A Responsible Company by Yvon Chouinard & Vincent Stanley

January 14, 20236 min read

⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐

I think this book feels like a sketchpad—a group of people who fundamentally questioned what a company owes the world. It goes through Patagonia’s own history, grappling with the mechanisms of capitalism and requirement of growth whilst trying to tread lightly on the planet. How is a company responsible? Should it profit its shareholders, provide for the well-being of its employees, make excellent products, be a good force in the community, and protect nature? We think that a responsible company bears all these obligations.

Here are some key takeaways:

Product Design

  • Is your product worth its social and environmental cost? Everything we all do at work, unless you happen to sell organic seeds or night-soil compost, hurts the environment more than it gives back.
  • Companies that do business globally have to choose whether to adopt the toughest European standards or divide up their production and make lower quality goods for the rest of the world. Every piece of crap, because it was manufactured contains within it something of the priceless. In a post-consumerist world, goods are likely to become more expensive, to reflect their true social and environmental cost, prompting us to shop less as a form of entertainment. That’s not so bad. We’ll be able to recover time for satisfying pleasures that derive from pursuing our deepest interests; we’ll have more time with our friends and family, and more time for meaningful work. No one should have to recycle what never should have been made in the reduced repair. Reuse recycle mantra recycling comes last. If you want to reduce the environmental and social harm, you do the injunction to reduce comes first. Don’t make what won’t be useful or won’t last don’t buy what you don’t need, but how do you continue to increase the sales if you ask your customers to reduce their overconsumption while you like any other product, producing company need 3% annual growth to just stay even?

Power of individuals

  • Consumers, both individual and institutional, have become and will continue to be more demanding. Individual consumers are famously powerful for controlling two-thirds of the U.S. economy.

Purpose of work

  • No one wants to be shamed to name the company he works for. No one wants to leave her values at home when she leaves for work in the morning.
  • The authors hope that those born in the 1980s and coming into their own now will, all their lives, pursue meaningful work and do the right thing, which is to say be responsible to other people and to nature. The authors hope they reject the official story told by governments and corporations that a healthy economy relies on the suppression of social, ecological, and individual health.

The hellscape we’ve created

  • People will argue over what makes the world a better place to live (and for whom), and over what each of us would like to see more and less of in the world. It is hard to imagine anyone rejoicing over the generally accepted landscape of only a decade ago: a suburban monoculture of tilt-up malls, cracker-crumb housing, pandemic obesity, cheap distractions, and expensive services—all at the expense of nature and not much good for us as people who are part of nature. It’s as though we’d handed Satan a hard hat and asked him to refashion our earth according to his plan.
  • The world is becoming a desert. Globalisation, a man made but not humanly controlled process is largely responsible for the current speed at which life turns to sand. Globalisation moves with great speed to identify, then harvest resources for human needs but crawls slowly to reforest the devastation it has left in its wake. It is fast but stupid, brutal, and imprecise; to a cull a tree, it takes out a forest.
  • We forgot we’re not unique, and no cotton was grown this way before World War II, when many of the chemicals now used in America to her first developed as nerve gases for warfare

The essentials we all need and will continue to need

  • Companies, large and small, will be useful to a post-consumerist society. We will continue to need food, clothing, and shelter, as well as fun and games, and to organise ourselves to provide it. We will need energy to stay warm in cold weather and cool in hot. But we are beginning to understand the true cost—human, ecological, economic—of everything we make. We need to make less, and whatever we make should be of high quality and long-lasting to better offset its social and environmental price.

Business Considerations

  • To compete, a company will have to be at least as responsible as its competitors
  • Transparency is a precondition of positive change, but does not guarantee it. Transparency may hold the feet to the fire, but it doesn’t always toast. The souls experience of shame doesn’t always change behaviour. It clears the ground for doing good and more often than not creates a momentum for it.

A responsible company owes a return to ‘stakeholders’

  • employees
    • light-handed, attentive management
    • openness about the numbers
    • encouragement to cooperate across divisional lines when necessary
    • continuously improve processes
    • freedom to organise workflow with minimal delays or interference higher-ups
    • penalty free whistle to blow against wrongdoing
  • customers
    • high-quality products and services (basic and high-end goods)
    • Goods →  well-made, durable and easily repaired.
    • End of life needs to be recycled or repurposed into something new
  • community
    • includes suppliers, and understanding who those suppliers are.
    • includes locality → take responsibility for wherever your people gather for work, including satellite locations.
    • Paying fair share of taxes and healthy dose of philanthropy
    • Allowing staff to volunteer.
    • Includes trade associations, NGO’s, standards-setting organisations, non-profits, those who engage with you are part of your community in its broadest sense and deserve your attention

Elements of business responsibility

  • Responsibility to health of the business
    • Creating Shared Value (CSV) + Triple Bottom Line as alternative form of business accounting.
  • Responsibility to your customers
    • The strongest thing your company can do is something no one else will do or do well
  • Responsibility to the community,
    • The rising Tide, may lift boats, but I can also flood neighbourhood, leaving hardship in its wake.
  • Every company needs to ask itself if you do business around the world, where are you local and what are your obligations to those places you call home?

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Apurva Shukla

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