The Responsible Company — Book Review

The Responsible Company Book CoverThe 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.

Book Review

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.

  1. 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.
  2. Responsibility to the Workers – care for, reward, and engage workers which include everyone in the supply chain who helps make or sell its product.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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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Eco-Friendly and Ethical Chocolate — Birds and Trees

While researching chocolate, I learned about Rainforest Alliance Certified™ products and was introduced to the terms Bird Friendly® and shade-grown. We’ll wrap up this third of three chocolate posts with birds and trees.

Bird Friendly®

Smithsonian Migratory Bird Center Bird Friendly® LogoThe Smithsonian Migratory Bird Center created the Bird Friendly® seal of approval to encourage conservation of bird habitat via production of shade-grown, organic coffee. Besides being beautiful and often melodic members of the planet, birds provide “ecosystem services” such as eating insect pests, spreading seeds and pollinating crops. Although Bird Friendly® is specific to coffee (at this point), shade-grown has a wide application, including growing cacao.

Shade-Grown Cacao

Growing cacao trees beneath native canopy trees enhance environmental sustainability by protecting water and soil, retaining habitat for birds, insects, and other wildlife, and providing other products for farmers.

Leaf litter under tree canopies helps the soil retain moisture and fertility, and provides habit for insects that pollinate cacao trees.

Birds and other animals help keep insect pest populations down, reducing or eliminating the need for pesticides which are harmful to wildlife and people.

Growing cacao along with other crops such as avocado, pineapple, coffee, papaya, and bananas can increase biodiversity which helps fight off pests and plant diseases and provides additional income for farmers.

Rainforest Alliance

The Rainforest Alliance mission and strategy can best be described in their own words.

Mission: “The Rainforest Alliance works to conserve biodiversity and ensure sustainable livelihoods by transforming land-use practices, business practices, and consumer behavior.”

Strategy: “We believe that the best way to keep forests standing is by ensuring that it is profitable for businesses and communities to do so.”

I especially like the strategy as expecting businesses to “do the right thing” is unrealistic. It is far better to help businesses understand the impact of their actions and how they can make or save money by implementing planet and people friendly practices.

Products from farms that adhere to standards set by the Sustainable Agriculture Network (SAN) may earn the Rainforest Alliance Certified™ seal of approval.

Sustainable Agriculture Network

The Sustainable Agriculture Network standards are based upon 10 guiding principles.

  1. Management System – social and environmental management systems are required to ensure compliance with SAN standards and laws of respective countries.
  2. Ecosystem Conservation – protect waterways, prohibit deforestation, and Rainforest Canopy - photo from Sustainable Agriculture Networkprevent negative impacts on natural areas outside farmlands.
  3. Wildlife Protection – monitor and protect wildlife on farms, especially endangered species.
  4. Water Conservation – reduce water consumption, avoid contaminating water sources, and treat wastewater appropriately.
  5. Working Conditions – ensure good working conditions in line with International Labor Organization (ILO) conventions.
  6. Occupational Health – health and safety programs to reduce accidents, ensure machinery and equipment is in safe and good working order, and provide training in the proper handling of agrochemicals.
  7. Community Relations – consult with communities and local interest groups regarding farm impacts, and contribute to local development via employment, training, and public works.
  8. Integrated Crop Management – minimize or eliminate pesticides and other agrochemicals; if used protect the health of people and the environment.
  9. Soil Conservation – prevent erosion, enrich the soil with organic matter, and reduce agrochemical use.
  10. Integrated Waste Management – reduce, recycle, reuse, and dispose of waste in an environmentally sound manner.

Rainforest Alliance Certified™ Chocolate

Rainforest Alliance Certified™ LogoThe Rainforest Alliance website provides a handy tool called “Shop the Frog” for finding Rainforest Alliance Certified™ products. By selecting United States, California, Food & Beverages, and Chocolate from the drop down menus I received a list of brands as well as brick and mortar and online stores selling Rainforest Alliance Certified™ chocolate.

Rainforest Alliance Certified™ and Fair Trade certified chocolate standards have many elements in common. This provides shoppers with a lot of chocolate choices from companies that are both eco-friendly and ethical. Enjoy.

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