I've long been an admirer of Patagonia. They produce top-shelf outdoor gear and have probably the sickest print catalogs in the world - visually stunning and loaded with interesting editorial content, plus all the fantastic gear-browsing. (My only knock on Patagonia is the sorry state of its website. Google-friendly, it is not!)
Yvon Chouinard (pictured at right), founder of Patagonia, is unique in the world of business because he puts environment ahead of profit and growth. An interview with Yvon is available in the July 2007 issue of Mens Journal, and some of his comments were striking. For example ...
Mens Journal: But global warming is a "hoax."
Yvon: Well, I tell you, these people who say we have 10 years to turn it around - you know what? It's too late. And I see it. Oh, my God, it's unbelievable.
Mens Journal: What have you seen?
Yvon: I've been going up to British Columbia for 30 or 40 years, and all the little pocket glaciers on the coast range have receded. They have withered down to two-thirds the size of what they were. And you can see it very dramatically because you can see the lichen line. It's pretty serious. I think British Columbia's going to lose all the salmon streams as a result, because they've done everything wrong. They've clearcut all the rivers, so there's no shade. And those little pocket glaciers are really important for trickling down cold water all summer long. Now the summer water temperatures are getting up in the 70s, which is death for salmon. So probably the only places in the world that'll have salmon are Alaska and Russia. I'm not talking 50 years from now; I'm talking right now. When I go salmon fishing I look at myself as witnessing the end of a species.
Mens Journal: You've made no secret of trying to wean Patagonia off oil. Is that in response to climate change?
Yvon: Outside of global warming, the end of oil is the biggest thing that's going to happen. It's going to happen within our lifetime. We're running out of petroleum. So to my management I said, "Okay, what is going to be our response as a company?" If we avoid talking about it, then we end up like General Motors and Ford, which have had their heads in the sand for so long. And there's Toyota laughing all the way to the bank. So we've made a commitment to make, by 2010, every single piece of clothing out of recycled and recyclable fibers. If we want to do something about global warming - Sweden and Iceland said no petroleum by 2020, zero - that's what you've got to do to really have an effective response. The idea of, Oh, well, we'll all be driving hydrogen cars and blah, blah, blah, you know, electric cars - well, it takes energy to produce that hydrogen and that electricity. It takes more energy to produce ethanol than you get out of it. If it weren't subsidized to death, nobody would be making gasoline out of it. And with people starving around the world - I mean, it's stupid to be making gasoline out of food. And having put in $2 million worth of solar panels that produce only 12 percentof the electricity that we use here at the headquarters, I know for a fact that that's not a very efficient system.
Mens Journal: You've just dismissed out of hand almost every alternative to fossil fuel there is. Do you have a better option to recommend, or is it really down to reducing consumption?
Yvon: That's the main thing we have to do. If we insulated all our houses and put in triple-pane windows and stuff like that, it would save a tremendous amount of energy, and it would stall the end of oil for a while. But ultimately we're going to have to go back to a very simple lifestyle, and it's going to be the end of globalism, basically. For us as a business it's pretty scary, because we produce organic cotton in Turkey, and then we shit it to Thailand to be made into cloth, and then it's cut and sewn in Mexico, then sent to Reno, Nevada, to the warehouse, and then shipped from the warehouse to our dealers and to our shops. Man, the transportation costs of that are going to be more expensive than the product in a very short time.
Mens Journal: You've been talking about the need for business to clean up its own act for years. Is it gratifying that others finally seem ready to change?
Yvon: It's amazing how quickly it's happening now. It really is. It's out there, that we need to act, and we can't wait for government. I get calls every day asking me to talk to this group or that group. I'm going to talk to United Artists next. A friend of mine at Fox Sports told me that even Rupert Murdoch told his staff they need to have a green plan. And what's interesting is that it's not a political thing; it's for different reasons. Some companies see that there's money to be made, but a lot of companies are realizing that global warming is deadly serious for the future - that there's money to be lost. Business people get that we can't wait for the government; it'll be too late. Even the states see that. So these companies, a lot of them have no idea where to start, so they look at us having been there, having taken the risk. But what we've always wanted to show is that it's not a risk to protect the environment. The risk is when you don't.
Yvon sounds quite a lot like James Howard Kunstler in these comments, but then again he seems to realize the market system is beginning to respond and change to fit the times. An interesting hybrid to be sure. I agree that there is not going to be a silver bullet fix to the peak oil problem. We'll use wind, solar, ethanol, biofuels, etc. But the biggest savings, as Yvon states, will come from conservation. The amount of waste in the system is staggeringly high. I think the pessimists underestimate the level of waste. Conservation will become hip and cool. Driving around in Hummers
will become dangerous to one's reputation and health. Patagonia is super-smart to be switching now to capitalize on this shift in psychology and mindset, and is lucky to still have Yvon around as a guiding light. What an interesting, inspiring leader.