NEMO employees love a good contest. While other companies announce “initiatives,” NEMO stages competitions that spark everyone’s urge to win—even if it’s just to claim the honor of being the fastest to load a backpack during the company campout. But the company’s latest challenge has the biggest impact by far: With the five-part "Raise the Stakes” campaign, NEMO employees are banding together to battle climate change.
Drawdown: The book that inspired change
It all started at the 2018 Outdoor Retailer + Snow Show, where climate expert and Drawdown author Paul Hawken explained his plan to reverse global warming at the Outdoor Industry Association (OIA) Industry Breakfast. Cam Brensinger, NEMO’s founder and CEO, left the speech feeling inspired to join the Drawdown movement.
Sustainability has long been important to NEMO’s operations. In their early days, the company experimented with bamboo tent poles and used leftover fabric remnants for wallets and tote bags (before upcycling was trendy). Today, each department sets goals and pursues best environmental practices as part of a company-wide effort toward sustainability. But by adopting the strategies that Hawken outlined in Drawdown, NEMO employees could extend their impact beyond working hours.
“What I love about Drawdown is the approach,” Brensinger says. “It’s not a plan for adaptation or mitigation. Nor is it a plan contingent on unrealistic social, political, or economic shifts. It’s a plan for reversing climate change by simply deploying humankind’s best ideas and most advanced technologies—most of which would save us money compared to current practices. It’s a collection of well-researched and believable steps we can take, if we have the will to do so, that will both reduce greenhouse gases and increase prosperity and security around the world.”
Brensinger ordered copies of the book for all 24 NEMO employees and scheduled a Drawdown discussion to share inspiration and ideas. “Everyone was surprised by the actions that actually have the largest impact. For example, we were blown away by the impact that our food system has, and the difference we can make with what and how we eat,” says Kate Paine, NEMO’s VP of Marketing. Employees discussed the ideas they thought were most interesting, ranging from telepresence to consolidated shipments to use of bioplastics and alternative cement.
Wanting to extend the Drawdown discussion beyond a two-hour book talk, Paine had pitched Brensinger on the idea of turning the program into a NEMO-style challenge. He was immediately on board with a multi-phase contest that would recruit employees to tackle some of the topics—like energy, food, and transportation—that Hawken covers in his plan. Raise the Stakes commenced in April, with a zero-waste happy hour, complete with plant-based hors d’oeuvres and beer (locally-brewed, of course).
NEMO’s Zero Radius food challenge
At the happy hour kickoff, whiteboards described the five arms of the Raise the Stakes challenge, and employees could add their names to the efforts that interested them. Local sustainability groups (such as 350NH.org, which is “building the climate movement in New Hampshire”) were on hand to suggest actionable ideas and resources for change. “And I made sure that everyone ate every scrap of food before we left,” jokes NEMO’s chief operating officer Brent Merriam, who has long recognized the environmental benefits of eating local and organic. When Raise the Stakes presented “food” as its first arena, Merriam set his sights on a win.
NEMO gets uber-local
“I thought it was a great way to actually make a difference in reversing climate change, and a great way for us, as a company, to do something together,” Merriam says. The first contest was a Zero Radius day in which employees would eat as many locally-produced foods as possible and tally the number of miles each edible traveled from source to eater. Preparing chicken breast with shiitake mushrooms, local goat cheese and veggies earned Merriam the victory (most folks just made omelettes).
“There are 10 local farms within five miles of where I live,” says Merriam. Still, Raise the Stakes forced him to broaden his understanding of his local food scene. Preparing for the Zero Radius challenge, he discovered four new-to-him farms, some located on his very own street. “Even before Raise the Stakes, I wasn’t interested in antibiotic-pumped industrial meat,” he explains. “But I didn’t realize the impact [food] can have on climate change.” Now, says Merriam, he’s even more motivated to pursue principled eating.
Small but mighty: NEMO’s 23 employees can make meaningful impact
Raise the Stakes is just getting started—the current focus is energy—but already, it’s demonstrated that world leaders aren't the only ones that can slow global warming. Ordinary people, and the small companies they work for, can make a meaningful difference. “It’s the responsibility of business to care about something beyond the bottom line, and we at NEMO take that responsibility very seriously,” says Paine (who came to NEMO from Ben and Jerry’s, another company that's devoted to non-monetary values).
Bigger enterprises, such as Patagonia and Whole Foods, are creating new business models that go beyond the classic corporate model and leverage commerce as a force for greater good. But that doesn’t mean NEMO’s 23-person team is too small to matter. Raise the Stakes provides a grassroots vehicle in which employees can educate themselves and maximize their households’ contribution to the climate drawdown: that moment when the planet’s greenhouse gases halt their upward trajectory and begin a downturn.
“Our goal is, eventually, to share [Raise the Stakes] as something that other companies can imitate,” says Paine. In the meantime, it just may be the best team-building effort ever. “Yes, we also love happy hour, and the outdoor adventures we do together as a company, but this is team-building around something that people really care about,” says Paine. “Employees want to work for a business that shares their values. So when a company actually has values, that has a lot of appeal.”
This is what local food looks like.