Business and Sustainability

At Patagonia a view towards social outcomes, rather than charitable giving, drives bottom line results

YvonChouinard_DoGoDoSomething-700x418A legendary climber, surfer, entrepreneur and environmentalist, the story of Yvon Chouinard, founder of Patagonia, starts with the design, manufacturing, and distribution of rock-climbing equipment in the late 1950s.

By 1964, he produced his first mail order catalogue and by the end of the 1980s had built a very successful outdoor apparel company.

In the early 1990s however, after years of overambitious growth, the company was in turmoil. Chouinard recounts in a 2012 Wall Street Journal article that credit was cut off and the company was forced to make its first ever layoffs of 120 employees — one-fifth of its workforce.

Chouinard began to wonder whether he should quit. He went to a famed consultant who recommended he sell Patagonia for US$100-million and use the proceeds to do environmental good. “I seriously considered it,” Chouinard says.

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Keep the spotlight on the the true hero – 3 tips for telling your sustainability story.


It’s tempting enough for brands to want to talk about themselves – even truer when they are doing something good.

In today’s radically transparent social business marketplace, the reputation of a company extends way beyond its marketing to include its supply chain, manufacturing processes, employee treatment and customer engagement.

Likewise, full circle sustainability requires that companies overhaul how they source their ingredients, manufacture and distribute their products, and manage the waste they generate. Both of these realities place higher demands on time-poor executives and entrepreneurs, yet too many fail to recoup the costs of such efforts because they don’t share their sustainability story effectively.

In fact, almost all companies are guilty of three key mistakes that mean these investments of time, money and energy never build their brand or bottom line.

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Have companies forgotten how to create genuine wellbeing? Do old marketing tactics miss the mark?

Genuine-stamp-GreenEarlier this month at the Sustainable Brands conference in San Diego, gDiapers CEO, Jason Graham-Nye said: “I think sustainability is like fight club. The first rule of fight club is don’t talk about fight club. The first rule of sustainability is the word is so dead.”

And he’s not alone. In one of the conference events, Raphael Bemporad – co-founder and chief strategy officer at BBMG and Tensie Whelan, president of Rainforest Alliance – presented a new report entitled The New Sustainability Narrative, which tries to address the following problem:

“Sustainability doesn’t mean anything real to consumers. Too often, it brings to mind technical issues or seemingly insurmountable environmental challenges.”

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A disconnect between marketers and consumers: Paul Pohlman of Unilever shares his thoughts.

Unilever Paul PohlmanLast month, Unilever CEO Paul Polman was in New York – to receive the Lifetime Achievement award from the Rainforest Alliance. As Rainforest Alliance President Tensie Whelan put it, “Paul has made several lifetimes of difference by leading Unilever to become a game changer.”

The company’s work with the Rainforest Alliance is well known – by setting targets like sourcing 100 percent of its palm oil sustainably, Unilever has made it easier for other companies to follow suit and helped complex supply chains become comfortable with change and collaboration.

And, the company hasn’t stopped at palm oil.

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Unilever’s corporate challenge: make a positive contribution or perish

Dove’s Campaign for Real Beauty, encouraging women to love themselves for who they are, is embedded in all the company's campaigns and messaging.

Dove’s Campaign for Real Beauty, encouraging women to love themselves for who they are, is embedded in all the company’s campaigns and messaging.

In the 1890s, Lord Lever, founder of Lever Brothers, wrote down his idea for Sunlight Soap — a revolutionary new product that would help keep England clean. His mission was to make cleanliness commonplace, so that people maintained better health, women had less work and in turn, life could be more enjoyable. His desire to make money while improving people’s lives translated into uncommon acts for a wealthy businessman in the late 19th century, namely: improving working conditions, promoting better hygiene, and helping reduce infant mortality rates.

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