The Real Organic Podcast, Episode #018
Vincent Stanley: The Power of Private
Companies Working to Protect Earth
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Dave Chapman: Welcome to the Real Organic Podcast and I am speaking today with Vincent Stanley. I’m very pleased. Vincent spent a long time part of the Patagonia management. I think he probably was with Patagonia before there was such a thing as management, when it was just a small team back in 1973. He has served as head of sales and of marketing and is the co-author with Yvon Chouinard of The Responsible Company: What We’ve Learned from Patagonia In Its First 40 years. So welcome, Vincent. How did you come to be a part of Patagonia? How did that happen back in the day?
Vincent Stanley: You know, I came to Patagonia in a kind of odd fashion. I was not a climber. When we hadn’t started Patagonia yet, it was still Choiunard Equipment, mountain climbing equipment. And Yvon Chouinard’s my uncle. I had been involved in alternative education and went to an experimental high school that I helped run and then I edited a magazine. And then all of a sudden, after all that brilliant start to my career, at the age of 28, there’s a recession. I’m working in a car wash in January in Southern California when it’s raining. I’m working for about two hours a day for $1.50 an hour. So my grandmother who English was her second language, sent me a postcard with a long run-on sentence that said:I hear your hard up. Why don’t you ask your uncle for a job?
I hear he pays his men $3 an hour, right? So I thought, well, that’s… I loved Yvon, he had been my childhood hero. He’s about 13 years older than I am. And I remember as a kid in San Francisco, he and his friends coming through town from Yosemite and sleeping in the backyard with their sleeping bags They were bearded they were physically fit. They were very strange animals for an urban kid in San Francisco in 1959 or 1960. And I loved the equipment he made, even though I didn’t use it. I thought it was beautiful. I loved the quality and the whole idea of the climbing world. So I asked Yvon for a job and I couldn’t get $3 an hour. That was for the master hammer builders for the trained craftsman. But I typed invoices, did accounts receivable, bookkeeping and shipped boxes. And that was the start of it. And then the career quickly advanced because I was not a surfer. So I tended to be the last person in the office when the waves were firing and I would answer the phones to take the orders. And Yvon tapped me on the shoulder and said, how’d you like to be sales manager? And I said, what’s that? And he says, I don’t know, you figure it out. So that’s how we got started.
Dave Chapman: That’s wonderful. I mean, really, you all had no idea what you were doing. It was really just doing something really for the joy of it and playing. I think that’s marvelous. So, so what was it like? Was it a big transition to Patagonia from the Chouinard tool company?
Vincent Stanley: It was interesting how we got into the clothing business because Chouinard Equipment had a reputation as the best climbing equipment in the world, and we probably had 70% of the market share. And this was a global business. We had climbers coming through all year long just to visit and to talk. We had people working from all over the world, a global business with sales of less than a million a year. And it was a world of a maximum of three degrees of separation because everybody we sold to was a friend, a friend of a friend, or a friend of a friend of a friend. So there weren’t opportunities – and the investments were huge and tools and dyes to make the gear. So the idea of getting into the clothing business, I think really came from Yvon’s best friend, Doug Tompkins, whose wife was a clothing designer.
He had already started a couple of companies in Hong Kong. He later started Esprit, so he had the contacts and we also sort of serendipitously in 1971 had gone into a department store in Edinburgh and looked at a rugby shirt and thought, this is fantastic for climbing. Because rugby shirts, you know, the players are literally trying to tear them off each other’s backs. So they’re really made super strong of tightly woven fabric, rubber buttons, tightly sewn. So he imported those and we started a little bit of a craze. It was like, it became a little fashion, this little company in Ventura shipping out these rugby shirts. So that gave him a taste for getting into the clothing business. And we used the contacts with Tompkins to develop the first three products. We came up with the name Patagonia, which was a celebration of Yvon’s trip of a lifetime in 1968, where he and Tompkins, and two others drove down to Patagonia, to the tip of Patagonia from Los Angeles.
You could still do that for a six month trip of climbing, surfing, and skiing. So that was the origin of the business. It was kind of serendipitous, but also, our aim was to support the climbing equipment company. We had no idea what we were doing. None of us had any management experience let alone experience in apparel. So it was really kind of touch and go for the first couple of years. I think we struck a hcord with our customers, the outdoor shops from the beginning. They liked the story. Backpacker ran an article saying what’s a blacksmith doing making clothes? And so we had a lot of goodwill and I think that helped us through the early years .
Dave Chapman: The business grew. When it started, in 1973 I think, was the first year of Patagonia, 73? How many people were in the company at that point?
Vincent Stanley: When I started at the company in March of 73 there were about 10 or 12 people, mostly men and mostly hammering out the gear. That year, we added..there’s a picture of us all on the porch at the end of December, 1973 and there about 23 of usincluding seamstresses. And the company really changed kind of overnight when we got into clothing. And then we also opened a retail store at the end of the same year.
Dave Chapman: Well, obviously the company grew up at, and I’m fascinated by the fact that you write The Responsible Company that there’s kind of a club of good guys, of companies that are known for trying to do something actually positive for the world beyond making money. And this is relatively unusual in the business world, although there’s a lot of lip service given to it. And I think that it’s true that Patagonia and [Dr.] Bronner’s and Nature’s Path and some of these companies really are different. And one of the things I noticed is that they’re all still privately held. They’re not public corporations. And I’m curious, do you have any thoughts about that? Do you think that it’s possible to go public and still retain that those values and that mission?
