The book Let My People Go Surfing led me to read The Responsible Company, by Yvon Chouinard, founder and owner of Patagonia, and Vincent Stanley, co-editor of Patagonia The Footprint Chronicles®. In The Responsible Company, Chouinard and Stanley have distilled their 40 years’ experience building and operating a world-class business that is profitable as well as people and planet friendly.
The Responsible Company focuses on what makes a company responsible: making a profit for shareholders, providing for the well-being of employees, making excellent products, being a good force in the community, and protecting nature. The authors share what they have learned via stories of their successes and failures, and provide a set of checklists at the end of the book (also available online).
One tale tells how employee headaches in a Boston store led to Patagonia converting all 66 products that used cotton to organic cotton within 18 months. No easy feat.
In another story, Patagonia puts their own spin on corporate social responsibility (CSR) reporting by initiating The Footprint Chronicles® which traces Patagonia products geographically from design through receipt of finished goods at their warehouse.
Another segment describes Patagonia’s Common Threads Initiative based on the 4 Rs (reduce, repair, reuse, and recycle). It includes encouraging customers to not buy what they don’t need or won’t last (an interesting sales strategy), repairing and recycling products, as well as helping customers resell clothes they no longer need. A fifth R was added, “… to reimagine a world in which we take from nature only what it can replace.”
A large portion of the book deals with the elements of business responsibility.
- Responsibility to the Health of the Business – in order to be a socially and environmentally responsible company, it has to make a profit and stay in business.
- Responsibility to the Workers – care for, reward, and engage workers which includes everyone in the supply chain who helps make or sell its product.
- Responsibility to Your Customers – provide a quality service or product that lasts, be truthful, provide customers with information on environmental and social choices embodied in the product or service from the time of purchase forward.
- Responsibility to the Community – be mindful of impacts on neighborhoods and cities where the company operates, communities of interest, and the virtual community of social media.
- Responsibility to Nature – our economy depends on nature. Keep in mind 90% of a product’s environmental impact is determined during the design stage. Energy, water, travel, toxic materials, construction, and office operations impact nature.
The Bottom Line
The Responsible Company is a short, easy-to-read book that is for everyone—businesses, employees, and customers.
Business leaders and managers receive practical information and ideas on how to jump start their own responsible company efforts.
Employees have an opportunity to reflect on their own work, support their own company’s responsible actions or even instigate their own.
As customers, we learn what types of questions we should ask before buying products. Sometimes, it’s as easy as asking oneself if we need it and then realizing we don’t.
I was heartened to read about Patagonia’s willingness to share information and engage with competitors and companies not typically known for their environmental records. Maybe we can all work together towards a better business and economic model after all.
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