Patagonia’s Vincent Stanley speaking at B Corp Leadership Development
B Corps are for-profit companies certified by the nonprofit B Lab to meet rigorous standards of social and environmental performance, accountability, and transparency.
I was fortunate enough to attend the morning keynote session at today’s B Corp Leadership Development.
The keynote speaker in the morning today was Vincent Stanley, Patagonia’s longest serving employee. And Patagonia is of course one of the world’s leading outdoor and sports clothing companies and is synonymous with sustainability and ethical responsibility.
Patagonia are in fact much much more than a clothing company and everything they do is guided by their longstanding mission to “build the best product, cause no unnecessary harm, use business to inspire and implement solutions to the environmental crisis.”
They have launched the Sustainable Apparel Coalition to help drive change across the textiles and fashion industry.
The Footprint Chronicles was launched in 2007 and has been gaining momentum since — next up Patagonia are keen to develop the creation of a consumer facing index whereby you can find out instantly (before purchasing) the complete history of the item you are about to purchase — from farmer through to store.
They have entered into the food space with Patagonia Provisions tackling the food supply chain in the same way they have done with clothing.
And they have a fund called Tin Shed Ventures which they use to support start-ups helping solve the environmental crisis through business — this also helps Patagonia continually source new ways to improve their own supply chain.
All well and good for Patagonia you might say but how do established businesses who haven’t been operating this way even begin to change and become more responsible?
Vincent admitted it was much easier for businesses to operate in a responsible way from the very beginning. This in itself is a cautionary tale to any start-up who wants to be a responsible business ‘eventually’ but is looking to cut corners in order to make a profit quickly.
But for established businesses the process is much harder. When the question was asked by a member of the audience Vincent referred back to a story he had shared earlier in his talk regarding how Patagonia, early on in their existence, had shifted from conventional cotton to organic cotton. There was resistance from the supply chain and from internal members of the team. Customers hadn’t asked for the switch and it was going to be an expensive pain to implement so why were they doing it?
Patagonia decided to get the employees to experience the ‘reason why’ first hand. They visited a conventional and then an organic cotton farm. At the conventional farm they were instantly hit with a toxic smell like a laboratory. This was from the formaldehyde that was sprayed on the crops. There were no birds to be heard in the area, there was no other vegetation growing in and around the fields and the soil contained no worms or other visible fauna.
There was a marked difference when the team arrived at the organic cotton farm. Birds singing, vegetation of all sorts flourished, worms were plentiful in the soil and there was no chemical toxic smell.
The reasons for the change to organic cotton were clear and everyone was on board regardless of how expensive and painful the process would be.
Vincent’s story illustrated a number of challenges and opportunities that exist when a business is wanting to make changes to become more responsible.
- Intent is everything
- If it’s important to you, you do it — not because there is a business case supporting it
- And you may suffer a temporary loss in profits and margins — as Patagonia did
2. Be aware of different expectations and needs.
- There are a number of parties that need to be part of and buy into the change
- Supply chain, employees, customers
3. Experience leads to empathy.
- To understand ‘the why’ you sometimes need to experience it
4. The people and partners who believe in what you want to do will become long term supporters.
5. Spend time focussing on important, long term goals as much as short term urgent needs
- Delayed rewards tend to be more satisfying than instant gratification
Safe to say it was an inspiring talk for everyone there — it will be interesting to see how many businesses take the next step or even first step towards becoming a responsible corporation worthy of the B Corp status — hopefully quite few! As Vincent so eloquently put it…
“When large companies do good things the scale of impact can be huge” Vincent Stanley, Director of Philosophy at Patagonia
Originally published at https://www.linkedin.com on September 27, 2017.