Vincent Stanley: You know, it’s an interesting question as to whether a company like Patagonia or some other companies, Dr. Bronner’s is very notable, could have done what we’ve done if we had been public corporations. And I think the answer is no. With some elaboration to that, a privately held company can take risks, apparent risks that a publicly traded company can’t. But we can do things that can then illustrate to publicly traded companies “Hey, this is possible, and it’s consistent. It’s good business as well as good for the planet or good for human communities. This is the learning process we went through. These were the difficulties.”
So you have now, for instance Danone, a French company with yogurt heavy on water, and a lot of baby food brands. Their North American subsidiary has become a B Corp. It’s the largest B Corp in the world $6 billion a year. And he is committed to his 17 subsidiaries of Dannone becoming B Corps. They are committed to taking the whole company B and they have the potential to do some really interesting work in agriculture. They’re not there yet.
Dave Chapman: Vincent, can I interrupt you for a minute because we’re going to have a very diverse audience and a lot of people don’t have any idea what a B Corp is. Could you explain that?
Vincent Stanley: Well, let me back up a bit, if you don’t mind. You know, when, when we got started in the clothing business, we had no intention of being a responsible company. Our idea of responsibility was really derived from being in the climbing equipment business where the customers are trusting their lives to the quality of your gear. When we looked in the 1970s at the environmental impact of what we did, we didn’t think about it. That was something you thought the government should take care of in terms of their regulations. We didn’t think about the impact of steel or iron for the climbing equipment we made, because we didn’t think we could influence that. We didn’t think about that for the fabrics we were using. And it was only over time that we discovered the implications, particularly of the fabrics we were using, especially with cotton.
We thought of cotton as this benign natural fiber. And it turned out to be among the four fibers we used: nylon, polyester, wool, cotton. Cotton was by far the most damaging because of the intense use of chemicals to prepare the planting, to fertilize them, too, and to add pesticides. So this was a gradual realization for us that we had the responsibility for using these chemicals, even though we didn’t use them ourselves, but we used fabrics that were made out of them. And did we have a choice? Could we go in and say, “listen, we don’t want to do this. We want to do it another way.” When we started to ask these questions, when we made the transition to organic cotton in the early nineties, nobody else was doing this. Some companies were doing small eco brands. They would take a very small part of their business and sort of do the right thing.
When I hired our first environmental manager in 1992, we had to hire somebody from the city of Irvine, because there was nobody with the title “sustainability”who knew how to do a life cycle analysis outside of the oil, chemical, and gas industries, where we weren’t likely to find someone. So the movement toward business feeling a sense of responsibility for its own actions has been gradually growing. Very different now than the seventies, and very different from the nineties. You now have a group of companies called B Corps, and the B stands for benefit. And it’s a movement of companies who want to take social and environmental responsibility for their actions. We submit to what’s called an “impact assessment” every three years, which actually is the only holistic look that we have at all of our practices. Everything from the ratio of pay of the CEO to the lowest paid employee, to whether we use permeable concrete for the parking lot.
So what’s happened is, you have a group of companies, a growing group of companies who are really looking at our own actions and also working together. We cooperate with Dr. Bronner’s in the creation of the regenerative organic standard. And then the question becomes, “can publicly traded corporations actually move into the space?” And I think the answer is yes, but they come afterward. In a way it’s much easier for privately held companies like ourselves and Dr. Bronner’s to say, “Hey, this is what we want to do.” And we’re free to do it. We, we don’t have the SEC saying, “how are you not meeting the needs of your shareholders by deciding you want to save the home planet?” But at the same time, when we do something and we can prove it out that it is actually good for the business or not harmful to the business, we pave the way I think for some publicly traded companies – not a lot of them so far -to look at what we’re doing and say, “Hey, they can do this. We want to do this”
Danone is a 26 billion Euro company. Lots of subdivisions, publicly-traded, based in Paris, and the CEO Emmanuel Faber said at a meeting, when he made his north American subsidiary – which is the largest B Corp in the world, $6 billion – when he successfully made that a B Corp, he said he was first inspired to take all Danone to B Corp status by Patagonia’s Don’t Buy This Jacket ad because it taught him that you could appeal to customers on the basis of values, as well as instincts. So they’re known as one big publicly traded company that can make a huge difference if it really changes its agricultural practices. Unilever is another company that is slowly making some of its subsidiaries B corps, and they’re experiencing that half of their growth and half of their profits are coming from the 10% of their brands that they label sustainable.
So a long answer to your question “can publicly traded companies do this?” The answer is yes. Can a privately held company go public and still do this? That I’m not so sure. I think that if you’re going to take a mission-driven company public, you’ve got to make sure that the rules of the road are established very well. I think you have to be a B Corp in the first place. That the investors who are buying in are buying in for your mission as well as for the opportunity.
Dave Chapman: So this is such an important conversation. First, let me just say to people who are listening, that The Responsible Company that you and Yvon Chouinard wrote together is a tremendous book. It’s very short and it’s very easy to read. I know that Ken Lorow said he ordered it by the caseload for the people in his green bank, just gave it to them and said, “Read this. This will help you understand what we’re trying to do.” So I agree, it was an important book. And I got it when I went to a Patagonia, cause I was in New York City visiting my son and I was cold and I needed to buy a coat. And I thought, well, I’m going to buy one at the Patagonia store because I support what Patagonia is doing. It was really that simple. And I went there and while I was there, I thought, “oh, great, a little book. ”
And I bought it and I was like, okay, this is a very important book. So it, it raises a lot of questions. And I think, you know, one of the things that is beautiful is it tells the story of the growing awareness of Patagonia as a company that in fact, they were involved with things that were to our world that they didn’t want to have happen, but how do you change it? And we’ll talk about cotton cause that’s so important, but I just want to say it really brings up the question of the Tragedy of the Commons Garrett Hardin’s book, which was, it was an essay it wasn’t a book. And which is that, you know, when we all work from our own personal self-interest and yet we share a common resource and we approach that resource as how-does-it profit-us-personally, the resource gets exhausted.
