than anywhere else in the country. We have a lot that we're already losing and that we stand to lose through climate change. The idea is that we and other local businesses can lead the movement toward businesses that act as a solution to climate change is really exciting to me personally.
Q What do you hope people come away with after reading this?
I would be really happy if people saw what we're doing and felt a sense of hope and optimism about climate change. A lot of coverage of climate change impacts is really doom and gloom and it doesn't paint a particularly happy picture. The truth is that it’s an urgent crisis that is causing a lot problems all around the world — our warming winters here in Minnesota among them. But we're hoping to project is the idea that business can and should be part of the solution, and that all it takes is courage from business leaders to make a commitment of holding themselves accountable for their climate costs and ideally even doing more. To the extent that our model acts as an example, it should be a sense of optimism and that sense that solutions really are possible.
Also, I don't want to be glib about how much work we have to do. This is a challenging endeavor. We're excited to put our nose to the grindstone to really build the program to keep our customers updated in a really transparent manner along the way. We've got our work cut out for us but we're excited about the months and years ahead.