The "lifestyle company" Gaiam was founded in 1988 in Boulder, Colorado by Jirka Rysavy. For those interested in living a healthy, sustainable lifestyle, Gaiam specializes in media, products, and resources that inspire individuals "to expand their awareness and pursue positive change in their lives."
In the spring of 2006, Business Ethics magazine released its annual survey of the "100 Best Corporate Citizens," of which Gaiam ranked 36, up from its 2005 position of 57. This nationally recognized survey highlights companies that demonstrate the best practices in the area of corporate social responsibility.
The Path of Gaiam's Founder
Rysavy, 51, a Czechoslovakian native, came to the United States in the early 1980s. Although he held a masters degree in engineering, Rysavy was barely able to speak English and had very little money, so while he worked small jobs, he slept in bus stations, airports, and on park benches.
In 1986, he started a recycled office products company that evolved ten years later into the $4.5 billion company named Corporate Express, Inc. A strict vegetarian, Rysavy also founded Crystal Market, a natural foods retailer, in the mid-1980s. While he focused on the growth of both Gaiam and Corporate Express, Crystal Market was sold to become the healthy foods market chain Wild Oats Market.
Rysavy continues on as Gaiam's chairman and pursues other interests in lifestyle media. He also spends part of the year "off-grid" in a cabin without a bathroom or running water in the Colorado mountains.
Gaiam: The Company
The name Gaiam, pronounced "guy-um," stems from an ancient civilization on the isle of Crete known as the Minoans. "Gaia" was the Minoan name for Mother Earth. By combining Gaia with "I am," the company's name reinforces its intent to support individual decisions based on interconnectedness with the planet and all life.
In addition to providing 10,000 products and resources that encourage lifestyle values such as health and wellness, personal development, and social and environmental responsibility, the company communicates the benefits of Lifestyles of Health and Sustainability, otherwise known as LOHAS.
A publicly-held company, Gaiam extends good works throughout the world by making cash contributions to various non-profits and philanthropic efforts, as well as donating products to non-profits for resale to achieve sustainability. The philanthropic focus for 2006 is the Solar Living Institute in Hopeland, California.
Products, Resources and Travel
Gaiam may be most familiar to anyone who has ever picked up a yoga or Pilates video featuring the top alternative fitness instructors in practice today, as the company is one of the primary creators and distributors of that media.
But in the past 20 years, the company has diversified its wares and services a great deal to expand its mission and purpose. What may seem like simple shopping for new yoga equipment quickly transpires into education about sustainable living. Products can be found in the following categories:
- Books and Media
- Home and Outdoor
- Mind-Body Fitness
- Mind and Spirit
In keeping with its philosophy, the organization offers resources and further education on water and energy conservation. Products range from composting toilets and solar panels that power computers to alternative cooling methods, such as window tinting and water capture techniques like cisterns and rain barrels for the garden. For those interested in learning and sharing, there's a community on the Gaiam renewables Web site that exchanges tips and further education on how to save and live with our planet.
In addition, Gaiam partners with eco-travel services for those interested in exploring the wonders of the earth, experiencing culture, and learning about wildlife. From trips to tropics to follow Baja whales to expedition voyages to Antarctica, this division is able to lay the world at the feet of any intrepid traveler.
Learn more about Gaiam through its site or catalogues, and pick up specialized products at various international retailers.