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Reader’s Guide

the responsible company

What We’ve Learned From Patagonia’s First 40 Years

Yvon Chouinard & Vincent Stanley

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introduction In The Responsible Company, Yvon Chouinard and Vincent Stanley discuss the importance of the responsible company in our time. They assert that such businesses may be more vital than ever, as today’s world is characterized by a number of social and environmental crises including imperiled workers’ rights, flattened wages, decreased business transparency, and widespread environmental degradation. In light of these crises, responsible companies are those that embrace their social and environmental obligations and work to honor their commitments to stockholders, employees, customers, communities, and the natural world. The Responsible Company serves as an invaluable text for companies that are currently working toward becoming more socially and environmentally accountable and for those who wish to begin their journey. This reader’s guide was written for the many people involved in this important work, and the questions and activities within appeal to a wide audience including CEOs and business owners, employees, consumers, and students. It has four sections that both individual readers and groups can draw from: discussion and writing questions, thematic questions and activities, research topics, and a related reading section. Hopefully, this guide will serve as a valuable companion as you navigate your own journey and work to help businesses responsibly face the many environmental and social challenges of our time.


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Discussion and Writing Questions These questions can be used to inspire individual reflection or group discussion.

Chapter 01: What We Do For A Living


Why is our current industrial model no longer ecologically, socially, or financially sustainable?


Are you surprised to learn that cotton can be “as dirty as coal” (p. 3)? Why? Why not? Which materials commonly used in your line of work have massive environmental footprints?


Why do Chouinard and Stanley state that Patagonia, “if exceptional at all, is so only at the margins” (p. 4)? Do you believe your company to be exceptional? If not, why? If so, in what ways?


What do the authors mean when they use the phrase “responsible business”? According to them, what does it mean to be responsible? Is your company responsible in this sense? Explain.


“We are all still in the earliest stages of learning how what we do for a living both threatens nature and fails to meet our deepest human needs” (p.1). Reflect on what you do for a living (if you are a student, think about what you plan on doing). Do you believe your current or future work largely threatens or supports nature? Why?

6 “Jack taught us that any successful business strategy had to engage

the intelligence of the people on the floor as much as of those at the top” (p. 5). Does your company engage people on the floor as much as those at the top? How do you think your company can make such communication more common and effective?


On p. 6, Chouinard and Stanley list several questions that companies often hear from skeptical consumers. What kinds of related questions are you asked at your business? As a consumer, what questions do you direct at businesses?

8 According to the authors, how do socially responsible investments

currently perform?


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9 “Every company that thinks it’s a good guy or wants to be — Patagonia,

Interface, Stonyfield Farms, etc. — has to make room in our little clubhouse for old villains who now don a white hat for at least part of the working day” (p. 8). Do you agree or disagree with this statement? Why?

10 What is the LEED certification system? Are your company’s

buildings LEED-certified? If you are a student, take a look at the buildings on campus. Are they LEED-certified?

11 What is the Eco Index? Are there similar indexes that exist in your

industry? If so, how does your company measure up?

12 Describe the relationship that exists between Patagonia and

Wal-Mart. What could two such different companies learn from each other? What does their collaboration have to do with the Sustainable Apparel Coalition?

13 “As your company is responsible for everything done in its name,

so are your partners responsible for your part of their social and ecological footprint” (p. 13). What does this mean? Explain why this statement is important.

14 “Not everyone can satisfy his heart’s desire working for your company,

but everyone does want to feel useful at or, better yet, enlivened by what they do all day long” (p. 14). If you are a business owner, would you say most of your employees are enlivened by what they do? Why? Why not? If you are an employee, what makes you feel invigorated during your workday? If you are a student, how would you create a business that truly engages and enlivens your employees?

15 Why do Chouinard and Stanley limit their use of the word


16 “There are degrees of harm” (p. 15). What does this statement

mean? Why does it matter?

17 Patagonia includes the statement “cause no unnecessary harm”

in their mission statement. What sort of environmentally relevant language exists in your company’s mission statement? If none currently exists, what would you suggest adding?

18 As a consumer, do you feel you commonly engage with businesses

that support the health of the environment? If you are a student, do you feel your school supports the health of the environment? Why? Why not?


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Chapter 02: What Crisis?


The authors detail how the human body contains traces of many different chemicals. Have your business practices added to the many chemicals that are now so common in nature? How can you reduce or eliminate the use of these chemicals in your business?


Do you think many of our diseases are linked to environmental sources? Why? Why not?


What is eutrophication? How can it be prevented?