Whereas if we own it, then we have, it’s our private little piece of pasture. We’re more likely to take care of it in the long run and see that it’s something that maybe our children would inherit. And I think that the challenge that we face as a species now is that inextricably, we are connected to a commons. You know, it doesn’t matter if you just protect your little field that what somebody else does in their field is going to either doom the species or save the species. And this is the situation we find ourselves in. Would you agree with that?
Vincent Stanley: No, I agree with that. I’m not sure I agree with the conclusions of the Tragedy of the Commons. I think that there are other models you can look at. It’s indisputable, that is a tendency in that that is a possibility, but even in major cities, you, I know just an example in New Haven about a mile from Yale University, there’s a, a block of vacant lots, kind of deserted. Some people came in and started to put in an organic garden and the neighbors, it’s a very poor neighborhood there, they see these people working in the lots and doing some planning and they’re going, “what the hell are the people doing invading our neighborhood?” And they’re kind of suspicious, but then people start going in and then they start planning things. And pretty soon everybody in the neighborhood is kind of looking out for this space where they’re coming together to plant good food and to harvest.
So, I think there’s also the possibility to love the Commons as a place. Now, the national parks are not owned except by all of us in general, as pasture land was kind of commons in the 17th century. So I think that there’s a way to form an attachment to a place that is not owned. The American Indians didn’t practice.. They weren’t perfect in terms of their relationship to the environment, but they were a lot better than we were. And they had absolutely no sense of ownership of the land; that would have been a foreign concept to them. So I think there are other models. I think what we have to return to, what we’ve lost a lot with globalization, is a sense of place and a sense of protecting the places that we love and the places where we live.
I mean, I think most people don’t know in the place they live, where the water comes from, what’s the watershed, what are, you know, what are the local forests? What are the natural systems upholding? My expectation is that I turn on a light for electricity, or turn on a faucet and get water. And I think if we start to restore that sense and also to build, to rebuild local economies which we’ve let go in favor of globalization and chain stores, and you know, we’re highly reliant on a very highly networked economic system that doesn’t have much of a local component. And I think that needs to be stronger and that helps make people care about what they are and to preserve what they have. And nobody ever, human beings never had this effect on the world before. It’s cumulative where we can screw up everything at once. And I think we’ve started to understand that and experienced that. And I think we have the potential to change behavior.
Dave Chapman: There’s a story that I share sometimes. A friend of mine is a labor historian at Dartmouth and she attended the hundredth anniversary of the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory Fire. I don’t know if you’re aware about that? Yeah, In the Lower East Side, in New York. Big, big turning point in American labor history. When there’s a terrible fire in the garment district, and many people were killed because there were no safety provisions. Nobody could get out of the building. It was essentially locked and they died. And because of that and the pictures in the Lower East Side of bodies lineup on the sidewalk, there was a tremendous response from America. And another person who spoke at that with my friend who spoke at that was a labor activist from Sri Lanka. And she said, “you know, the same situation exists today. ”
And people are dying in fires every week in Sri Lanka, in unsafe working conditions. But because it’s so far from the markets, because we’re the market – the US is the market for this clothing that’s made there, that there’s this disconnection and people are no longer moved by what happens. And I think that this is such a powerful example of the dire downside of globalization, which is that when things happen far away and you reap the benefits, but you don’t pay the price. And, and so I think at Patagonia and The Responsible Company, you’ve really taken that on saying, “let’s look at this, well, let’s start talking about cotton” because you looked at cotton and everybody thinks cotton sounds great. It’s what’s stuck in the head of the Bayer aspirin jar. You know, it’s very clean and it’s natural. So what did you discover? You know, you make and sell a lot of clothing. What did you discover when you said “let’s understand about the cotton that we’re using”?
Vincent Stanley: You know, it was interesting. It was kind of shocking for us to find out that cotton was not benign. That it’s a natural fiber, but not a benign one. And it was totally accidental. We had opened a store in Boston and we had to shut it down three days later because our employees were getting headaches and stomach aches. So we called in an environmental engineer and he fixed the system, but we said, “what was the agent causing people to get sick?” And he said, “oh, that was formaldehyde off gassing from the cotton clothes stored in your basement.” And so that caught her attention. And we commissioned a study on the four fibers we use: wool, nylon, polyester and cotton were the big four expecting oil-based fabrics to be the worst environmentally.
It turned out to be cotton. And not the formaldehyde is a problem, but the big problem was the intense use of chemicals. Organophosphates to prepare the plants, that were developed as nerve gasses for WWI. And just a whole host of chemicals that just create havoc. One of the things we we did was to create a t-shirt line. We experimented a little bit and said, “okay, we’re going to use organic cotton.” It was still grown in China and Turkey. And there’s a cooperative in Texas we still buy organic cotton from because they lost a family member to cancer in the seventies, suspected spraying and went organic forever. And we decided, Yvon decided, listen, I, I don’t want to be in this business. I’ll get out of sportswear if we can’t make a switch to organic. And sportswear is about a third of the business
At that time. We did all our homework. We bought most of the organic cotton being grown in the San Joaquin valley. We learned how to pray for rain, we would have been wiped out if rain hadn’t fallen. But we hadn’t done enough homework. Cause what happened is that when we bought the cotton from the farmers, we broke our connection to the global supply chain. So the farmers had no relationship to spinners who turn the fiber into yarn and no relationship to the weavers and knitters who turn that into a fabric. So our people start to tell us, “listen, you know, I’ve gotta do everything I did last season. I’ve got to design the line, spec it, we’ve got to do the colors, take it to the major customers. And, oh, by the way I’ve got to find an entire new infrastructure to make cotton sportswear.
