Book review: The Responsible Company

Patagonia The Responsible CompanyFollowing the success of his first book, Let My People Go Surfing, Yvon Chouinard has joined up with Patagonia’s head of marketing, Vincent Stanley, to offer another refreshing perspective on business practice in the form of The Responsible Company: What We’ve Learned from Patagonia’s First 40 Years.  In the book, the Californian environmentalists have provided an analysis of how Patagonia has come to understand its role in business ethics, and offered a comprehensive how-to list of ways that other people can form more socially and environmentally responsible companies.

From the outset, the book outlines in simple, compelling Yvon-like straightforwardness the status of the environment and humankind’s relationship with it. In the opening paragraph, Chouinard and Stanley prompt the reader to consider how the denigration of nature is tied into our neglect of ‘our deepest human needs’. As a response, the authors are quick to admit that humans have retained their most useful gifts, ‘humans are ingenious, adaptive, clever…We now need to more fully engage these gifts to make economic life more socially and environmentally responsible, and less destructive to the nature and the commons that sustain us.’

The book launches by confessing the journey of Patagonia, and how the Ventura-based brand was not meant to be a ‘risk-taking, environment-obsessed, navel-gazing company but an easy-to-milk cash cow’. From this standpoint, Chouinard and Stanley continue by presenting the journey of the company, its allies and the movement that inspired the creation of the Sustainable Apparel Coalition.

Referring to Patagonia’s Footprint Chronicles web app, the argument turns to the exploitation of natural resources. In pointing out that ‘we have borrowed from nature what we can’t payback’, the authors highlight how ‘Every piece of crap…contains within it something of the priceless: applied human intelligence, for one, natural capital for another’. Instead of wasting our brains and natural resources on wasteful, disposable products, Chouinard and Stanley vouch for making less by delivering higher quality, long-lasting garments that mitigate their social and environmental cost.

As well as raising the plain fact that natural resources are increasing in price, The Responsible Company addresses questions about supply chain and the need for large corporations to reclaim meaningful control over extended procurement and distribution channels. Chouinard and Stanley bridge these two principles in reference to their ‘cotton odyssey’ that prompted the reevaluation of their supply chain following the discovery of formaldehyde in certain cotton-based products.

A series of checklists completes the practical theme of The Responsible Company, compiled to give companies step-by-step advice on how to make there companies more socially and environmentally defensible. Though Chouinard denies the possibility that any company can become truly ‘sustainable’, he and Stanley give credibility to those companies that aspire to move in this direction.

The Responsible Company can be bought from patagonia.com for $20, or alternatively in the UK through selected dealers. To catch a glimpse of the duo in session, check this clip from Yale Divinity School on the book and the emergence of the New Economy.

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