You might have seen the announcement in The New York Times, September 2022: Billionaire No More: Patagonia Founder Gives Away the Company.
Yvon Chouinard forfeited ownership of the company he founded with passion, persistence, and tireless commitment over 49 years: Patagonia. The company’s statement on Twitter was a little more humble and down to earth (yes, pun intended):
Hey, friends, we just gave our company to planet Earth.
Chouinard, his wife and two kids decided to make Earth the only shareholder. They considered selling Patagonia and donating all the money but could not be sure the new owner would have the same values or keep their teams around the world employed. Taking the company public risked pressure to create short term-gain at the expense of long-term vitality and responsibility. Neither of those options was right.
When you search for a definition of sustainability, you mostly find this one: ‘meeting the needs of the present responsibly, without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their needs’. That’s a bizarrely impossible aim. As the companies that sell us ‘stuff’ would nudge us into believing, we’ve a very large list of ‘needs’. These needs are never fully met, because the more we sell the more we grow, and growth is supposedly good. Each year we have new clothes, new gadgets, personal care items, household items, phones, smartwatches, cars, the list of what will make us happier is endless.
“The top environmental problems are selfishness, greed, and apathy. And to deal with those we need a spiritual and cultural transformation – scientists don’t know how to do that.” Gus Speth
As it stands now, we are using up the resources of 1,5 planets. By 2050, we are likely to need between 3 and 5 planets. If you want to change the companies, you change the consumers, that’s us! We must change. No amount of clever innovation will make up to a ‘meeting the needs of the present’ so that we have a future.
“Truth be told, there were no good options available, so we created our own.”
- Yvon Chouinard
Instead of going public, you could say Patagonia is going purpose. There were no good options available, so they created their own.
- 100% of Patagonia’s voting stock transfers to the Patagonia Purpose Trust, and
- 100% of the non-voting stock goes to Holdfast Collective, a nonprofit that is dedicated to fighting the environmental crisis and defending nature.
In place of extracting value from nature to make it into wealth for investors (without the necessary give-back), they will use the wealth Patagonia creates to protect the source of all wealth. What an inspiration.
But what can we do, ordinary ‘us’? What is our role in sustainability?
There is this lovely phrase ‘Turn around and take a step forward’. It is the title of the last chapter in the book: “Let my people go surfing: The education of a reluctant businessman, Yvon Chouinard”, which tells the personal story of how Patagonia became the successful, environmentally conscious business it is, and details the guiding principles in the business, including commitment to quality and environmentalism, and a pledge not to pursue growth for growth’s sake. We can live a simpler life, we can apply principles of quality, we can grow stronger in place of fatter. We can become citizens again, and not be defined by consumption only.
How do we turn around and take a step forward? We get away from thinking that all growth is good. We are all consumers … we are also producers, innovators, scientists, spiritual beings, and transformers of culture.
You could begin with the Scale of Motivations developed by Zohar and Marshall.
Where are you?
- Above the line motivations are positive, and the scale moves from exploratory, to gregarious and co-operative, to power within, then mastery and a lofty generativity. As personal effectiveness increases and behaviour has a more positive outcome, we move up the scale, from deficiency needs (below the line) to higher level needs (above the line).
- Below the line starts with self-assertion, moving to anger, craving, fear, anguish and finally, apathy. They are mirror opposites of the positive motivations.
It is natural for us to bounce above and below the line at different times, but those who aim spend more time in the positive emotions are refining a kind of intelligence we call transformative intelligence, or SQ (beyond IQ and EQ, necessary but not enough in the 21st C). SQ is good if you are designing infinite games. Infinite games have more unknowns, and the rules change, but so do the players – the games are designed to play on.
At present we play a lot of short-term finite games. They have defined rules and players. We play through our resources until an end of winners and losers. (The real end will just be losers of course because there’s only one pale blue dot). SQ sparks our curiosity about why we do what we do, and pushes enquiry towards what other ways could look like.
I’d say don’t wait for the world’s biggest problems to be solved by scientists. They can never do it on their own. And don’t become apathetic. That makes you feel awful over time and helps nobody else. If there are no good options immediately available, create your own. Chouinard says we should step through the fatalism of the fate of our environment by taking action. Walk your own pilgrimage to a life that’s more above the line, exploratory, cooperative, creates power within and mastery, that aims for generativity.
We can live simpler lives. It always seems impossible until it is done.
There are 12 principles* of SQ. I took the liberty of phrasing them into a series of statements to reflect upon. You can find them here.