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Vincent Stanley from Patagonia visits Ann Arbor - Notes from an Environmental Leader

November 06, 2019

I had the pleasure of hearing one of founding members of Patagonia speak at the Ann Arbor Chamber of Commerce luncheon this week.  Vincent's title is Director, Patagonia Philosophy - and I can see why he's considered one of the company's chief story tellers. 

Vincent helped develop the Footprint Chronicles, the company's interactive website that outlines the social and environmental impact of its products.  

Vincent and Yvon Chouinard have published Let my People Go Surfing, the Education of a Reluctant Businessman along with The Responsible Company - two great reads for those interested in understanding how Patagonia's environmentally-minded actions evolved over time.   

I have both of these books and they have served as a guideline for how to set up JOOB's business philosophy - definitely would recommend them to anyone.

Key Lessons Learned from Patagonia

Patagonia started as a mountain equipment company, making pitons and ice axes for climbers. Their philosophy for product quality was that their product needs to work or people would die - there's no good, better, best - there is only the best.

They tried to migrate that product philosophy to the apparel side of their business. The idea was to make something that will last, that will be of high quality. This was at the heart of Patagonia and their culture of high quality.  

Another key lesson that came from the climbing side of the business was impact on nature. Vincent described the change from pitons, which were hammered into the mountain leaving cracks and damaging the rock, to removable chocks that didn't damage the rock.   

It required Patagonia to take a huge risk as they would need to change their tooling and entire product line.  It paid off as the market responded by moving to the more environmentally friendly chocks. This idea of being responsible had its roots in this mindset of the company.  

The environmental activism side of their clothing business actually arose by accident - when they opened a new store in Boston in 1988. Within days of opening, its staff began to experience headaches during their shifts. It was discovered that the headaches came from the off-gassing of formaldehyde from the cotton clothes - the formaldehyde was added by the mills to reduce wrinkles and shrinkage. 

That was the start of Patagonia's discovery of the environmental impact apparel has on the world, and in this case on their employees. It was the start of their change in how they ran their clothing business. Ever since they have tried to dive into their supply chain to identify environmental impacts on sourcing, production, and distribution - and to find ways to minimize this impact.  

Another key lesson Vincent discussed was the issue of doing less - and the famous ad they ran in 2011 during Black Friday, with the caption Don't Buy This Jacket (image below). 

The idea, and a core value of Patagonia - is that consumers should only buy if they really need it, to stop the culture of consumerism, and to consider the environmental impact of apparel - which the ad details eloquently.  It's amazing how far ahead of the curve Patagonia was, and remains, in the effort of socially and environmentally responsible corporate values.  


The last key lesson brought up by Vincent was the idea of the triple bottom line - the idea that corporations can be responsible while having a balanced focus on people, planet, and profits. 

He described the Certified B Corp process and how it can guide companies to move from a traditional shareholder value ethos to a balanced set of measurements. 

In the back of his book The Responsible Company, there's a set of checklists organizations can use to get started down the path of being more responsible. 

It was great to see the packed house at the presentation - it's encouraging that many individuals and organizations are looking to this new form of business and way of life.   

Patagonia was one of the inspirational companies JOOB looked to when starting up our little company. We have worked to put into practice the environmental and sustainability values Patagonia started those many years ago - Cheers Vincent and Patagonia.


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