So by now, everyone has heard about Patagonia founder Yvon Chouinard’s radical business move to hand over the company to a trust dedicated fully to protecting the planet. “Earth is now our only shareholder,” he stated in a letter released on the company website.
Since the announcement there has been an overwhelming show of support and adoration, along with some cynical takes from the usual crowd. Regardless of your opinion on how the transformation is structured, it’s a big deal. It will cement the company’s mission of being in business to save the planet and direct about $100 million per year of annual profits towards planet-saving initiatives.
But in the end, that’s not enough.
According to the latest United in Science report, the challenges facing our planet will require contributions from everyone. The following graphic summarizes the current situation:
In the report’s forward, Prof. Petteri Taalas, the Secretary General of the World Meteorological Association stated that “reduction pledges for 2030 need to be 7 times higher to meet the 1.5˚ C of the Paris Agreement.” In other words, we – businesses, governments, and individuals – will all need to chip in to make our world a livable place for the generations of young adults and the generations to come.
If You’re A Business – You Have No Excuses Not to Act
We’re of the opinion that if you’re currently operating a business, whether it be a startup or a top global brand, if you’re not taking actions to transform into a sustainable and environmentally friendly entity, then you are guilty of incompetence, negligence of fiduciary duties, or simply ill intent towards the planet.
Let’s take a look at a case of a fashion related startup. In today’s world, if you’re a clothing company you’re either truly dedicated to being sustainable or you act like you are, otherwise you won’t attract and grow your customer base. Every decision made molds the culture of your organization. What seem like innocent choices of suppliers or ways of doing things slowly transform into ingrained processes that are hard to change and embody that organization.
If you choose the righteous path, your company has a chance of success today and won’t have to make dramatic changes in its organization in the future when either through government’s edicts or simply through the edicts of nature, cheap and unsustainable sourcing or production methods will no longer exist.
If you choose the path of greenwashing and trying to fool your customers about your environmental bona fides, then it’s just a matter of time before you’re found out and forced to make changes. At that time it may be too little too late to retain your customers, or the investment costs may be so great that it won’t be possible to proceed.
When it comes to large established businesses the case is even simpler. It is similar to a person dealing with a mole early rather than ignoring it and waiting until it metastasizes to other parts of the body. The earlier you act the higher the chance of success you have and the costs associated with treatment will be much lower.
Our planet is sick, the processes within our organizations that are not currently environmentally friendly are part of the sickness and must be dealt with now, otherwise we’re in for a world of pain. The pain will come in two ways. First, the world will continue to deteriorate and business will suffer. And second, the government will impose changes so costly that all of your stakeholders will suffer greatly. The very chance of your businesses survival will hang in the balance.
Let’s not let the disease grow any bigger. Let’s use the combination of the dire warnings of the World Meteorological Organization along with the positive actions of Patagonia to inspire us to accelerate our transition to sustainable and environmentally friendly operations within our organizations.