Nathan Irons: Mixing business and philanthropy

Nathanial Irons
Courtesy photo
Having gotten into the insurance business by accident, Nathanial Irons of Shelburne now donates 1% of all premiums collected by his company, Bluestone, to environmental nonprofits.

PHYL NEWBECK

Bluestone, the business run by Nathan Irons, isn’t your typical insurance firm. For one thing, it’s a B corporation, which means it is required to consider the impact of its decisions on its workers, customers, suppliers, community and the environment. Additionally, Bluestone donates 1% of all premiums collected to 1% for the Planet, which supports non-profits in six areas of environmental action: climate, food, land, pollution, water and wildlife. For Irons, making the world a better place is more important than just making a profit.

The 49-year-old Irons readily admits he got into insurance by accident in 1993 after his discharge from the Navy.

“I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do,” he said “but a family friend suggested it and I liked having an autonomous schedule and the ability to learn. I liked the people but over time I came to not like the industry very much.”

Irons started his company in Maryland in 1999 and six years later, he switched from commissions to a flat monthly fee model. He said, at that time, his was the only company to adopt that model. Irons was greatly influenced by Patagonia founder Yvon Chouinard’s book “Let My People Go Surfing,” which motivated him to affiliate his business with 1% for the Planet. In 2014, when his daughter was 4 years old, Irons moved his family to Shelburne. “The more I learned about financial systems and food systems, the more uncomfortable I became with how things were headed,” he said. “I wanted my daughter to grow up with more nature.” Irons turned the day-to-day work of his Maryland firm over to a colleague with the hope of starting a business venture in Vermont which was more in tune with his environmental and social sensibilities.

Although Irons wanted to get out of the financial services industry, friends and advisors told him he could further the causes he cared about by staying in the field. “I really didn’t want to hear that,” he admitted, but he decided to take their advice. Irons discovered a small insurance company in the Midwest which was the first in the field to become a B corporation. He visited their headquarters after being part of a Veterans group protecting Native Americans protesting the Dakota Access Pipeline at Standing Rock and decided to form a partnership with the firm. Like his old company, the new business does not take commissions and is affiliated with 1% for the Planet.

The six non-profits Bluestone supports are National Forest Foundation, Rodale Institute, Restore the Earth Foundation, Women’s Earth Alliance, Chef Ann Foundation and Protect Our Winters. Irons used an organization called Project Drawdown to help decide where to invest.

“They helped me find the most impactful organizations,” he said. “We want to focus on regenerative organic farming, which goes hand in hand with land use, as well as women and girls’ education and family planning.”

Bluestone may be a national firm but Irons is firmly grounded in Vermont’s localvore values. He praises local establishments like the Lake Champlain Waldorf School, Bread and Butter Farm, New Village Farm, Pierson Library and the Flying Pig Book Store.

“Where you bank and where you shop affects other areas,” he said. “We love to share ideas with others. When you choose a financial services organization, you are impacting other areas of your life. It’s an enormous lever.”

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