Monday, January 31, 2011

Book Review: Let My People Go Surfing

Let My People Go Surfing
Author: Yvon Chouinard

The Overview:
Just put me in the sunlight and call me a cat and I will purr all day about this book. I have no idea how to even summaries the awesomeness that was described on these pages. If only you could see the amount of yellow highlighter stained in this book...

Yvon Chouinard: rock climbing/surfing/outdoor junkie turned rockin' activist/business entrepreneur. Sometimes passions make us more responsible. Sometimes they make us crazy. In the case of Mr. Chouinard, his crazy is making me a little bit more responsible.
The Good:
Everything...but, perhaps a few key ideas might be nice inserted here.

I read this book because I happen to be obsessed with Corporate Social Responsibility. To me, the irresponsible use of power by big business has caused a lot of the social issues we see today and I dare say almost all of the environmental ones. Wealth is a hunger that can not be satisfied and Power is its dessert. But the eyes of Yvon Chouinard still see the trees, the mist, the sandy beach as something powerful and profitable. Profitable in the sense that his children, his grandchildren and those that come after that will still be able to live healthy, productive and satisfying lives...still be able to surf in clear waters, breath clean air, and use products that are conscience friendly. Chouinard birthed Patagonia, the company, out of necessity. He wanted to climb, but his climbing was destroying the rocks he so dearly loved. His passion turned into a need which turned into an awareness which turned into a responsibility which in turn is now a very profitable company. Today, the more responsible Patagonia tries to be, the more profitable they are too. It is a beautiful word, the prettier cousin to the word wealth...sustainability.

Get this...Patagonia has something they call "Let My People Go Surfing flextime policy"...if the waves are high they can go surfing. If the river is rushing they can put on their skirt and swipe their paddle. If they want to be home to see their kids jump off the bus they can do that do. They believe that happy and healthy employees are valuable, productive and committed employees. Hence the cafeteria that serves healthy, organic, mostly vegetarian food and the ability to use company time to participate in Patagonia's environmental program or start one of their long as their regular job gets done of course.

The 5 elements of Patagonia's Environmental Philosophy:
  1. Lead an examined life.
  2. Clean up our own act.
  3. Do our penance.
  4. Support civil democracy.
  5. Influence other companies.
The Bad:
He speaks harshly of Christians...but then again, so do I sometimes. Just because we believe in a second coming where everything will be made new again doesn't mean that us using up the world as fast as we possible can, will make Jesus come any sooner. I am quite certain that wasteful, disrespectful and irresponsible will not words used on the resume of a good and faithful steward. Christians are not known for being big time environmentalists, which makes me sad. Why not? Have you ever read an Anthony blog? Every other one is about nature's grandeur, its purity, and its soft whispers of peace. Grandeur, purity, peace...that sounds like a place to see God to me. Why would Christians not care about that?

The Memorable:
This book first explains the history of Patagonia and then dives into the individual policies that drive the company onward in their fight against a dying world and a profit hungry economy. Does that sound boring, perhaps, but it wasn't. The section on their financial philosophy was a highlighter killer for sure (No, I did not graduate as an accountant). Here is a quote:
We get approached by prospective buyers almost weekly, and their intent is always the same. They see an undervalued company that they can rapidly grow and take public. Being a publicly help corporation or even a partnership would put shackles on how we operate, restrict what we do with our profits, and put us on a growth/suicide track. Our intent is to remain a closely held private company, so we can continue to focus on our bottom line, doing good.
More good quotes (from other sections):
"At Patagonia the protection and preservation of the natural environment aren't just something we do after hours or when we finish our regular work; they're the reason we are in business. We'd have the same environmental philosophy if we were a cabinet shop, a winery, or a building contractor. I believe, as do most of our employees, that the health of our home planet is the bottom line, and it's a responsibility we all must share."
"Unfortunately, most of the environmental damage being done by business is the result of large corporations that aren't operating under the philosophy of sustainability, for either themselves or the environment. They're applying their own short-term business principles to a natural system that can operate only in the long term."
"No animal is so stupid and greedy as to foul its own nest–except humans."
"It takes twenty-five bottles to make a jacket, and from 1993 through 2003 we diverted eighty-six million soda bottles from landfills."
"...each time we tried to do the right thing for the environment, regardless of the cost to us, we ended up saving money."
The Recommendation: 
I loved it. I hope that you would too, but I won't be that bold to assume such a thing.


chelsea said...

your passion is obvious. that's a good thing.

Anthony said...

Thanks for the shout out JT. I also now have this book on my bookshelf. It is in queue.

laSonya said...

I think I will pick up the book and give it a look through. It's kinda like you are an adult reading rainbow, I won't have looked at it otherwise.

Bjorn 2B WIld said...

i've been eagerly waiting to come across this book on some for that i don't have to pay for (i've fouled my nest in the mean time, haha). anyway, maybe i'll just buy it. i hope they use the proceeds to send a fresh shipment of ice to the polar icecaps...i suppose they can transport the ice on a diesel burning freighter. wait. are we winning.

Nicholas said...

i've been wanting to read this book for a long time too. and i agree with sonya about you being the adult reading rainbow.

Rene Low said...

Thanks for your review! I agree with you that it is an inspirational book and it has helped me shape my life so that when my two year old asks me the hard questions I can at least answer them with more internal examination.