Powering the Planet


How Utah-based Goal Zero is Innovating, and Dominating, the Solar Industry

In Utah, getting away from it all doesn’t take long. Reaching our canyons is quicker than a typical daily commute, and you can hit five national parks in less than a day’s drive from Salt Lake City. Nature is our playground, but the Millennial in most of us likes to stay connected. We document every ascent with Instagrams, videos, and Facebook shares…until our battery dies. Despite our prized gadgets’ technological advances, the batteries rarely make it past dinnertime—leaving us powerless when it really counts. That’s where Goal Zero comes in.

Upon entering Goal Zero’s spacious Bluffdale office, you’re welcomed by a rock climbing wall in the lobby and a speedy slide that’s known to leave battle scars. Try it if you’re brave, but don’t say I didn’t warn you. The rest of the two-story building houses their 130-person strong team that’s busily building cutting-edge products to share with an eager community.

The name Goal Zero represents their company ideal: to one day live in a world with ZERO illiteracy, ZERO poverty, and ZERO hunger. But they approach this goal by unconventional means—through the sun. Goal Zero is the leading solar power innovator and creator of portable energy systems that keep electronics going when you’re far from an outlet.

Goal Zero’s chargers range in size and purpose: the ultralight Switch rejuices smartphones, the Sherpa charges mid-size electronics, and the burly Yeti 1250 keeps a fridge icy cold. Powered by solar panels or wall outlets, their devices generate storable power used to charge and run USB, AC, and DC products. Portability and ease of use are mainstays of their line, and newer offerings like solar-powered lights and speakers are quickly gaining traction among new and avid Goal Zero fans.

First popular with emergency preppers, Goal Zero’s packable products have plenty of fans in the outdoor industry. Their growing ambassador community is a veritable who’s who list of the biggest names in climbing, ski mountaineering, and adventuring. Alex Honald, Mike Libeki, Caroline Gleich, and Brody Leven are a notable few using Goal Zero gear to document their outdoor pursuits. These athletes field test the products in the world’s harshest conditions to ensure they can keep up with anything you do.

This summer Brody Leven, an ambassador and ski mountaineer, took Goal Zero along to power a three-week climbing and skiing trip to Denali (North America’s tallest peak), and said of the experience, “At 20,320 feet, Denali offers not only a lack of oxygen, but a distinct lack of electricity. Our 14-person team stayed powered up with a number of Sherpa 50s, Nomad 7s, Nomad 13s, and Switch 8s. Music pumped from multiple Rockout 2s. We kept cameras, laptops, iPhones, GoPros, satellite phones, iPods, and all of our assorted electronics powered up without problem. Documenting our trip with new media would have been, quite simply, impossible without Goal Zero products.”

If you’re daily life doesn’t include summiting tall peaks, Goal Zero products are still an essential addition to your gear arsenal. They’re a mobile lifeline in remote regions, allowing you to go off-grid without feeling disconnected. Leven’s recent trip to Iceland is a perfect example, “In Iceland, we stayed in and skied from a very distant house from the early 1900s, accessed only by boat. Without electricity or running water, we were able to charge cameras and headlamps for the entire crew, creating a home-like environment in a cement box at the head of a remote Icelandic fjord.”

Goal Zero launched their brand in 2009 and did $194,000 in sales their first year. By 2012 worldwide sales topped $33 million, and marketing manager Lisa Janssen said the booming brand is now, “putting solar in the hands of more people than any other company.”

That’s a huge leap from 2009’s humble beginnings. So how did this Utah-based company go from obscurity to prominence in four short years? It all started with a trip to the Democratic Republic of Congo in 2007. Goal Zero says they were a “cause looking for a business,” and the company began when founder Robert Workman visited and saw a great need for dependable electrical power and light in this war-torn region.

Upon returning home from the Congo, Workman began building his first solar power kit. At the time Workman was the Chief Creative Officer for Provo Craft, a well-known scrapbooking company, and naysayers said, “You’re in the scrapbooking business, why are you tinkering with solar power?” But Workman was determined to create something worthwhile.

After many attempts Workman launched the GoBe in 2009, a solar device initially purchased by scrapbookers, the LDS church, and Emergency Essentials. A marvel for its time, GoBe charged laptops, cameras, and appliances, but its heavy weight and the cumbersome solar panel required to power it left much to be desired. So Workman went back to the drawing board. The GoBe continues in Goal Zero’s line today as the Escape 150, but newer offerings are lighter and simpler to use for everyday life, camping, expeditions, and emergencies.

While building this initial prototype, Workman founded a non-profit named TIFIE (Teaching Individuals and Family Independence through Enterprise) that works to eradicate hunger and illiteracy with the use of renewable solar power. What sets Goal Zero apart from other solar power companies is remaining loyal to these humanitarian roots by donating a portion of every purchase to TIFIE to provide power and aid to the developing world.

These values are something ambassador Leven relates to, “Goal Zero operates on a set of values similar to those upon which I live and operate my personal brand of storytelling from the mountains. Their humanitarian efforts combined with research and development to innovate within the realm of sustainability are exactly what I think more brands should be doing. It’s a perfect example of how a company can be successful while maintaining an environmental focus.”

When disaster strikes, Goal Zero is in the trenches assisting with relief and passing out product to power phones and provide light; the company gave almost $600,000 in gear for Hurricane Sandy alone. Their new online humanitarian project, “Share the Sun,” invites purchasers of any Goal Zero item to be part of this humanitarian experience by donating a “Sun Share” to a project of their choice in Mali, Kyrgystan, and other global locations. You can track the project as it’s completed with live field updates and photos at goalzero.com/sharethesun.

Goal Zero didn’t invent renewable power, but their creation of an affordable, simple, sun-powered system makes them industry pioneers, fueling their rapid growth. Amidst their quick success, the company is hardly cooling their heels. Instead, Goal Zero is launching a stream of new products this fall, like an updated RockOut2 speaker and lantern, while continuing to improve existing designs. Learn more about these new products and Goal Zero at goalzero.com.

Our Goal Zero Picks for the Outdoors

    • Goal Zero Switch Goal Zero Switch

      About the size of a Grape Magic Marker, the ultralight Switch fits easily in packs and pockets for charging small devices on trail. Recharge the Switch via a solar panel or USB port. $40


    • Goal Zero Nomad 7 Solar Panel Goal Zero Nomad 7 Solar Panel with Guide 10 Plus Kit

      Recharge two handheld devices simultaneously in the sun as fast as a wall charger by opening the compact Nomad 7 solar panel and hanging it on your pack as you trek. Or pair it with the Guide 10 Plus to recharge AA or AAA batteries. $120


    • Goal Zero Light A Life Goal Zero Light A Life

      Brighten your campsite with these clipable, solar-powered lights that last all night on a single charge. Use one solo or daisy chain up to eight together to illuminate larger spaces. Try them for travel, home emergencies, or backyard BBQs. Requires a larger solar panel (Yeti, Extreme, Escape, or Sherpa) to charge. $40 each



About Author

Jenny Willden is the Managing Editor of Outdoor Sports Guide and a self-proclaimed gear and grammar nut. She's a member of the North American Travel Journalists Association and the Adventure Travel Trade Association. A lover of adventure and travel, she's happiest when riding horses or snowboarding in Utah’s mountains. Follow Jenny’s exploits on Twitter @jennywillden or Instagram @jlwillden.

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