Running a business that donates 100% of profits to development projects

Running a business that donates 100% of profits to development projects

Global Ethics is a business with one big difference. It donates 100% of its profits to fund sustainable development projects in Africa. Launched at LIVE8 in 2005 as the official bottled water of the ‘Make Poverty History’ campaign, One Water is sourced and sold in the UK, US and Australia. It is the only ‘ethical water’ brand to have expanded to encompass still, juiced and flavoured water as well as everyday groceries, and each product is designed to tackle a specific development need: water to fund water projects, soap and toilet paper to fund hygiene projects, eggs for egg-farming initiatives.

By working closely with specialist NGO partners on the ground, One has invested more than £8m in eight years and improved the lives of 2.2m people. This is what One’s creator, Duncan Goose, calls the brand’s ‘butterfly effect’. Now, One Water has become the exclusive bottled water sold in Starbucks UK.

One’s big breakthrough

Back in 1998, Goose left a senior advertising role to travel the world by motorbike. During his adventure-packed two-year trip, he saw firsthand the hardship faced by many communities in the developing world and was determined to give something back, particularly when he learnt that nearly 1bn people worldwide lack access to safe water.

Together with a handful of like-minded friends, he laid the foundations of ‘One’ in 2003. As the ‘Make Poverty History’ campaign took shape, Goose wasted no time in telling Bob Geldof and Richard Curtis his idea. One Water was subsequently televised on stage to billions at LIVE8, before it had even sold a bottle.

Goose then quickly struck his first deal – to supply Total petrol stations – and now works with thousands of distributors and retailers worldwide, including World Duty Free Group, Fairtrade distributor Peros and The Co-operative. 

A philanthropic business

The ‘One’ brand is typically licensed to food or consumer goods manufacturers keen to introduce an ethical proposition to their portfolio. Goose negotiated a joint venture with Noble Foods, for example, to sell ‘One Good Egg’ eggs to Tesco, a move which successfully halted the decline of the retailer’s organic egg sales.

Royalties from the sale of One products cover minimal overheads and brand license costs. From there, 100% of the profits are ring-fenced as a donation for the One Foundation, Global Ethics’ UK-registered charity.

“We think of ourselves as a philanthropic business,” says Goose. “We are out to maximise profit, but we give it away to good causes. The world’s poor are our shareholders.” 

Social impact

“Our motto is ‘one person, one day at a time’,” Goose continues, explaining that Global Ethics donated £78,000 in its first year, which has now risen to £1-£1.5m per year. Working with NGO partners including Oxfam, Plan and Concern Universal, the One Foundation’s projects range from £250k solar projects to £1m donated to provide 250,000 people with emergency water supplies in drought-stricken Kenya in 2011. Maximising impact and reach is all important, meaning that water pump repairs may be prioritised over installing brand new pumps.

Highs and lows

Following a heart-breaking encounter with a young boy dying of AIDS, Goose launched One Condoms to fund HIV and AIDs-prevention projects, and was even in the running to supply condoms to the London Olympics athletes, but was thwarted in his attempts by the market dominance of Durex.

Conversely, the story of a young Kenyan girl who had previously walked four hours a day to find water before One’s intervention, became the centrepiece of a social media campaign – Stela’s story – that reached 5m people in February 2013.

Working with big business

An astute businessman, Goose describes himself and his team as ruthlessly professional, persistent, patient and driven by relentless enthusiasm.

“We’re not just selling people water,” he says. “It’s important that customers buy into the concept of what we’re doing. The faster they grasp the idea, the faster the conversation and ultimately the conversion.”

Speaking about his recent deal with Starbucks UK, which will see One Water sold in Starbucks’ 760 UK outlets, Goose says: “It’s all about understanding a company’s challenges, getting under the skin of the business and explaining how One can help. Starbucks has a keen focus on provenance and telling its sustainability story in a way that inspires customers and employees. So, in line with the launch of its new Ethiopian coffee, the profit from this deal is likely to fund community projects in Ethiopia.”

Helping retailers to do good

“Supporting One helps companies to realise their ‘profit for purpose’ ambitions and reinforces their sustainability stories, which in turn enhances reputation and builds brand loyalty,” says Goose.

Additionally, companies can list the One donation in their CR report, Goose explains, while customers including World Duty Free Group (WDFG) are drawing on their One connection to boost employee engagement with their CR activities. WDFG has raised more than £1m from the sale of One products since 2007, with staff competitions to win visits to One projects proving a compelling incentive. Three successful WDFG project visits have taken place to date.

“One’s ethical offering stands out from the rest due to the strength of its brand,” explains Cecilia Martinez of Zenith International. “Its success with retailers is due to having a clear message that consumers can understand, successful marketing initiatives and a diversified portfolio.”

To set things in perspective, the UK’s bottled water market is worth £1.6bn and the ‘small packaged ethical water’ segment represents 0.7% of the total, according to Martinez.

Looking to the future

“As sustainability becomes engrained in the way companies do business and the trend towards ethical purchasing grows, we want to keep chipping away at the bottled water market,” says Goose. “We’re really just at the beginning of our journey – we plan to expand well into the future.”

Goose is keen to take the brand into the energy and financial services sectors, creating products that support sustainable energy projects in Africa or affordable life insurance services. So, watch this space, one day paying your energy bill could shine a beacon of light in the developing world.

This article was originally published on the 2degreesnetwork site.