A week or two ago on UCTV, Yvon Chouinard spoke about his book and his life and the development of his company Patagonia. If you can possibly watch it on the UCTV site you'll find it well worth your time.
First, it's amusing. As a child Chouinard felt very different from other kids. With good reason, I guess. At the age of twelve, he became interested in falconry. Men from a falconry club taught him to rappel down cliffs to capture falcons. (Let's set aside the ethics of that for a moment.) The experience led Chouinard to his interest in climbing and by the time he was eighteen he was hand-forging reusable pitons and selling them for $1.50 each. A great tale follows of his hippie youth and how climbing led to the search for suitable clothes and to making and marketing them.
Second, it's reassuring, even inspiring, to read how Chouinard's ethics and environmental awareness guided the growth of the company. The Patagonia website includes a section of environmental essays which "examines Patagonia's struggle to reduce the environmental harm we do as a business, as well as actions we can all take as individuals to lighten the tread of the human ecological footprint.." Patagonia's involvement with 1% for the Planet, The Conservation Alliance and Patagonia Land Trust illustrate the company's commitment to addressing environmental issues. Their pursuit of organic cotton and least toxic dyes has led to important advances in the field. And their donation of $18 million to environmental organizations is nothing to sneeze at.
Chouinard has been asked why they don't contribute to social causes. His response is that examining social issues, he finds that ultimately they spring from environmental problems. I haven't examined this position closely, but intuitively I think there's a case to me made for it. Chouinard's example is that with one in six women expected to face breast cancer, and given the incredible increase over just one generation, one would hypothesize environment causes. Yet of all the money, public and private, dedicated to breast cancer research, only 3% goes toward finding causes.
When I'm discouraged with the state of personal ethics in the world, which is most of the time, I find stories like Chouinard's comforting.