“Twenty-five years later we are using the resource capacity of one and a half planets, though the pattern of consumption is unequal” (p. 19). How is the pattern of consumption distributed? Why do you think this variation exists?


“But nature generates its changes at a much slower pace than we now allow her and in more complex ways than we can easily recognize” (p. 17). What does this statement mean? How does it relate to business?

6 What is globalization? In what ways is it largely responsible for

the larger ecological crisis described in this chapter?


Has your company contributed to the many ecological crises mentioned in this chapter? If so, in what ways? How can your company change course?

8 Who were the transcendentalist writers mentioned in this chapter?

Who were the Romantic writers, such as William Wordsworth, in England? What view of nature did both groups of writers express through their work? As a student, what sort of environmentallyfocused literature are you engaging with?

9 Are you surprised to learn that the U.S. (as of this book’s writing)

occupies the 61st position on the Environmental Performance Index? Why? Why not?

10 “In a 2011 poll, Pew Research Center reported that only 40 percent

of Americans considered protecting the environment a high priority, down from 63 percent ten years earlier” (p. 22). How do you explain this change? Why don’t more Americans care about protecting the natural world? What are the related attitudes of those around you?


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11 Do your actions as a business person indicate that you reject the

“official story told by governments and corporations that a healthy economy relies on the suppression of social, ecological, and individual health” (p. 22)? What about your actions as a consumer and/or student? Explain.


Chapter 03: The Responsible Company In Our Time

“Nor does it mean that a new, happier age of more responsible capitalism is at hand” (p. 23). Can capitalism ultimately be “responsible”? Is perpetual consumption and growth compatible with the form of environmental and social responsibility discussed in this book?


According to Chouinard and Stanley, how have responsible companies changed over time?


“As of this writing, two-thirds of the U.S. economy relies on consumer spending” (p. 26). Does this figure surprise you? Why? Why not? What are the environmental consequences of this degree of consumption?


“Much of what we produce to sell to each other to earn our living is crap…” (pp. 26–27). As a business person, do you feel you produce goods that could be described as “crap”? Are these goods truly essential? As a consumer, what sort of products do you typically purchase? Are they vital to you, or would you describe them as frivolous purchases?


“Every piece of crap, because it was manufactured, contains within it something of the priceless…” (p. 27). What is “the priceless”?

6 Do you believe we are transitioning to a post-consumerist society?

Why? Why not? What would such a society look like?


How has increased productivity actually harmed workers?

8 “We need to make less, and whatever we make should be of high

quality and long-lasting to better offset its social and environmental price” (p. 28). Does this statement mirror or contrast your company’s approach? Explain. What about your behavior as a consumer? Do you typically buy products that are long-lasting and of high quality?

9 What is a stakeholder? According to the authors, who/what are the

four key stakeholders?


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10 According to the authors, what does the responsible company owe

its employees, customers, community, and nature? Are there other things you believe a responsible company owes these entities? Overall, do you believe your company is currently honoring its obligations to these stakeholders? Explain.

11 What is the Precautionary Principle? Why does it matter? 12 What are the key issues facing the responsible company during

the next fifty years in relation to its stakeholders? Which issues particularly strike you? Why?

13 What is the “triple bottom line”? Why does it matter? 14 “Companies, not individuals, generate 75 percent of the trash that

reaches the landfill or incinerator” (p. 33). Is your company particularly wasteful? What steps can your company take to reduce the amount of waste it generates?

15 “It is essential to decouple the definition of economic health from

economic growth in the use of materials and energy” (p. 33). What does this mean? A related question: what is a “circular economy”?

16 What is one “responsible” change you can make as a student,

consumer, and/or business person after reading this chapter?

Chapter 04: Meaningful Work


What kinds of people work for Patagonia? What sort of employees does your company attract? If you are a student, think about your future career. What types of people do you want to work with? Why?


What is “ordinary human excellence” (p. 40)? How does your business cultivate this?


Why did Chouinard Equipment abandon the production of hardsteel pitons? Why was this a risk? What can you learn from this story?


Chouinard and Stanley write that in their early days, they “did not see what was happening at home” (p. 43). Are you aware of the health status of your immediate environment? What are you doing to promote its health?


What is meaningful work to you? According to the authors, what makes work meaningful?


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6 What lessons did the authors learn from Mark Capelli? 7

What are the advantages of on-site childcare? Do you provide this service at your business? If not, how can you do so? If you are a worker, how can you lobby for on-site childcare at your company?

8 What is 1% for the Planet? Is your business a member? If not, what is

stopping your business from joining this alliance or another like it?

9 The authors outline a number of environmental initiatives embraced

by Patagonia. What are you most struck by? Which ideas can you incorporate in your own business?

