“Every company is already at work,” write Yvon Chouinard & Vincent Stanley in The Responsible Company, “to dismantle a creaky, polluting, wasteful, and increasingly expensive industrial system.” Here’s hoping! Naturally some are trying harder than others, like Patagonia which Chouinard founded with his trusty co-author by his side. Their book is a slim, spirited guide to doing the right thing, a sort of Hippocratic Oath for producers in the consumerist economy. If as a society we cannot cure our bottomless desire for more and more cheap stuff – and if indeed corporations will forever chase growth and ever higher earnings-per-share targets – then the only healthy path forward is the one where the collective we no longer take more from nature than can be replaced. Our assignment (should we choose to accept it) is a procurement two-step: stop buying crap while making positive, incremental changes in building sustainable processes.
A book such as this cannot avoid being somewhat preachy and the cynical reader might view it as a bound collection of humble brags (printed on 100% post-consumer waste recycled paper – duh). No matter. When you exceed $1B in annual revenue while making sustainability a guiding edict, surely pontification is a right well earned. The authors recognize subservience to stockholders as a harsh reality for many but admonish that we ought to be more beholden to stakeholders: employees, customers, communities, and nature. Effective business leaders accept that “stockholders still get first dibs and last, but their return relies on the cooperative productivity of the other groups.” In summary, to employees be attentive and open; to customers, transparent and accountable; to the community, supportive and philanthropic; and to nature, thoughtful and regenerative. If you’re seeking a place to start, ensuring that your team looks forward to clocking in to perform a meaningful role at a living wage in a welcoming environment seems an appropriate leaping off point.
Among other memorable nuggets, Chouinard & Stanley opine that historical 3% GDP growth cannot be sustained without further trashing the planet. Too much of the garbage we load up on in a 70% consumption economy is made of “something taken from a forest or a river or the soil that cannot be replaced faster than we deplete it” and just do the existential math while Mother Nature’s pocket watch is tick-tick-ticking away the moments that make up a dull day. Particularly helpful is an Appendix jammed with checklists covering business health to energy conservation to water & waste reduction. Doubtless the Travel and Commuting tip suggesting that videoconferencing facilities “work properly and that employees are trained in their use” will spark more pandemic-era eye rolls than appreciation. Alas. It’s a useful call to arms with perhaps only one omission: A Breakroom Shitheads Clause. At the risk of making a presumptuous overstep, I’ll take a shot at it. “Dear Breakroom Shitheads, plz learn to compost n’ recycle. Thx.” Feel welcome to use it for your company’s Step One toward sustainability.