Highlights from Vincent Stanley’s Q&A in Prague
Highlights from Vincent Stanley’s Q&A in Prague
This year on World Environment Day, we joined an event part of the Svoboda Naživo conference on responsible business, to meet Vincent Stanley, Director of Patagonia Philosophy and co-author of The Responsible Company.
Stanley spoke for three hours at Prague’s airy, alternative Radlicka Sportovna multifunctional space, fielding questions about the challenges of managing a responsible company, maintaining founding values in a corporate environment and sustainable consumption in general.
Tanned and laid back, he spoke with humor and humility, openly discussing the trials and tribulations faced by the company he has been with for over 40 years with honest admissions such as, “we made some fantastic mistakes,” “we’re likely not going to run out of things to do” and, regarding his own carbon footprint from travel: “I will go to hell.” Well, we’re not going to hold it against him.
“My carbon footprint….? I will go to hell.” – Vincent Stanley, Director of Patagonia Philosophy
Below, our pick of some highlights from his talk.
A company’s success is a balance between spirit and hard work.
At the beginning, Patagonia was just a bunch of surfers and climbers, including visionary founder Yvon Chouinard, with a shared vision of creating a line of high quality sporting apparel. Stanley said, perhaps tongue in cheek, that employees in fact “got a bonus if they worked more than 40 hours,” because they wanted to be hitting the great outdoors, not their desks. Stanley said this carefree spirit and passion for the core of the business, adventure sports, is an important ingredient that has endured in the company. But his own success and ability to rise to management, he said, is because, “I didn’t surf.” A company needs both – people with the vision and passion, and people willing to buckle down and execute.
Never say no to your customer.
When asked how Patagonia was able to keep their founding spirit and values alive as they grew, Stanley said it was about adopting an “anything is possible” attitude. Business is about meeting your customers’ needs, and usually with enough creativity, perseverance and collaboration with the right partners, this should be doable.
“Reduce” may be the trickiest but most important of the “4 R’s” of sustainability (Reduce, Reuse, Recycle, Repair).
While recycling is core to Patagonia’s environmental strategy, Stanley admitted that it’s tough to be truly “cradle to cradle” when recycling textiles, because some quality is always lost. Furthermore, while Patagonia has a recycling program, “only a small percentage of what we sell is brought back by customers.” To take the next step, Patagonia launched a bold and refreshingly honest campaign called “Don’t Buy This Jacket,” to bring to consumers’ attention that in fact, the best way to consume responsibly is to consume less. The campaign’s website reads: “Because Patagonia wants to be in business for a good long time – and leave a world inhabitable for our kids – we want to do the opposite of every other business today. We ask you to buy less and to reflect before you spend a dime on this jacket or anything else.” Although Patagonia’s clothing is durable and long-lasting, and some of it recycled and recyclable, it still requires a huge amount of water, energy and other natural resources to be made – “enough to power a village,” as Stanley explained. So at the end of the day, it’s always best to think twice before buying.
Other “R’s” like “Regenerate” and “Reimagine” are also part of a sustainable future.
Patagonia has a project that uses sheep in Patagonia to regenerate grasslands and produce high quality Merino wool for their garments. To “reimagine” is part of Patagonia’s “Common Threads” initiative, which means “to reimagine a world where we take only what nature can replace.” For us, this means completely rethinking how products are made and people consume, refusing to accept that the status quo is necessarily the best way. It’s not just about technological solutions, but about fundamental changes to how we live.
” Agriculture is the most impacting aspect of human enterprise.”
Every little change in our consumer habits is important, however, supporting more sustainable agriculture is truly a top priority. Agriculture isn’t just growing food, but also all the crops that are used to make other consumer products, including cotton. From water to chemicals, the environmental impacts are huge. Corporations can address this problem by making commitments to enforce more strict environmental standards across and right down to the base of their supply chain. As Stanley said, Patagonia is still on an ongoing journey to do so, and starting early on to collaborate with suppliers across the industry has been key. While audits are important in keeping track of the traceability of raw materials and any environmental externalities, he said that the ongoing relationship with suppliers is essential to creating the right conditions in the first place. He sees the future of Patagonia as a “steady decrease in environmental harm.” For us consumers, we don’t have much impact on the supply chain, but we can “vote with our money,” for example by eating more vegetarian meals and buying higher quality, local, organic and/or eco-certified consumer goods – and fewer of them.
“Never grow without asking questions like, how are we growing, why are we growing…? Growth is a double edged sword.”
Patagonia went through a tough period in the 90s when they had to lay off many employees because the company got into too much debt, a result of taking out overambitious loans – one of the company’s “fantastic mistakes,” according to Stanley. This was a tough lesson in knowing how to grow without placing undue risk on employees and the environment, yet one that helped the company to turn their socially and environmentally conscious spirit into a competitive advantage rather than a threat to their bottom line. “The long-term effect on the business was positive. I wouldn’t forgo the opportunities for the long term reputation that you gain.”