Let My People Go Surfing Second Edition – Book Review

“To do good, you actually have to do something.” —Yvon Chouinard

Let My People Go Surfing: The Education of a Reluctant Businessman melds adventure, business, and environmental stories into a book for everyone.

Reading this book will give you hope for the future of the planet by demonstrating that a business can be profitable, treat its employees well, and care for the environment.

Let My People Go Surfing 2016 Edition Book CoverThe book’s colorful author Yvon Chouinard is a self-professed dirtbag who began his business career blacksmithing climbing pitons in a tin shed in Southern California.

This tiny business led to Chouinard founding outdoor clothing and gear company Patagonia in 1973. Over 40 years later, the company is going strong with customers all over the world.

I read and wrote about the first edition of Let My People Go Surfing several years ago. When I discovered that the second edition covers ten more years of what Chouinard calls “business unusual,” I immediately knew I wanted to read it and I am glad I did.

Book Review

Let My People Go Surfing opens with a combination of Chouinard’s autobiography and the history of the two companies he founded Chouinard Equipment and Patagonia. The second half of the book covers Patagonia’s business philosophies and provides a look into the future.

History

The history section will both entertain and inform you. Chouinard openly shares tales from his own life as well as business successes and failures.

As a young rock climber, Chouinard and his friends were constantly practicing, improving, and innovating techniques and gear. They took risks and learned from the outcomes. These are all attributes that Chouinard later carried over to his business enterprises.

“If you want to understand the entrepreneur, study the juvenile delinquent. The delinquent is saying with his actions, ‘This Sucks. I’m going to do my own thing.’” —Yvon Chouinard

Philosophies

As you read part two, you will discover how Patagonia builds customer loyalty, which employee benefit the book drew its name from, and how concern for the environment is woven into the company’s decision-making and operations.

“Build the best product, cause no unnecessary harm, use business to inspire and implement solutions to the environmental crisis.” —Patagonia Mission Statement

Here are two examples of Patagonia’s business unusual approach.

Put Your Money Where Your Mouth Is

Chouinard and his fly-fishing friend Craig Mathews started 1% for the Planet, an alliance of businesses who pledge to donate at least 1% of their sales (note the word sales, not profits) to organizations and projects actively working to protect and restore the natural environment.

Product Stewardship

Patagonia makes products to last and takes them back at the end of their useful life to be recycled into new products.

The company helps customers get the most out of their Patagonia merchandise by assisting customers with making repairs or doing it for them.

To encourage customers only to buy what they need, Patagonia placed a full-page ad in the New York Times with the headline “Don’t Buy This Jacket.” The ad came out on Black Friday, the biggest shopping day of the year.

The Bottom Line

Yvon Chouinard’s affinity for rock climbing probably heavily influenced his decision to go into business. First, he needed to make money so he could do more rock climbing. Second, he and his friends had ideas on how to improve and reinvent the equipment they used.

Through his outdoor adventures, Chouinard came face-to-face with the damage occurring in the natural environment. He decided that Patagonia needed to clean up its own environmental act and that the company could and should set an example and inspire other companies to do the same.

Let My People Go Surfing shows that there are ways to conduct business that is good for people, the planet, and the bottom line.

Company CEOs and managers concerned with engaging and retaining their employees and building a resilient organization might learn a thing or two from this book.

I thoroughly enjoyed reading the second edition of Let My People Go Surfing and look forward to reading the third edition in another ten years.

Reader Note: my imperfect understanding of the term dirtbag is that it refers to a person who is so enthusiastic about an activity (like rock climbing) that they work only enough to support their activity.

Featured Image at Top: Surfer Dressed as a Businessman Catches a Wave – Photo Credit iStock/stephfournet

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The Upcycle – Book Review

The Upcycle Book CoverI bought The Upcycle, by William McDonough and Michael Braungart, to find out what happened next in the story they began with their first book Cradle to Cradle.

The full title of the book, The Upcycle: Beyond Sustainability–Designing for Abundance, gave me pause. I pictured a wide gulf of uncharted territory between sustainability and abundance and was intrigued to learn how the authors would bridge it.

On a mostly blank page, just before the table of contents, readers will find one sentence that succinctly expresses what The Upcycle is all about.

“The goal of the upcycle is a delightfully diverse, safe, healthy, and just world with clean air, water, soil, and power—economically, equitably, ecologically, and elegantly enjoyed.”

This would make a fitting credo for our society.

Book Review

In their 2002 book, Cradle to Cradle, McDonough, and Braungart shared their vision of an alternative to our industrial system of designing and making products destined for the dump at the end of their useful life.

Using Cradle to Cradle concepts designers create products that can be broken down or dismantled into biological and technical resources and infinitely reused in new products. They select materials that are good for people and the environment versus those that are less bad and view waste from one process as food for another.

Over the past decade, forward-thinking designers and makers of products, buildings, and even cities embraced Cradle to Cradle and spread the word.

The Upcycle continues the story and provides real life examples of Cradle to Cradle in action at such diverse organizations as NASA, office furniture manufacturer Steelcase, and the United States Postal Service. Readers will learn how retail store “goodbyers” might contribute to the upcycle and how a building inspired by butterflies could create abundance.

McDonough and Braungart turn the sustainability mantra of reduce, reuse, and recycle on its head and ask us to reimagine the world where products are safe, useful, beautiful, and can be indefinitely upcycled.

  1. We Don’t Have an Energy Problem. We Have a Materials-in-the-Wrong-Place Problem.
  2. Get “Out of Sight” Out of Mind
  3. Always Be Asking What’s Next
  4. You Are Alive. Your Toaster Is Not
  5. Optimize, Optimize, Optimize
  6. You Can and You Will
  7. Add Good on Top of Subtracting Bad
  8. Gaze at the World Right Around You…Then Begin
  9. The Time is Now
  10. Go Forward Beneficially

The Bottom Line

Architect William McDonough and chemist Michael Braungart met in the early 1990s and formed McDonough Braungart Design Chemistry (MBDC) in 1995. Since the publication of Cradle to Cradle in 2002, McDonough and Braungart have consulted with organizations all over the world, created the Cradle to Cradle Certified Program, and founded the Cradle to Cradle Products Innovation Institute.

The Upcycle is an easy to read book chock full of ideas that interrupt our thinking about how things are designed and made. It raises questions and possibilities. Examples from the real world show us what is being done now and others give us a glimpse of the future.

I recommend The Upcycle to anyone interested in looking at the glass as not half full or empty, but as McDonough and Braungart do, as always full.

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