The name Goal Zero may be more common in the comfort of the First World, but those in need around the globe are no strangers to the brand either.
By Aaron H. Bible
When it comes to athletes and ambassadors looking to give back to the greater world around them, it’s almost become an industry standard to turn to now-iconic portable solar power manufacturer Goal Zero.
Teaming up with household names (at least outdoor household) like Alex Hannold, Cedar Wright, Mike Libecki and adventure photographer Chris Burkard, to name just a few, Goal Zero has been relentless in the pursuit of its company objectives: zero apathy, zero boundaries and zero regrets. Their mission is to Share the Sun by bringing affordable, clean, sustainable power to those in need.
Switching on a light bulb or plugging into an outlet is such a simple part of most people’s everyday life. It’s difficult to conceive of not having light to cook or read indoors, after the sun goes down. But with the help of the incredible employees, athletes and Goal Zero ambassadors, people from the Philippines, Haiti, Japan, Kyrgyzstan, the Navajo Nation, even Hurricane Sandy victims, have been provided with the gift of portable, rechargeable power.
According to James Atkin, director of brand marketing, the company was conceived in 2007 in the Democratic Republic of the Congo by Robert Workman, born from his Tifie Humanitarian project (Teaching Individuals and Families Independence through Enterprise) as a way to give a hand-up to people in need. That basic premise continues today: Provide life-giving rechargeable power, as well as a form of economic empowerment.
Goal Zero was officially formed in 2009 and acquired by NRG Energy in the fall of 2014. “Our mission is to put reliable power in the hands of every human on earth. Being part of NRG, a company that is similarly aligned, allows us to reach this goal in a much more powerful way,” said Robert Workman, founder of Goal Zero, in a blog post. “We exist to do good, to empower people everywhere. Both companies have proven track records of helping those in need with services and products, whether it is lighting a hut in Congo or a school in Haiti.”
And as unique as the designs themselves, is the fact that the products are made to be used equally by the poorest of the poor and the richest of the rich. “If it’s just designed for the outdoors person, you’re not really changing the world,” said Atkins.
“The ability to get off the grid is crucial for me. Nothing really beats knowing that I can rely on the gear I take with me, and it’s been incredible to see the evolution in reliable lightweight charging systems,” said adventure surf photographer and Goal Zero ambassador Chris Burkard. “Their efforts across the globe to bring this same power to the homes and lives of others is an important part of their mission and something I’m proud to be a part of.”
“It’s just kind of instilled in our blood, it’s not part of our business model. We do it because it’s part of our soul,” Atkins continued. “We didn’t talk about it for the first few years because we didn’t want it to be just a marketing campaign. We do it because we want to do it. It’s completely different than like Tom’s shoes where it’s their business model.”
Atkins said that reliable power is the one thing most people in developing nations are missing, even when their basic needs are met (food, water, shelter). Burning kerosene and dung inside huts is a major cause of lung disease and cataracts in the third world. Kids can’t study at night with no light. Business owners can’t run computers without power. Safety is a constant concern. Goal Zero aims to help solve these problems.
When disaster strikes or an organization reaches out to them for help, Goal Zero mobilizes employees, resources and people on the ground in the affected area. They work with athletes, volunteers and locals to install renewable, sustainable and healthy lighting and power sources so that people can perform basic tasks like cooking and charging their phones.
“We don’t just go into places without knowing what’s going on. We don’t want to push people out of jobs,” said Atkins. “We rely on people who are on the job, working in these areas. It’s not just give them a fish, it’s teaching them how to fish.”
Having the resources of NRG behind them, Goal Zero is now able to complete three to four projects per year, plus any disasters they may have to respond to. Installing solar panels on schools, solar powered generators, and donating rechargeable and portable lights makes up the bulk of the work. Goal Zero sends actual employees to work alongside the volunteers and ambassador athletes like Hannold and Wright.
“We’re trying to give the opportunity to everyone, so they know what’s going on and what we’re doing…marketing, sales, customer service, supply chain, accounting. A lot of us are working here for this reason,” said Atkins. “They come back super fans. Our products actually make a difference in peoples life. How many companies will send a customer service rep or accounting or supply chain employee to install solar panels in Ghana?”
The last part of the equation for Goal Zero is entrepreneurship. Through its program, young entrepreneurs get its systems and go out into their nation and sell these products as a renewable source for lighting and power in their homes and schools. “They’re selling clean energy to people,” said Atkins. The same clean energy you may be using in your tent or van on your next First World climbing, paddling or backpacking adventure.