And we’ve got to raise the prices three to $5 on everything. Cause organic is more expensive and not a single customer’s ever asked us for this. So why are we the suckers? Why are we the martyrs? Can’t somebody else do that, play that role?” And what we did is we ended up – because the more we learn, the more we were convinced that we did not want to be using those chemicals – so we took people out to the cotton fields, 40 at a time on buses. And the first thing you notice when the buses got into cotton country was the smell of the organophosphates. You notice the absence of birds anywhere near a cotton field, that if you got out of the bus and put your hand in the soil, there was no life in it. It takes earthworms three years to come back. There’s no vegetation.
Basically you have an outdoor factory of the cotton plants held mechanically in place and dead dirt, no life to the soil, fed fertilizers, fed pesticides, fed enormous amounts of water. And then we take people at the end of the day to an organic field that didn’t smell like a factory that did have the presence of birds, that you could dig your hand in the dirt and it was soil. You could get a worm in your hand. And this was transformative for us because I think when people came back from those trips, they said “yeah, this is a yoyal pain. This is really hard for a business to do, but the company is doing the right thing and we’re going to make it happen.” And that transformed the culture of the company. I think because after that point, it’s almost, you know, if you’re a surfer, you want to surf a bigger wave. If you’re a runner you want to run faster, when you start to tackle some of the big environmental problems related to your business, you want to tackle the next big problem. So that was, it was huge for us to make that change.
Dave Chapman: I mean, certainly you had to raise the price of the clothing that was all organic. And as you say, there was no consumer demand for that at the time. You survived, though. Did you create that? Did that create the market? You know, I’m trying to figure out how you lead the change. We see that a change needs to come and, and, you know, honestly, Vincent, I am still stunned by the number of people I know who are in agreement with me about almost everything, but they won’t pay for an organic cotton t-shirt or an organic cotton hat. And I go, do you know what you’re supporting when you do that? Because it’s so easy to avoid that it’s so easy to look the other way and go, well, it’s a hundred percent cotton. So how do you create the change so that the business can survive?
Vincent Stanley: It’s been interesting. You know, we made the switch 25 years ago to organic cotton and business has not followed us. 1% of all cotton grown is organic. What has shifted in those 25 years is the adoption of BT cotton or GMO cotton which reduces the number of chemicals used, but does not bring the soil back to health and is going to be problematic over time. There’s a whole.. To change people’s perception, because yes, I’m wearing an organic cotton shirt, but I can’t tell the difference when I put this shirt on between this and a non-organic shirt. So that that’s one of the first steps. Andi think people have gotten so used to the idea of cheapness and convenience and consumer goods in food and in clothing. So clothing is much cheaper than it was in the 1970s.
If you account for inflation people buy twice as many pieces of clothing as they did 20 years ago. And they use them half as long before getting rid of them. So you’ve created an expectation. You’ve also created that in conventional, processed foods, where it’s much cheaper to feed your family on a Big Mac than it is on organic broccoli. We have to kind of change the expectation of what our experience is with the things that we eat or the clothes we wear and say, “okay, maybe I’m not going to have huge amounts of meat with every meal, but I’m going to buy a higher quality food that treats the land. One that’s more nutritious. I’m not going to have 50 hoodies in varying shades of orange and green. I’m going to have three or four well-made hoodies that are gonna last longer than anybody else’s.”
This is a different mentality. What we’re trying to encourage with customers, because I think in the world of fashion, that the moment of deepest erotic attachment to what you bought is the moment you hand your credit card over the counter, something that you wanted you now have, right? And we’ve been kind of fortunate because I think a lot of people love the Patagonia goods for what they were able to do in it, you know? Cause they were doing something they love in some places they love to go. So you build up the sense of experience. You know, we run the largest repair facility in North America for clothing and that’s because people don’t want to give things up. They want to keep them going and that’s the proper way to do it. So I do think with food, people care about their health. Mothers, especially, care about their kids’ health.
I think there we’ve got the way in, to change people’s experience of how they relate to the things they buy. Then clothing can follow. It’s hard to lead with clothing because people don’t see the same connection. And also, as you were mentioning, we have no sense of the global supply chain for clothing; where it comes from and how the workers are treatedand how the environment is treated. I mean, a few years ago the rivers in Vietnam were colored indigo from the dye, from the jeans factories. You had the Rana Plaza collapse a few years ago. You had just this year during COVID the apparel companies, the rich brands of Europe and the United States walked away from clothes that they had made and told the factories, “you keep it, we’re not paying for it.
You’ve made it for us, but we’re not paying for it.” And so there’s a kind of there’s no talk about moral hazard when you have no idea of what your purchase results in halfway across the globe. There’s no way for you to care. So it’s important, I think, to ramp up transparency and for people to understand what is the environmental report card for this product that I’m buying? As it is also important to build up for all of us, a sense of placeyou know, you don’t have to have a global supply chain to lose track of everything. I think people in cities have no idea what conditions are in rural America. And the degradation of both the economy and the landscape.