10 What does it mean for a business to lead an examined life? Does your

business lead such a life?

11 What is the “horrific story” of cotton? 12 Overall, what did Patagonia learn from their “cotton odyssey”?

What have you learned from this story? As a consumer, are your garments made from organic or non-organic cotton?

13 What is a CSR (corporate social responsibility report)? Does your

company have one? If so, what does it reveal?

14 What is the Footprint Chronicles? Why did Patagonia create it?

What improvements did it lead to?

15 Are the people who manufacture your company’s products treated

fairly, paid legally, and provided decent working conditions? As a consumer, do you purchase from companies that treat their workers, at all levels of the supply chain, responsibly? How do you know?

16 What is the “cradle-to-cradle thinking of architect William

McDonough” (p. 61)? How does this relate to Patagonia’s Common Threads Initiative? As a consumer, do your consumption habits reflect “cradle-to-cradle” thinking?

17 Those of us who work have three large social roles to play” (p. 64).

What are these roles? Do you believe you are honoring the responsibilities inherent in each role? Explain.

18 Overall, what lessons about meaningful work have you learned

from this chapter? If you are a student, how will these lessons influence your pursuit of a career?


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Chapter 05: The Elements Of Business Responsibility


“It is a myth that taking better care of people and nature is at odds with business excellence. But what if your boss believes that?” (p. 68). What if your boss does believe this myth? How can you encourage him or her to embrace more environmentally and socially responsible practices?


If you are a CEO or owner who wishes to move the company in a more environmentally and socially responsible direction, how do you bring along those around you?


What are the “three steps of greening” discussed on pp. 68–69?


“The poet William Stafford once wrote that no poem should begin with a first line the reader can argue with” (p. 70). How does this statement relate to the effort to move a company in a more responsible direction?


Access the two checklists listed on p. 68. How does your company measure up?

6 “You’ll need the support, early on, of company heroes at various

levels in the hierarchy who are held in respect for their wisdom or competence or both” (p. 71). Who are several “company heroes” who could assist you in your work of changing the company? How could you approach them?


What is CSV (Creating Shared Value)? Why is it important?

8 Assigning value to the priceless or quantifying the numberless

presents risks of its own, similar to that of determining the quality an education on the basis of test scores exclusively” (p. 73). What are your thoughts on this statement? What are the risks of “quantifying the numberless”?

9 How did the Industrial Revolution abstract workers? What are the

consequences of this?

10 In what ways can your company develop cross-departmental

friendships and cross-departmental intelligence? How can you, as an employee, contribute to this development?


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11 “Our emergency plan for a downturn of any magnitude now is

to cut the fat, freeze hiring, reduce travel, and trim every type of expense except salaries and wages” (p. 76). What is your company’s emergency plan? How would you handle a significant downturn while being responsible to your workers?

12 “Second, your company should romance, but not bullshit, the

people whose business it solicits” (p. 77). In this respect, how do romancing and bullshitting differ? Which approach does your company currently embrace?

13 “Every company needs to ask itself: If you do business around the

world, where are you local? And what are your obligations to those places you call home?” (p. 80). Answer these two questions.

14 “Reducing travel is an environmental necessity that, in the long

run, will affect business communities” (p. 81). In what ways can you reduce the travel of both people and products in your business? How would this reduction affect related business communities?

15 According to the authors, what are your company’s three respon-

sibilities to nature? Is your company currently honoring all three? Explain. As a consumer, think about the companies you most often transact with. Are these companies honoring the three responsibilities to nature?

16 “Our economy depends on nature, not the other way around, and

companies will destroy the economy if they destroy nature” (p. 82). What are your thoughts on this statement?

Chapter 06: Sharing Knowledge & Chapter 07: Where To From Here?


Is your company’s factory list shared? Why? Why not? Do you believe it should be?


What lessons can you take away from this chapter’s discussion of Patagonia’s efforts to become a more transparent company?


“Transparency is the primary contemporary virtue for all responsible businesses” (p. 85). Why is transparency so important? How transparent is your company? In what ways can its transparency be improved?


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“We advocate a combination of steady improvements with the occasional, breathtakingly bold move to keep everyone awake and motivated to show leadership that reflects well on everyone in the company” (p. 92). What are your thoughts on this approach?


“Even if you work in a conservative company, ask yourself, what are my social and environmental responsibilities and possibilities here?” (p. 92). Answer this question. In what ways can you act on them? If you are a student, consider the social and environmental responsibilities and possibilities that exist in your life.


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Thematic Questions and Activities This section features a variety of questions and activities that connect with several of the book’s central themes.

