Social Inspiration

Our latest assignment in Intro to Sustainable Design class was to write about a company or organization that uses design to catalyze social change. A few years ago, while setting up a trade show booth at the Outdoor Retailer show in Salt Lake City, I met some people from the company Miir who was setting up right behind us. I had a great chat with founder Bryan Pape and after learning about the company I’ve been a fan ever since. I still hope to collaborate with them in the near future. Here’s and honest look at Miir.

Introduction to the enterprise… how did it start? Who’s behind it?

Miir is a philanthropic company that practices social entrepreneurship. Somewhat like Toms shoes, the company combines sales with charity. Similar to a buy-one-give-one model, this is a buy-one-help-fund model. Their slogan sums them up well:

“We are united by our passion to inspire and empower through amazing design and transparent giving.”

Founded by Bryan Pape, it all began with a stainless water bottle. Bryan wanted to create a business model that would offer a superior water bottle and also fund clean water projects in Africa. He worked with an industrial designer friend who redesigned a water bottle and cap into something simple, elegant, and more user-friendly. Through the expansion of their business, Miir has built wells, and started a bicycle line providing transportation locally and globally. Recently they added a bag line empowering education.

Miir is also passionate about transparency, believing that how a product is made is just as important as why it is made. They have asked third party organizations ot examine and verify their sustainable practices including sourcing of material, production, giving and distribution channels. It is a certified B corporation. They invite customers to “track their impact” with every purchase.

Who is Miir’s audience/market?

I met Miir at the Outdoor Retailer show in Salt Lake City back in January, 2013. I believe it’s safe to say that Miir’s audience includes outdoor enthusiasts, minimalists, travelers, and sustainability-minded, discriminating consumers who have a high regard for humanitarian projects and classic products with high aesthetic quality and thoughtful functionality.

interbike_2012_199

Discuss its social attributes… how does it makes the world a better place?

Miir has three basic product lines: water bottles, bikes and now packs. Purchases of these products help fund Miir’s partners (roughly 14 non-profit organizations to date), and enable them to implement sustainable water and bicycle projects in underserved communities around the world. Miir puts a high priority on transparency. Each Miir product has a unique code so that customers can track their impact by registering the code online. Miir sends the customer (partner) GPS coordinates and photos of the project that her product helped fund.

As incredible as this model is, I wonder if it couldn’t still be improved. One of the criticisms of Toms shoes is that the one-for-one model does not support the local economy in the villages and communities where the shoes are given. Why can’t local shoemakers, crafts and trades people be partnered with in order to sell their products directly to people in the community at a fair price? This is working toward true sustainability. The danger in the existing model is this – if the buy-one-give-one model should ever stop the communities on the receiving end have nothing in place to provide for themselves. One-way giving has the potential of making matters worse. Poor communities need to be able to sustain themselves long term.

I can’t tell how Miir handles that issue. I would like to see their partner non-profits work closely with local craftsmen and small businesses to make sure that their products and services are being supported. I’d like to see Miir’s partners possible add no-interest micro loans to the mix to help individuals start businesses that would strengthen community resilience.

Lessons learned… how can its influence be spread?

Through Miir’s collaboration program, companies can choose from a host of Miir’s stainless steel liquid containers: “Growlers”, “Howlers”, tumblers, standard bottles, pints, and tall boys. Participants choose a product, slap on their own brand stamp and then sell them or give them away. The proceeds go to Miir’s not-for-profit partners to fund clean water projects. Companies like Kind, Patagonia, and REI now carry Miir’s products within their own brand merchandise. Finally Miir products can be used for fundraising campaigns, given as “sustainable” swag for exhibitions, door prizes, or awards for recognition.

Patagonia_Miir

Miir offers quality products executed with thoughtful design and solid craftsmanship. On top of that, it’s not only their products that attract, but also their cause. Bryan Pape’s vision is infectious. Now, through their B Corps certification and backing by long-standing brand giants like Patagonia, Miir has firmly cemented its credibility as a sustainable brand. In fact, Miir recently opened their first flagship coffee shop / tap room / retail store in Seattle. Undoubtedly Miir’s influence is on the rise.