Dave Chapman: Yeah. Transparency is such a huge issue. Of course, that’s why the Real Organic Project exists, is that we’re struggling to get transparency and integrity in what people are getting when they buy organic. And you know, we’re very aligned with the regenerative organic certification in this, which is that people are often misled now. I mean, on a huge scale in, in the National Organic Program, they’re certifying on a massive scale, confinement livestock. The vast majority of the eggs and poultry that are certified organic in America are coming from confinement operations; chicken’s never been outside in its life,from cradle to the grave. And the same is happening in fruits and vegetables. You know, hydroponics has now become the norm in certified organic tomatoes and is rapidly becoming the norm in certified organic blueberries. And it’s going to be the norm in certified organic strawberries. You know, things are moving, peppers. And, you know, the slogan of the hydroponic producers was “everyone deserves organic” and what they were saying..
They’re very good at that. Andyou know, because it’s right, everybody does deserve organic. We agree with that. Of course. It’s just that, you know, just because you put a Volvo sticker on a cheap car, doesn’t make it a Volvo. And so the question is, as we deal with greenwashing, which I’m sure is something that you have thought a lot about,we want these big companies to come in. We want them to come. We want Danone to come in, we want General Mills to come in, but we don’t want them to come in and just change what they call it. We want them to come in and change how they do it. We want them to change how they farm. And so I do think that there is something that is always better. If something is produced regionally locally on a smaller scale, there is something that gets lost at a bigger scale. So we do our best. Some things are going to be bigger. Somethings are going to be smaller, but I’m just curious how you, how you deal with that conflict of there must be things that Patagonia has in fact led the way on. And other people have said, “that’s great, we want to be in that picture too,” but they haven’t actually changed what they do.
Vincent Stanley: What happens with standards is always a struggle. And I think Rodale’s which really helped develop thw certified organic program decades ago has been disappointed that it has not been a progressive project and it has not been continuously improved or defined. And there’s often a tendency with certifications to drag down the standard and to make it easier to achieve and cheaper to achieve. And it’s more prevalent. It’s well, it’s prevalent everywhere. We’ve had more success, I think, with clothing than agriculture. But with clothing, what we don’t have is a strong consumer facing index, which I think is going to come out from HIG index, sustainable apparel coalition next year, in which all the companies that are part of that, and a lot of big companies that are part of it. So you can take your cell phone up against a hang tag on a pair of Wrangler jeans, or Levis next to them, or Patagonia next to them and get a scorecard of the environmental and social impact.
Great. That would be a good system because everybody’s using the same methodology. You reduce the question of greenwashing, but I think with our dynamics, the challenge will be to make these distinctions. So you don’t want to drive Walmart back into using a lot of chemicals in carrots, but you don’t want people to think that Walmart carrots are the equivalent of what you’re getting at the farmer’s market. And hydroponics, okay, growing hydroponic tomatoes, is doing nothing for the soil. There has to be a growing knowledge base and a growing sense of distinctions. Which is natural for people over time to say, “okay, organic, everything is the same that’s organic.” Now let’s take a closer look. No, there’s a better way to go. The other thing I think that Yvon has been really strong on is that we need to connect; there’s a trifecta, we need to connect nutrition, taste and healthy soil. And if we can convey that those three things are equivalent, I think we’ve got a good way forward to bring more people along to recognize that regenerative organic standard is gonna make a big difference.
Dave Chapman: Yeah, I agree. It’s, you know, I see this tremendous opportunity in this tremendous problem and they’re woven together. And the opportunity that we should celebrate is that 35 or 40 million Americans are buying organic food regularly. And, you know, that’s progress. That really is, that they’re choosing to pay more because they want to support that kind of farming. They want to give their kids that kind of food. And at the same time, we’re seeing that they, I don’t know what to call it, accept the colonization of the National Organic Program by multinationals who are claiming the brand, but they’re not changing how they farm to align with those traditional practices. And that’s the lack of transparency. And you know, they’ve got a lot of power. Big corporations have a lot of power. And so. How do we, the people,et connected enough in order to find what we want and to get the transparency in the system so that we can buy the food that we want, support the systems that we should support, that we need to support.
Vincent Stanley: Absolutely. And there again, that’s where we need stronger distinctions and transparency. You’re going to bring people along probably a little too slowly. But it does take time to bring people along, but they have to, they have to be able to graduate from buying what they call an organic carrot at Albertsons to buying a real carrot at the farmer’s market. One of the things I’m kind of cheered by is when I go to the farmer’s market now I see people of all races and people of all income groups at the farmer’s market, whereas 15 years ago it would be all white folks with good jobs. So you know, I think it is growing in the right way.
Dave Chapman: Yeah. I see two kind of colliding forces in American culture right now. I’m curious what you think. One of the people I’ve interviewed for this is a man named Seth Godin. And I don’t know if you’re familiar with him, but he’s a writer and I really enjoy his thinking. He said that, when asked “well, what’s one of the big things that you think differently now than you did five years ago?” And he said, “five years ago, I was very inspired by the democratizing power of the internet. And I’ve come to see that there’s a very dark side to it. And it’s become used as a tool by the alt-right, it’s being used to mislead people. And with it, rapid growth of big data, you know, it’s.. People are getting better and better at telling us what they think we want to hear in order to buy what they want to sell us”. And,eah, you know, it’s a complicated thing. So I think with the internet, everybody has a microphone. And so somebody like me can get up and say something and actually thousands of people will hear it and listen, and we form communities that way. But at the same time,e all become a product for people who are good at figuring out how to mine that data.
I’m struck by the fact that you said that Patagonia made, I think a very courageous decision to sell only organic cotton products for cotton, and yet the industry hasn’t followed. It’s worked out for you; it was a risk, but customers did support it. Is that growing it? You know, will more people come to Patagonia because you’re the ones who are selling organic cotton, or is the awareness lagging far behind?
