The Zappos CEO and all-around happiness guru just signed on as the latest celebrity donor to the cause of creating a safe haven for oceanic wildlife in the Bahamas. And it’s not your usual piece of charity, it’s a crowd-funded spin-off from the Summit Series conference.
Some background: In the spring, the annual Summit Series conference--with attendees like Hsieh, Richard Branson, and Peter Thiel--boarded a cruise ship for what was called the Summit at Sea. In between talks on business and social good, some conference-goers (the ones who submitted the best ideas on how to save the ocean) had to opportunity to work on tagging sharks. Sharks, though menacing, are incredibly endangered, and their position at the top of the food chain means that a dip in their population has ecosystem-wide implications. By tagging them, the University of Miami hopes to track them to find out more about their behavior and how they’re surviving.
That fun shark trip would have been it, had it not been for Kristofor Lofgren, the CEO of Portland, Oregon’s Bamboo Sushi. Bamboo is not your typical sushi joint. It’s the world’s only certified sustainable sushi restaurant, as well as a conservation organization in its own right. It buys its fish directly from local fishermen and works with organizations like the Marine Stewardship Council and Monterey Bay Aquarium to make sure that all its fish are sustainably harvested. It’s also doing exceptionally well: It’s one of the fastest growing small businesses in Oregon (it’s opening its second location shortly) and so has quite a bit of cash to burn.
Part of Lofgren’s mission with Bamboo is to replace the fish that his company removes from the ocean and serves to people. "We take a percentage of our profits and invest them in a number of different ways that are scientifically verifiable to actually grow back the biomass that we take out of the ocean," says Lofgren. An easy way to do that is by protecting fish and marine ecosystems. And right near where the Summit at Sea cruise ship was anchored last Spring was a 70-square-mile Marine Protected Area (MPA), an area that Bahamanian government had designated as an area where no fishing of any kind could take place. The problem was, the government didn’t have the resources to police that rule.
What if, thought Lofgren, the Summit series could do more than just tag sharks? What if they could help make the MPA more than just an MPA in name only? As part of Bamboo’s plan to divert some its profits to marine conservation, he offered to help fund a Nature Conservancy (whose M. Sanjayan and Eleanor Phillips were also onboard the boat) program to a create management plan and fund enforcement and infrastructure in the park for the next 18 months. The total cost: $500,000. Lofgren and Bamboo offered to put up $250,000 and asked the Summit Series to help with the rest. Through other donations, they got within $100,000 of the goal. "It’s been exciting to me to put up the bulk of the money and say, 'Hey guys, match this,'" says Lofgren. "The thing that I really admire about Summit is the collaborative approach to be able to get a lot of influential people involved in the cause."
Those influential people included productivity guru Tim Ferriss, who put up a $25,000 grant matched by small online donations, which helped the project nearly reach its goal. And today, Hsieh has announced that he is going to add another $25,000 because, he says, he’s "impressed with the work that the Summit Series has been doing and wants to support the projects that they believe in." If Internet donors match that, the dream of the MPA will be a reality.
If you want to help out, you can donate at the Crowdrise page here. If you donate $10, you’ll be entered in a contest to go on a shark-tagging mission with the University of Miami. Donate more than $250, and you’ll be entered in a contest to go on a submarine ride 500 feet below the surface in the MPA. If you give $100 or more, you’ll be entered to win a $1,000 Zappos gift card. If the gifts or the idea of joining up with Ferriss and Hsieh don’t inspire you, Lofgren wants everyone to know how important the oceans are:
"If we don’t have a healthy ocean, we simply cannot have a healthy planet. It’s really that simple. We view this not as a crusade for 'buy from the local mushroom forager.' It’s let make sure we have the largest source of protein on the planet secured for people around the world. … Let’s make sure there is enough oxygen to breathe, because the ocean produces the majority of oxygen. Without a healthy seafood balance in the ocean, without a plethora of fish and coral reefs to keep the balance in check, those things can shift. It’s a really scary situation."