What businesses can learn from Patagonia

In 1991, Yvon Chouinard, founder of the well-known sports brand Patagonia was facing a huge challenge. Patagonia was simply growing too fast.

For many companies, especially at that time, growth wouldn’t have been a problem, but a good opportunity to make their businesses more profitable. Not for Patagonia; For them, growing too fast would have meant putting aside their desire to make a sustainable and quality product. For them, keeping the same growth pace would have meant going against their core values.

Since day one, they tried to rethink and challenge the way of doing business, in order to position themselves as a leader in the environmental crisis. They had to reflect on what kind of business they wanted to become to respect this statement.

To reflect on it, Yvon Chouinard decided to take a dozen of his top managers to Argentina to let them see what the real Patagonia was and talk about the future of the brand. Their main purpose behind this off-site trip was to define their core values and to create structures to preserve sustainable culture through growth.

After a couple of days of board meetings, they were still struggling to put into words their values. One day, one of the managers decided to skip lunch to go for a walk by himself. When he returned, seven values of a brand beyond its time were born. In those seven, three particularly caught my attention:

1- All decisions of the company are made in the context of the environmental crisis. We must strive to do no harm. Wherever possible, our acts should serve to decrease the problem.

2- We consider ourselves to be an integral part of communities that also include employees, communities in which we live, our suppliers and customers. It’s our policy to employ people who share the fundamental values of this corporation, while representing cultural and ethnic diversity.

3- Without its achievement primacy, we seek to profit on our activities. However, growth and expansion are values not basic to this corporation.

Let’s remind ourselves that those statements were made in 1991.

In that year, Patagonia, a multi-million dollar company, understood that it was possible and realistic to be a profitable company, and to benefit society and the planet at the same time.

Photo credit : Patagonia

The reason why I bring up this short story, is because I feel we are currently facing a crossroads because of the current pandemic. Before this crisis, the economy was so strong that businesses didn’t have to change their mindsets or ask themselves if the way they were doing business was good. Everything was fine, right? Why should they change anything? I disagree with this way of thinking but unfortunately, it was the reality for a lot of companies.

Since the beginning of the pandemic, I’ve often asked myself: Will it be the same when the crisis is behind us? Will caring about the maximization of profits be considered as normal for a company, or will they realize this is a non-viable mindset that will destroy our people and our planet in the long term? Only the coming months will tell, but for now, businesses, I would like to suggest something.

Before getting back to “business as usual”, do us, society, a favor and learn from what Patagonia has done. That means, take a dozen people that you trust (that includes not only men but people of any gender and from every culture) and rethink the way you’re doing business. Take the time to list your core values and make sure that those take into account the well-being of your stakeholders. After writing those down, find a way to incorporate the values in your day to day and make sure you walk the talk. From now on businesses, do us a favor and be best for the world instead of best in the world.

Remind yourself that if Patagonia did it in 1991, you can do it in 2020.

If you want to improve your own social and environmental impact, let's chat here!

Source: Let My People Go Surfing, Yvon Chouinard

Article written by Thomas, B Corp Consultant (he/him)

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