Ever since I watched my beloved 180 Degrees South I have been a big fan of Yvon Chouinard, the founder of company Patagonia and a huge environmental activist. I just finished Let My People Go Surfing: The Education of a Reluctant Businessman and have an even deeper appreciation for him now. Here's why:
- Patagonia gives back millions and millions of dollar to various causes, many of which involve the environment in some way. Several years ago a Christian organization was angered by their involvement with Planned Parenthood (Chouinard interestingly pointed out their link with the environment, which never occurred to me: population control) and planned to picket. Patagonia pledged an additional $10 to PP for every protestor that showed- none did.
- Patagonia is focused on constantly improving the quality of their products while keeping in mind the environment- they aren't willing to compromise either. They search for the most eco-friendly dyes, well-run factories that treat their employees well, and work to incorporate recycled materials into their clothing and gear as much as possible. The thought they put into sustainability, conservation, and quality is impressive.
- Chouinard has been recognized countless times for how he treats his employees- people beg to work there. They provide onsite daycare that offers childcare at a reduced rate, two months of paid maternity (and I think paternity) leave, and great health care benefits. Employees can take up to two months (fully paid) leave to pursue environmental work and are allowed to adjust their schedule to surf, ski, run, play volleyball or be at home when their kids get off the bus. No one has private offices, employees are given an extra $2,000 towards the purchase of electric vehicles, and are given generous discounts. It's honestly the Google of the outdoor gear world (and they started doing all of these things way before Google did).
- Patagonia tries to never construct new buildings, but to use already existing structures. When they do build from scratch they use recycled materials and hire innovative architects to make green buildings (at the time of this book's publication they were trying to create a new building incorporating rice straw).
- Chouinard and Patagonia have spearheaded countless efforts to eliminate dams, turn land in to protective reserves, and protect mountains from poor climbing techniques. Their work in Patagonia, the company's namesake, has preserved thousands of acres from destruction.
- Chouinard spends some time discussing his business model in terms of profit margins, annual budgets, and supply and demand. I was definitely more interested in the conservation and employee benefits sections, but I still trudged through this (it was actually really easy to understand).
All in all this was a really interesting read. The pictures were great and the idea of a corporation focusing on the people, products, and environment, rather than the bottom line, is inspiring.
[quick video from 1% for the Planet Foundation, which he co-founded]