Vincent Stanley: You know, I think in apparel the awareness lags the awareness of organic food. And as I mentioned, I think the challenge is to come up with with better transparency for apparel so that people understand what goes into their clothes. But there’s also something else. I think that you need more people coming into the business who care. It’s interesting because I’m often asked when I talk about Patagonia or I talk about what we’ve done and people say, “well, give me the business argument for behaving better, for being more sustainable.” And I say oh yeah, Rick Ridgeway and I have talked about this, we’ve come up with nine. Sometimes we’ll come up with 18. So, you know:minimize reputational risk, you want to attract young people – intelligent, yet the best young people to come to work for you.
You want to drive innovation. There are all kinds of reasons, but ultimately what I’ve found is that people really start to do the right thing because they want to do the right thing and they’ll motivate the organization that they influence or that they work for in order to move in that direction. You know, I’ll give you an example. We mentioned the organic cotton story. And one of the complications we ran into is when we went there. So all of a sudden we have to find spinners because the farmers don’t know spinners. So we’re going all around the world and the spinners say “oh we hate organic cotton. We don’t want to work with this stuff. You got to clean your machines beforehand and afterwards, and it gums them up.” And we finally found somebody who, in Bangkok, who worked with us, it was a big spinning operation.
He figured out how to reduce the temperature for the machines and their operating. So it didn’t come to them. And afterwards, we asked them, why did you do this for us? Everybody else told us no. And he said, “ah, I guess I’m a closet environmentalist.” And I do think that one of the things will make a difference is people coming into the business who are really determined that they want to do the right thing. And I think that that’s a big secret in business because everybody wants to look so tough and so practical and so bottom line oriented, but the real motivation for change comes from your relationship to place, what you love to do, what your kids shame you into, shame you into doing – all kinds of things like that.
Dave Chapman: How can I suggested that we’ve never taken on the failures of capitalism, that we’ve talked about how to resolve the symptoms and, and we see this bad thing happens and that bad thing happens and not, and capitalism isn’t monolithic. There are many, many different kinds of capitalism, many different flavors, but I do think that there’s a thing where capitalism is the religion of our time. And so to suggest that maybe I should do something just because it’s better for the planet is it’s a certain kind of, it’s a very strange thing to say as a business leader and saying, I know that we’re going to lose money by doing this or make less money, but I think we should do it. And to mean it, to say that and mean it is a pretty daunting thing for a business leader.
Vincent Stanley: You know, it’s interesting. Cause I, I think that when people approach the idea of I’m doing the right thing in business to either minimize impact negative impact or to create positive, good, there’s a misconception. There’s a kind of conception of, there’s a compromise between, okay, we’re gonna, we’re going to do, we’re going to have a business and we’re going to do good. And those things are going to be intention and we’re going to kind of figure it out along the way and it’s not wrong, but it’s not good business. I, and I, and I think what’s happened for Patagonia is a kind of evolution from that tension maybe 15 or 20 years ago where we had, you know, the product people who are the go getters, you know, get that market share stay 10 years ahead of time, go up against the competitors.
And you have the tree huggers who are gone. We’ve got to stop doing this. We’ve got to do that. We’re given 1% of our, our our, our, our sales away. And then you have the finance people who are looking out and saying, you know make sure that all these idiots in, in the product and, and the tree huggers are, are, are not giving away all of the treasure. So, and nobody won, right? So the company kind of develops by a capillary action of all these forces kind of holding each other intention, but what happens over time? And I think what businesses need to do is, is the constraints that we placed on ourselves, which are big. You know, if I’m an ordinary sports company, I can go to the fit library in New York and choose from 500 fabrics, Patagonia, maybe 50, if that. So we put, we put big constraints on ourselves, but those drive innovation.
And that’s the potential, the CA the innovative capacity and business to meet the challenges of the time in terms of reducing environmental harm and also creating positive communities. That’s what business can do really well, much better than government or NGOs can. So what I see is this potential, make it, your make, make your values, your business model, build your business, derived on your values, rather than say, we’re building a business model and we’re not going to cross certain lines. It’s a much, it’s a much more dynamic way to do it. And it’s, and it’s a way to get all your stakeholders engaged from your employees, to your customers, to suppliers. And if you’re a company that has investors, which we aren’t get the right investors, don’t, don’t adjust your behavior because you’re getting in a bunch of money from Silicon valley that wants to climb out of the box five years later, with a, with a hundred percent return, don’t do that, you know, get, get people who want to do what you want to do. This is a small part in business we’re talking about, but it’s a part of, it’s the small part of business that needs to grow and businesses and natural system like anything else, you know, you, you, you, you, you, can’t kind of take over the monoculture and expect it’s going to behave differently. You, you, you need to plant things and cultivate them and harvest them and figure out how to do it better.
Dave Chapman: Yeah. It’s easy to get overwhelmed by the, the cultural wave of the time and forget that every business is composed of people and it’s, and thus it’s possible to change the people, right?
Vincent Stanley: Yeah. Yeah. And, and I think people change, they don’t change because we tell them anything they change because their experience changes. So that, that was the cotton lesson for us. We could have told our employees, 25% of all the damaging chemicals used in agriculture are used on cotton and cotton is 8% of arable land. Well, we did tell them that then. Yeah. Right. But when you actually go into Boston, you smell it. That’s a different thing. When you have your kid at the table if you’re, if you’re a, a big plastics company and say, I heard this story, and your daughter says, I hope you’re proud of yourself. After learning about the five gyres you go out and you start to question what you’re doing. So yes, I I, I think that the human component is, is absolutely critical to this and the farther that we get from the human component, the more mischief we’re going to create, because we’re going to create these institutional justifications for really bad behavior. Yeah.
