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September 22, 2006

News & Opinion: Preface to Let My People Go Surfing -- 2006 edition

By: Dylan Schleicher @ 5:22 PM – Filed under: Management & Workplace Culture

Preface to 2006 Edition LET MY PEOPLE GO SURFING

Since the publication of this book in October 2005, a lot has happened in the world and at Patagonia, Inc. The general public is becoming increasingly aware that our planet is getting warmer through our own doing. And yet -- despite the plethora of books, articles, films and even military men saying that global warming is the single biggest threat to the security of mankind -- governments, businesses and you and me continue to refuse to take meaningful steps to reverse the problem.

A dozen books have come out about oil, all pretty much saying the same thing: the end of the petroleum era will come sooner than later and we should prepare for a lifestyle that will be far different than what we have been enjoying for the last 150 years. Economic and social chaos is predicted as the price of oil skyrockets (it's doubled in a year and spiking higher as I write). The bad news is we have the super-polluting nuclear and coal industries to fall back on.

At Patagonia we have started to prepare for what we think will become a more locally based economy. The global economy based on cheap transportation is unsustainable. Our present mode of production includes buying organic cotton in Turkey, shipping the bales to Thailand to be processed into fabric, shipping the fabric to Texas to be cut and then to Mexico to be sewn and then onto our warehouse in Reno and then to our stores and dealers and finally to our customers' homes. Shipping costs may soon start to outstrip the cost of material and labor. We must begin to find a way to produce our goods locally.

To make clothing using synthetic fibers or even organic natural fibers still uses a huge amount of petroleum and other forms of energy. We must get away from the notion of consuming non-renewable resources and making disposable garments. As it has become normal to recycle aluminum cans, paper and steel, so should we start making all our clothing from recycled and recyclable fibers.

In recent years we've worked with Japanese mills on the development of high-performance fabrics that also significantly reduce environmental harm. One of the most exciting programs in our history, the Common Threads Recycling Program, is underway now, with the help of our partner Teijin Fibers Limited and its Eco Circle program. We seek to close the manufacturing and consumption loop in the way that the modern aluminum industry works. We'll collect from our customers their worn-out polyester garments and send them back to Teijin for recycling into new polyester fiber. We did a lot of research to ensure that we still reduce our overall energy impact after transporting garments from the U.S. back to Teijin. With the extra shipping, the program still yields energy savings of 76 percent and a reduction in greenhouse-gas (CO2) emissions of 71 percent, compared to the creation of polyester fiber from new, petroleum-based raw material. Our next step is to work with Toray Industries, also in Japan, on the development of recycled and recyclable nylon 6 and with U.S. companies to recycle cotton.

At Patagonia, we're taking some steps to insure that we don't become, like the U.S. auto industry, victims of our own ignorance, greed and inaction. We know we have to act now if we want to be in business one hundred years from now.

On a hopeful note, as I went about last year on a book tour of the U.S., I was surprised to see how many students are taking courses in environmental studies. These young people are not only aware of the planet's problems but, unlike their parents, they are also committed to doing something about it. In fact, in the past two years our human resources department has been inundated with applications from young people who do all the non-motorized sports we feature in our catalog, who volunteer for their local conservation organization, and who have an MBA.

Universities that a couple of years ago didn't even do recycling or bother to use recycled paper are now starting to see the need to lead by example, to build energy-efficient green buildings and to require classes in ethics and the environment in their MBA programs. More companies are starting to see that making a profit and being socially and environmentally responsible are not mutually exclusive.

Lastly, the 1% for the Planet alliance of businesses that we helped establish in 2001 now has well over 300 members all donating 1% of their sales to environmental groups. And so the revolution begins!

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Excerpted from Let My People Go Surfing by Yvon Chouinard, Penguin 2006.


About Dylan Schleicher


Dylan Schleicher has been a part of the 800-CEO-READ claque since 2003. Even though he's stayed on at the company, he has not stayed put. After beginning in shipping & receiving, he joined customer service and accounting before moving into his current, highly elliptical orbit of duties overseeing the ChangeThis and In the Books websites, the company's annual review of books and in-house design. He lives with his wife and two children in the Washington Heights neighborhood on Milwaukee's West Side.