I’ve been putting off writing my first post for a while, but I finally found something worth writing about. FYI, I plan on writing shorter, more frequent posts, so this won’t be long.
What inspired me was the book I’m reading. It’s called “The Responsible Company: What We’ve Learned From Patagonia’s First 40 Years” by Yvon Chouinard and Vincent Stanley, and it has been unlike anything else I’ve ever read.
First, a quick background. For those of you that aren’t climbers, Yvon Chouinard (one of the authors) was one of the biggest proponents of “clean climbing” back in Yosemite in the 50s and 60s. That means this: Before then, in order to climb a crack, climbers would bring up a bunch of pitons and hammer them into the crack, creating unnatural fissures and breaks in the wall. Yvon, along with companions Tom Frost and Royal Robbins, decided that this was defacing the rock and they needed to use a new technique to climb.
So, he and Frost started a company that would become Black Diamond, and began making “chocks“. Chocks were forms of protection that did not scar the rock, and they were a revolution in climbing technology and ethics.
This step is significant because by choosing not to scar the rock, Yvon was making his first steps toward building a “sustainable” future–for rock climbing and, later on, the world. He seemed to, from a young age, realize the long-term and wide-reaching impacts of his daily life, and was concerned with the problems they were causing.
Years after founding Black Diamond, Yvon started a clothing company called Patagonia, a company that is widely known today, even with non-climbers. What most people know is that they make comfy, stylish clothing that might vaguely have something to do with mountains. What most don’t know is their origins and ethics, and how they are refining the way companies do business by mitigating their impacts worldwide.
Alright, get to the point!
I can already tell I could write forever on this topic, so let me get to the point.
The book discusses these impacts from a business perspective, emphasizing the need to be responsible about them. The reason the book is called “The Responsible Company” and does not use a more popular term like “The Sustainable Company”, is something they point out early on: there is no such thing as a “sustainable” company. To be sustainable, the net impact of your company should be equal or less than zero (meaning you use 100% recycled goods and manufacture using 100% clean energy sources, among other things), and this is simply not possible, at least not today.
What is possible is being a “responsible” company. This means being as “sustainable” as possible, but you must also be seeking out ways to improve, and you cannot simply sweep any damage you do under the carpet. Especially for consumer products with a long supply chain, there can be huge negative impacts of your products, many of which you’d never know about if you never went and looked for them.
They give some examples that many of us are familiar with: the under-paid, over-worked, and/or under-age worker you rely on to sew the clothing. The harmful pesticides used to spray the cotton that end up in drinking water. Etc. Other examples are not as well-known. What about the waste-water from dying facilities that poison rivers in China so much that the color change can be seen from space? What about the toxic formaldehyde finish added on clothes used to prevent shrinkage and wrinkling? These are the kinds of less obvious impacts Patagonia has been looking into, and has spent considerable time and money looking for responsible alternatives to these methods.
I could go on, but I’ll end it there. I’m only 4 chapters into the book, so I’ll be posting more on this in the future. I’ll leave with one question I was asking myself:
Researching and measuring the impact of a consumer-focused, manufacturing-based company is relatively straightfoward. Most parts of the business have some kind of physical product or waste you can track down. But, what are the equivilent impacts of, say, a tech company in Silicon Valley? How do companies like these become “Responsible”? With our economy moving toward a heavier influence from and dependence on such companies, I think this question does not yet have an answer, and sorely needs to be addressed.
Thanks for reading!