Responsibility to the Health of the Business and its Workers


“In 1994, consultant John Elkington coined the phrase ‘triple bottom line’ (TBL), which measures indicators of social health (defined as human capital) and the planet (natural capital), as well as profit (capital)” (p. 72). Scrutinize your company through the lens of the “triple bottom line.” While your company may be fiscally healthy, does it also support the health of human and natural domains? If not, how exactly does your company need to change in order for it to become truly healthy? Plan your approach, educate and organize fellow workers, and cause change.


Search the Fair Labor Association’s (FLA) website (http://www. to see if your company (if applicable) participates. If it is not listed, seek out relevant personnel in your company and find out why. As a consumer, search the FLA website for your favorite brands. If they do not participate, contact them and investigate why. Lastly, if you are a student, search the website and see if your college is FLA affiliated. Use your power as a worker, consumer, and/or student to advocate for fair labor practices.


Take a close look at your company’s mission statement. As currently written, does it indicate a commitment to reducing social and environmental harm? Does the mission statement reflect the values and practices of a healthy, responsible company? If not, work with others in the company and rewrite it. Perform an online search and examine the mission statements of several socially and environmentally responsible companies to help provide inspiration for your own. If you are a student, use this activity to help you practice constructing responsible mission statements.


Visit B Lab’s website ( and investigate how your company can become an accredited “B Corporation.” According to their website, B Lab is a nonprofit organization that offers B Corporation certification to companies that “meet the highest standards of verified, overall social and environmental performance, public transparency, and legal accountability.” To begin the accreditation process, take the “B Impact Assessment” at


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Responsibility to Customers and the Community

• U  se a website such as to start an online petition. • Write op-ed articles and send letters to the editors of local newspapers. • Staff an information booth to inform the campus/outside community about the issue. • Use free resources such as Wix (, Weebly (, or Google Sites ( com) to design a website related to the issue. Promote the website through social media in order to publicize the issue and connect with other activists. • Use free resources such as Canva ( or Google Docs ( to create engaging fliers and brochures to be distributed to the public. • Screen related films to the community and follow up with audience Q & A. • Use social media to organize public demonstrations.


Whether you view yourself primarily as a business owner, worker, consumer, or student, you can support your local community through activism. To begin, group up with several other like-minded individuals and get organized. Next, select a local environmental issue that would benefit from your group’s activist efforts. Research the issue to determine the history of the problem, its main contributors, ways to address the issue, and other important items of information. Finally, take action. Some suggested forms of activism include:


Pursue LEED certification. LEED certification indicates a commitment not only to the well-being of the larger natural world but also to the health of the local community. LEED-certified buildings use less energy and water, decrease greenhouse gas emissions, and support the health of their occupants. Visit the U.S. Green Building Council’s website ( to learn more as you seek LEED certification for your company’s buildings. If you are a student, contact relevant college personnel and encourage them to pursue LEED certification for campus buildings.


As a consumer, scrutinize your consumption habits. Are your habits supportive of the environmental health of your local community? For example, do you strive to limit your travel and decrease fuel usage? Do you purchase long-lasting, recyclable products, or do you consistently buy disposable products that add to the local waste stream? Do you purchase products containing harmful chemicals that leach into the local water supply? Selfassess and identify two-three specific consumption habits you can change immediately.


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Examine your company’s communication with customers. Is your company sufficiently transparent? Does your company communicate, in detail, the social and environmental impacts of its products and services? If this information is insufficiently communicated, work with others to improve communication avenues and provide customers with detailed information regarding the social and environmental choices they make as a result of their transactions with your company.

Responsibility to Nature


“As men and women we are part of nature. If we were to have no experience of wild nature, or no way to know of it, we would lose entirely our sense of human scale. We derive our sense of awe from our ability to feel nature’s force. We better know ourselves when we come face to face with the magnificence of the unknown” (p. 21). Use this activity to help remind yourself of your (and your company’s) connection to the natural world. To enhance this activity, have other members of your company participate as well. To begin, locate a natural setting that is unscathed by human activity. Spend some time in this location and answer the following questions in writing while you are there:

• W  here are you? • What do you notice about your surroundings? What does each of your senses reveal? • What living organisms do you notice? • How do you feel in this setting? • Compare/contrast this location with your daily surroundings.

Come together with other members of your company and share and discuss your writing. What similarities and differences do you notice? After spending time in nature, what obligations do you think you and your company have to it? Finally, how does your identity (and your company’s collective identity) stem from your connection to the natural world?