Dave Chapman: What was the name of the guy who did the interface? I think it was called the carpet company. I just, I thought it was such a Anderson. Yeah. Yeah. He was just saying, yeah, interesting story of a human being who said this isn’t right. And he, he really changed. He really changed how his company did things. Yeah,
Vincent Stanley: Exactly. And then I have a friend who ran a his, his, his family still runs it a company in Michigan that makes a truck grills and garbage cans has done amazing things you know, hiring people out of prison or hiring people right off welfare and going through all of the problems and having the, having the program fail and then keeping going until he succeeds and then influencing other businesses in the local town. And not, you know, just to kind of straight across business engineer type with with a strong conscience and and a good year.
Dave Chapman: Yeah, yeah. Yeah. Well, models are very, very important. The art of the possible. So it’s getting online. I have a couple other questions I want to hit though. You, you have said that we’re in the middle of the planets six extinction crisis in the book. You believe that. Could you talk about that for a moment?
Vincent Stanley: There’s a, it’s interesting. Cause in 20, in 2016 in the presidential debate the environment and series of three, they still have more than one debate. Then the environment was mentioned twice, I think. And in the last couple of three years, we have a lot of emphasis now on climate change and climate change changes, unquestionably a huge issue, but we really strongly believe that loss of biodiversity is right there along with it. And, and the danger is that you could actually probably solve a lot of climate change without addressing biodiversity. You know, you can electrify we’re on our way to electrifying the economy and using renewables as the, as the source of power that that’ll happen. But biodiversity loss is something else. And if we continue to lose that, we’re thin out the web of life we’re going to have. We’re likely to have more COVID crises. We’re likely to have a crisis with a combined with climate change with, with food production.
And it also, it kind of goes back. There’s a it is an interesting divide when we adopted the mission statement of in, at the end of 2018, we simplified our mission statement to say, we’re in business to save our home planet. Okay. And I was, this drove me up the wall when we changed that, I thought, oh my gosh, you know, it took 27 years for the company. And the first mission statement build the best product cause no unnecessary harm his to inspire and implement solutions to the environmental crisis. I was against that when we adopted it 27 years ago, because I thought our mission statements is such. And you use this language, you know that means that you’re covered. It’s a cover that most mission statements use words like strive or foster. And so they, they give you a now is say, oh, we’re going to try to do this.
And if we don’t, well, we’ll keep trying. But the original mission statement over 27 years became something that we really inhabited. It became less aspirational. It actually became true over time. So when email started talk about we’re in business to save the home planet, I said, you know, we’re not. And, but what happened is everybody has taken this very seriously and they start to look at their activities. What they do, this is within the company, they look at their jobs and say, how does this fit into the mission? So it kind of a roundabout way to say that what people asked Eva said, why, why home Tyler, why are we in business to save a home planet? He said, I don’t want to go to Mars. And I think that there’s a kind of division between people who have a vision of a different kind of economy and also a different way to live this kind of a split between people who think of places important who think that the natural world is key to our survival and to those who think that we’re going to kind of outlast our human bodies and with AI, we’re going to become big brains and we’re going to go to Mars and we’re not going to need as much oxygen because we’re not actually going to be made out of meat.
I do think that when, when people look at the future, there’s this kind of division emerging between the tech worlds and the kind of organic worlds. And we’re strongly in the camp that believes we’re natural beings. And we have to, we’re part of nature and we have to recover and restore what we’ve lost rather than surpass biology and go to Mars.
Dave Chapman: Yeah, that’s great. That’s such a daring mission statement. And and I would say an intimidating one to, to try and live under. Do you feel that taking that risk and saying, okay, we’re just going to say it, that that actually does help to change the culture.
Vincent Stanley: Yeah. The, the, you know, the question of, of aspirational language is something I’ve, I’ve changed my mind on because I’ve experienced the benefit. I’m always suspicious of saying things that you S saying, you’re going to do something and you really know how to do it, but it turns out that that’s not a bad thing. And that we’ve had this experience repeatedly where aspirational language becomes directional for folks. And I really changed my mind. I saw us start to inhabit that first to mission statement rather than just kind of treated as a plaque on the wall. Everybody really, really took it to heart. I think it helped that we had let my people go surfing and it helped that we had later, we had the responsible company that we had a lot. We had a lot more than just a vision statement on a plaque. We had a lot of things that we discussed with employees that we discussed with customers, part of the larger conversation. So the mission statement became this distillation of something larger rather than a slogan bumper sticker slogan.
Dave Chapman: Well, I appreciate it. I, I haven’t yet made that the mission statement of my farm because I just don’t dare, but, but we need to obviously, yeah. Yeah. All right. A couple more if you have time you wrote that, and this is a quote globalization, a manmade but not humanly controlled process is largely responsible for the current speed at which life turns to sand. So, so you wrote that beautifully and, and I think there’s an awful lot in that sentence. One is that is that even though we created globalization, we don’t control it. And that’s such an important right. Idea to wrestle with that. Yes, we made all this up out of our minds, but we don’t, we’re not in control. We’re like kids who got in the car and we’re driving it down the mountain and we really don’t know how to drive.
Vincent Stanley: There’s a quote from Peter Sangha. I don’t think I’ll get exactly right. But he says that we’re going faster and faster to a place. None of us wants to go. And I think that that’s that the quality of, of globalization, the accelerated speed. It also goes back to your point about that Paul Hawkin man, about capitalism. I think one feature that that’s kind of hidden from us. I mean, you’re a farmer and I work for a clothing company where we’re, we’re involved with tangible things. And a lot of the economy is not tangible. It’s a lot of money that people have made. That’s chasing very high levels of profit and investing in things and you know, really driving the, the cycle order to squeeze as much new money as possible out of what all of the things that are sold and services that are offered.
