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Barebones Living

When Robert Workman had the chance to sell his family business for a substantial profit 10 years ago, he decided to use the proceeds for good.

It was an exciting and humbling moment, filled with possibility. He'd become interested in sustainability and philanthropy and knew that he wanted to start giving back. The only questions that remained were how and where. So he hit the road looking for inspiration.

Traveling to the Congo was an eye-opening moment for Robert. Speaking to aid agencies working on the ground and communicating with the people whose lives they were trying to help, he identified an important need that wasn't being met: portable, sustainable, affordable energy generation. Robert convened a team of engineers and got to work. Goal Zero was the result.


Goal Zero offers everything from solar panels (pictured here) to power storage packs. Image via Hadhuey/Wikimedia Commons.

Goal Zero offers an easy-to-use, plug-and-play generator powered by solar panels. Its Yeti power packs are small but mighty, with three sizes able to power anything from phone chargers to refrigerators. The generators were instantly embraced by aid agencies and outdoor adventurers alike.

As far as companies go, Goal Zero is the de facto older brother of Barebones Living. Robert sold Goal Zero in 2014 and created Barebones Living.

Where Goal Zero offers a sustainable and renewable way of generating power, Barebones Living offers sustainable shelters, cooking implements, gardening tools, and lanterns.

A Barebones Living tent. Image via Barebones Living, used with permission.

The tents themselves — dubbed the Outfitter and the Lodge — are high-quality and built to last. They come equipped with fully waterproof floors, six-foot-tall walls, cookstove vents in the roof, and exteriors that will last five years even with daily use. But while these tents wouldn't be out of place at a high-end retreat or the fancy camping area of Coachella, it's in the developing world or during disaster relief where they really go to work.

"Our business has been created by our humanitarian work," said Erik Workman, Barebones Living director of sales and outdoor adventure. "All of our businesses were causes that needed these services."

When a magnitude 7.8 earthquake hit Nepal in April 2015, it left cities and villages in ruins and entire families on the streets.

One of Barebones Living's tents being used as a field hospital in Kathmandu.

While UN humanitarian aid can provide tarps for shelters, they're only a temporary solution. "People can’t thrive under tarps," Erik said. "They need a good, clean place where they know they'll be safe. Once you have that, you can start thinking about other things."

Within a week of the earthquake, Barebones Living shipped 25 of its tents to Kathmandu to be used as birthing centers. A few months later, they shipped 75 more. Since then, more than 1500 healthy babies have been born to healthy moms in these mobile birthing shelters. Even after the local hospital is rebuilt and reopened, these tents will still be useful — forming the frames for homes for displaced families.

More recently, the Barebones team has been on the ground in the Philippines, Haiti, Jamaica, and Fiji, helping with recovery efforts after devastating hurricanes.

Once shelter is taken care of, a community can rebuild. Image via Barebones Living, used with permission.

They also donated tents to the protestors at Standing Rock in North Dakota and are working with an agency to supply tents and equipment to a growing Syrian refugee camp in Lebanon.

"We're working to set up a mobile medical clinic that we can basically palletize and put on a plane," Erik said. "It has the shelter, cots, coolers, lanterns — everything they'd need to get a clinic up and running in a remote area."

As Barebones continues to grow its business, it plans to give back even more.

Barebones Living tents are strong enough to be used as permanent homes in all kinds of weather for up to five years. Image via Barebones Living, used with permission.

"Right now we have a matching grant fund to support humanitarian agencies that want to purchase shelters," Erik said. "Every year for the next five years, we're matching grants up to $500,000, and we hope to expand that program as much as we can in the future."

Giving back has been baked in to the mandate of Barebones Living from the beginning. For the people who benefit from their generosity, the effect can be life-changing. Here's to more companies following their lead!

Photo: Jason DeCrow for United Nations Foundation

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