“The need to use less energy and generate less waste will in turn require companies to conduct life-cycle analyses (LCA) of their products. The LCA teaches a company how to reduce the environmental impact of its products from their origins as raw materials (derived from water, the soil, or underground) through their manufacture, useful life, and eventual disposal” (p. 33). Perform a life-cycle analysis of select (or all) company products (Chouinard and Stanley suggest that you focus on the products that


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constitute 80 percent of your business). To prepare for the analysis, look online to learn more about LCA approaches, and search for examples of life-cycle analyses performed by other companies. The Life Cycle Initiative’s website ( is a great place to start. 3

Consider purchasing offset products to balance your business’ environmental impact. The Bonneville Environmental Foundation ( offers a number of environmental offset products to balance greenhouse gas emissions, water use, and electricity use. Specifically, they offer Carbon Offsets, Renewable Energy Certificates, and Water Restoration Certificates. Visit their website and consider these options for your company.


Calculate your personal Ecological Footprint by using the Global Footprint Network’s Footprint Calculator (http://www. If you are a small business owner/employee, estimate your business’s carbon footprint by using the CoolClimate Network’s Small Business Calculator ( What do these calculators reveal about your relationship to nature? Based on the results, what can you (and your business) do to become more environmentally responsible?


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Research Topics These topics provide individual readers and groups with opportunities for extended investigation and analysis. 1

“We intend our checklists as points of departure. They give you an idea of the range of what can be done to make a difference — from removing the water pipe of a urinal to using recycled wallboard to taking back your used-up products to be recycled. Start with some kind of assessment of what you presently do to minimize your energy and water use and waste. Adapt the checklists to your priorities” (p. 83). The checklists featured in the book’s appendix serve as invaluable tools as your company begins the process of “self-research.” To begin, choose a checklist and allow it to guide your related investigation. As you research, be sure to celebrate the boxes you can check off while you identify areas to improve. Note that a digital version of the checklists is located here: http://www.


Perform research and locate several companies that you believe are socially and environmentally responsible. What makes these companies responsible? Which responsible values and policies support their operations? What are their mission statements? What similarities and differences can you locate? In what ways do these companies honor their obligations to the stakeholders discussed in the book? Perhaps most importantly, what can you learn from these companies and bring to your own?


On p. 5, Chouinard and Stanley mention “innovations in participatory corporate control (i.e., listening to front-line employees) and open-book management.” Perform research to learn more about these forms of management. What are they? What are some companies that practice participatory corporate control and open-book management? What are the associated advantages and disadvantages?


“We have altered nature” (p. 18). Chapter 2 features a compact yet powerful discussion of some of the ways human beings have altered the natural world. Choose one human behavior (the use of industrial chemicals, the production of greenhouse gases, etc.) and explore it in detail. What is the history of your chosen behavior/ practice? Who/what are the central contributors? What can be done to reverse course (consider policy changes, regulations, changes to business practices and behaviors of citizens, etc.)?


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Related Reading These works relate to The Responsible Company and its many themes and subjects.

Let My People Go Surfing By Yvon Chouinard

The Wealth of Nature: Economics as if Survival Mattered By John Michael Greer

The Upcycle: Beyond Sustainability — Designing for Abundance By William McDonough and Michael Braungart

Cradle to Cradle: Remaking the Way We Make Things By William McDonough and Michael Braungart

Ecological Economics: Principles and Applications By Herman E. Daly and Joshua Farley

Deep Economy: The Wealth of Communities and the Durable Future By Bill McKibben

Force of Nature: The Unlikely Story of Wal-Mart’s Green Revolution By Edward Humes

World on the Edge: How to Prevent Environmental and Economic Collapse By Lester R. Brown

The B Corp Handbook: How to Use Business as a Force for Good By Ryan Honeyman

The Ecology of Commerce: A Declaration of Sustainability Revised Edition By Paul Hawken


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About the Author of This Guide Chris Gilbert is a former high school English teacher and current doctoral student who lives in the mountains of North Carolina. He is also an avid writer. His work has appeared in The Washington Post’s education blog, “The Answer Sheet,” NCTE’s (National Council of Teachers of English) English Journal, and he has also written a number of resource guides for Penguin Random House and Patagonia. He is a 2013 and 2015 recipient of NCTE’s Paul and Kate Farmer Writing Award.

Copyright © 2017 Patagonia Works

The Responsible Company Reader’s Guide  

In The Responsible Company, Yvon Chouinard and Vincent Stanley discuss the importance of the responsible company in our time. Hopefully, thi...

The Responsible Company Reader’s Guide  

In The Responsible Company, Yvon Chouinard and Vincent Stanley discuss the importance of the responsible company in our time. Hopefully, thi...