So you have an acceleration driven, not so much by human desire, but by the desire of a few people with a lot of money to, to keep, to keep it into compound it. So we’re, we’re going way too fast to our, to a good place. We don’t want to go. And I think that slowing down a little bit, because we’re seeing the effects, I mean, California the effects of climate change the fires 14,000 lightning strikes in 48 hours creating 600 massive fires Puerto Rico without electricity for six months, you’re seeing the kinds of disruptions to the system that went fairly smoothly for a long time. And I think people are, are waking up to that. So it’s really hard. It’s, it’s, it’s, it’s, it’s not a good thing. It’s difficult for people, but at the same time my wife discovered that she said the word apocalypse in Greek means uncovering and what we’re doing, I think as we’re w these disasters that are striking us are uncovering some of the weaknesses that we didn’t see them as weaknesses before, because they were so prevalent. And so omnipresent. Yeah. Thank you. That’s good.
Dave Chapman: It seems a big debate of our time is whether a healthy economy as it’s called is more important than social ecological and individual health. Hmm. Yeah.
Vincent Stanley: I, I would go back. I would, you know, when we, when we talk about economic health versus social and planetary health, just a couple of quick points. One is if you look at the longterm health of a business or economic activity, it lines up pretty well with human health and with a planetary health. Cause if you, so there’s an organization called the Hinoki. And so the businesses that have been around for 200 years, okay. The most of them are tiny. So if you’re in Japan and you’re running a Rio conduct an N you better take care of that spring for the last 800 years because when that spring goes, so goes your business. So long-term business health can line up. I think really well. Short term does not short-term business aims, disrupt human communities, and they’re done at the expense of the planet.
So I would kind of go back to the statement about Patagonia as company. Are you talking about a business aims versus your values versus your mission, but if you line it up, that’s where you have the possibilities and with the economy, there are tremendous opportunity, economic opportunities to electrify for clean energy, to electrify the economy, tremendous opportunities. If we can figure out some of the solves some of the distribution problems with organics and with regenerative, organic agriculture you, you, you can, you can build a good economy on that. And it is not a question. I think the political parties, ill-served us on this, both Democrat and Republican of talking about conventional economic growth as a way to get past our problems. W w we’ll get, we’ll get five steps richer, and we’ll rise all the boats and raise all the boats.
And I don’t think that that’s happening. And that’s why you have, on the one hand, Trumpsters in the middle of the country and in the rural areas who have not been served by the economy based on apple, Google, Amazon and then you have the people in the inner city, the people of color who have not been served by this extraordinarily wealthy economy. I mean, Patagonia’s done well by it, but you have a lot of people in this country, maybe half, maybe more who are not served, and we need an economy that works for everyone. And this, the economy we have is not, is going to serve you in fewer people. Not, not every
Dave Chapman: Vincent. I feel like we could talk for hours more, but be respectful of your time. So w w maybe just talk about hope for the future. At Paul Hawken, doesn’t like to talk about hope because he thinks it becomes an excuse for inaction, but, but let’s, let’s look at hope as actually a motivator for action. And you know, for, for me I’m focused on the real organic project and what I have found as I pull this string. And I just keep finding that it’s connected to everything. And I’ve been amazed at that. I really, you know, I was almost hermit like farmer for many years, and I got involved in this over what I thought was a simple lack of integrity on the national organic programs part. But my goodness, it’s just gone on and on and on. It’s become a pretty big, a pretty big conversation for me, many, many people. What is your thought about hope for the future about what people can do so about action, you know, w where’s the place that we have choices in our life where we can make a difference, because I know people actually go almost a depression you know, they feel overwhelmed. What can I do?
Vincent Stanley: You know it’s interesting when you raise the question of, of hope. I’m kind of a neutral guy. I’m not a very hopeful, and I’m not very pessimistic emotion. Aren’t my I’ve worked with all my adult life is describes himself as a doomed that totally pessimistic thinks the world’s going to hell and never coming back, but that’s never stopped him from doing anything and never stopped him from doing the right thing. He’s never said, oh, to hell with it. And I think that this quality of noticing that something is wrong and then doing something to correct it, I think that that’s such an important part of human agency. It’s such a, a part of what doesn’t necessarily make us happy, but gives us satisfaction that forget about hope. Do, do what engages you. And we, you know, the other thing is we don’t know.
I mean, the signs are not good, but the fact is, is that we don’t know what the future is and what I’ve discovered over 40 years of working as you’re making the future all the time. I’m much less cynical than I was when I was 40, because when I was 40, the world seemed like a fixed place. That week I couldn’t influence very much. And what I see now is that the people I’ve worked with for 40 years, I’ve made a difference. There are differences in the world because of who they were and what they did. And I know that that’s possible also for the future. There’s also a big generational shift that I work a lot with students in various schools regularly at Yale with especially with joint students between the business and the environmental programs and the whole person, you know, the perspective changes over time. It is like farming where we’ve grown. Some people who have a very different perspective than that perspective of the people we grew up with or followed. So there is another quote from somebody a lot from Paul Goodman a long time ago. So human beings tend to get everything wrong before they get it right. So it may be that we needed to have the folly of pursuing things faster and faster toward where we wanted to go before we discovered where we wanted to go.
Dave Chapman: Vincent Stanley. We will end there. Thank you so much. It’s really been a pleasure,
Vincent Stanley: Really a pleasure to meet you and talk to you.