Top: “Heads up!” Tay D’Agostino (@tay.dags) releases a mule deer doe that had just been sampled as part of a study done by Monteith Shop. The work aims to learn more about migration routes, habitat uses, predation and more in an attempt to assist in sustainable management of mule deer in the West. Photo: Zack Boughton (@zackboughton)
While some businesss claim to be all-in for conservation, there’s an easy way make sure they’re not just all talk thanks to 2% for Conservation.
Mike Schmillen knows floors. Based out of Minnesota’s Twin Cities, he runs two companies: River City Tile & Stone and River City Underlayment. He’s also a busy husband and father, chasing his 6-year-old daughter around. Free time isn’t easy to find. But last year, Mike learned of a fence removal project the National Wildlife Federation was working on in Southwest Montana.
Mike rounded up his brother and three other guys, loaded up a couple of skid steers, drove from Minnesota to Montana and helped roll up more than two miles of woven sheep fence that was impeding migrating antelope. His crew was part of a consortium of more than sixty volunteers who rolled up their sleeves in the name of conservation. Mike hopes to get back out there this spring to help finish the job. “I get so much out of it, especially when I can get my employees involved,” says Mike. “It’s an amazing experience. The fence roll up was enjoyable for us because we’re tearing down fences with the goal to make them wildlife friendly.”
Mike lives for wild animals and the places they call home—be it mountain goats in the high country or waterfowl in Minnesota’s marshes. “My family has a long history of waterfowling, going back several generations,” he says. “There’s always been a history of volunteering and being conservation-minded, which is what was ingrained in me.” Mike’s been a Ducks Unlimited committee member for more than two decades. He’s also become deeply involved in a relatively new organization to get businesses not just involved in conservation but full-on conservation certified. It’s called 2% for Conservation.
What is 2% for Conservation?
Take a minute and think about the last time you were in a wild place. Were you chasing rainbows on a river or deer in the thickets? Maybe you were just tossing rocks into an alpine lake or sitting by the surf. Wherever you were, understand that those places didn’t happen by accident. Understand that it took people with a shared vision to keep that place wild.
Today, wild animals and wild places need a shared vision for conservation. It makes no difference if you hunt sheep from knife ridges in British Columbia, camp in the Redwoods, or chase whitetails in Kentucky—we all have a dog in the conservation fight.
That’s why seven years ago Jeff Sposito, Stone Glacier’s CEO, came up with 2% for Conservation. The goal was to create an alliance of businesses and individuals that give their time and money to fish and wildlife conservation. That goal turned into the mission of 2% for Conservation.
Above: D’Agostino (@rawls020) and Matt Lacko (@mattlacko) tackle sage brush removal while the rest of the team removes the barbed wire and fence posts behind them. This project removed fences that were not wildlife friendly and had hindered antelope migration movements.
Today, 2% for Conservation connects more than one hundred businesses (like Stone Glacier) and over one thousand individuals with non-profit conservation groups like the Wild Sheep Foundation, Backcountry Hunters and Anglers, National Wildlife Federation and others to accomplish real conservation work. For a business (or individual) to become “2% Certified” and market that logo on their products, they must donate at least one percent of their gross sales (or salary) to conservation non-profit groups or projects, and their employees collectively must volunteer at least 21 hours to conservation projects of their choosing. And for 2% for Conservation Executive Director Jared Frasier, it’s the last part that shows real commitment. “When a business shows up and gives their time, that adds credibility to both the business and the project,” says Frasier. “Anyone who has the money can write a check, but showing up and giving your time shows your personal investment in conservation.”
How Does It Work?
Pick a popular outdoor brand or retailer. Now, search their website, and you’ll likely see conservation mentioned more than once. Conservation is cool, which makes it a feel-good marketing buzzword. In reality, does the company actually do anything for conservation? How do you know? That’s where 2% for Conservation comes in because they work with businesses and individuals to certify those conservation claims.
To be clear, 2% for Conservation does not handle donations, nor does it distribute those donations to conservation groups. Rather, 2% for Conservation works with individuals and businesses to certify that they give at least one percent of their time and one percent of their gross income back to conservation.
While 2% for Conservation certifies, it also serves as a unifier, connecting businesses and individuals with groups that need their help—groups like the Rocky Mountain Goat Alliance (RMGA) with Stone Glacier.
Above: Data collection on goat populations are key to helping biologists understand populations and make good decision when it comes to how many tags get issued in each unit. Photo: Logan Summers (@logansummersimaging)
RMGA does on-the-ground habitat projects in mountain goat country, and they educate backcountry users about those goats. Yet their main program focus is simply counting those elusive icons of the highest peaks. Because golden eagles can and do pick off goats or knock them off their high perches, goats are understandably wary of anything hovering above them. If a biologist charters a helicopter to try and survey a remote goat population, those goats sometimes hide long before they can be counted. And that’s where volunteers and 2% for Conservation help to fill the gap.
“2% for Conservation makes that connection for volunteers,” says Lee MacDonald with RMGA. “Without 2%, we wouldn’t typically have the volunteers that we need. They will put the call out there.”
“Stone Glacier is RMGA’s oldest supporter,” adds MacDonald. “They have always been the first to step up and have always put their money and their time where their mouths are.”
When the call came for volunteers to count goats in the mountains around Bozeman, Montana, Stone Glacier employees were more than happy to help. After all, the Spanish Peaks and Bridger ranges are right in Stone Glacier’s backyard. Plus, it’s a chance to test new gear and put it through the ringer.
The Autonomy of Giving
With 2% for Conservation, you can choose who you want to help. Trout your thing? Then 2% can help connect you with your local chapter of Trout Unlimited. Sheep? Well, the Wild Sheep Foundation would love the help, and 2% for Conservation can make the call. “Giving businesses autonomy in their choices opens up a lot of possibilities,” says Frasier. “Those businesses can make it an internal or external marketing program. Internally, they can get their employees to choose who to donate to and who to work with. They can make it a reward for being an awesome employee. For external marketing, they can reach out to their customers and ask who they want to donate to. When needed, we can provide a whole suite of options for businesses to partner with and even help them find causes near them, but the choice is ultimately theirs.”
The 2% for Conservation commitment is not for everyone or every business. It’s a program only for those truly dedicated to making positive change for wild places and wild animals. As a result, 2% for Conservation membership offers a network of conservation-minded professionals.
Marketing opportunities abound. Highlights include being featured on the Average Conservationist podcast, access to the 2% Job Board and consultations on cause-related marketing and shaping the conservation narrative. Just as important, businesses are able to use the 2% for Conservation logo with their products. Consumers have plenty of choices, especially when it comes to hunting gear. Aligning your brand with a cause like conservation will help those consumers make a choice they can be proud of making. The 2% staff can also assist business members in communication around their conservation commitment, so that it’s truly authentic and not just performative marketing.
Any business can commit from the moment they first sign up, meaning they don’t need to have proof from the prior year that they met the certification requirements. “When you sign up, you make a commitment right then,” says Frasier. “You pick your causes, and we help you work toward certification. You hit the ground running.”
As for Mike in Minnesota, he sees his membership with 2% for Conservation as a way to make a connection with his customers. “We’re not in it for any accolades or really for marketing purposes,” he says. “But we do get positive feedback, and it’s a way to prove that we’re more than just a company trying to make a bunch of money. We’re there for more than just the bottom line. The 2% logo is on our vehicles and our email signatures. That does go a long way with our customers.”