BrownFlynn would like to congratulate Yvon Chouinard, founder of Patagonia, Inc., on receiving the 2013 Inamori Ethics Prize. Each year the Inamori Center for Excellence at Case Western Reserve University gathers to honor an international exemplar of ethical leadership with the Inamori Ethics Prize. The Prize honors leaders whose integrity, altruism, and compassion have a lasting impact on society.
This year’s recipient, Yvon Chouinard, models the Inamori principles through his leadership in corporate social responsibility at Patagonia. As an avid rock climber and outdoorsman, Chouinard has transformed his personal passion for nature and protecting the planet into a successful enterprise with high ethical standards. By challenging the norms of traditional textile production and the garment industry, he initiated the creation of the organic cotton industry and the development of a new retail consumption mindset. Chouinard represents how business people can push boundaries and go beyond expectations for social good. As the quoted “pioneer in corporate social responsibility,” Chouinard serves as an inspiration for business leaders and consumers.
In Chouinard’s acceptance speech, he spoke about Patagonia’s evolution over the years and how the company became what it is today by doing what is right, not what is easy. He discussed the moment that led him to what ultimately became the organic cotton movement. It was in the early 1990’s and Patagonia was getting ready to open the Boston store when employees began to complain of headaches. Chouinard hired an inspector to identify the source of the problem. The inspector said the headaches were caused by the recycling of air in the building. Instead of saying, “Ok, fix the circulation,” Chouinard asked the more difficult question, “What is circulating that is causing the headaches?” That was when he learned of all the harmful chemicals that are used in the garment industry such as formaldehyde. From that moment on Chouinard pushed to find an alternative fiber that did not use toxic additives. This included visiting cotton farmers in the central valley of California, financing their transition to organic farming and testing new dyes. As Patagonia blazed the trail for the creation of the organic cotton industry, it continued to take a stand for what is right for this generation and many to come.
Choinard ended the speech by asking attendees to make sustainability a part of our daily lives because real change cannot just come from a few corporations. He said, “We [Americans] are addicted to consuming. If we can change ourselves, corporations will change and the government will follow.” As citizens and as consumers, we have the power to move business and government along a path towards a sustainable future by changing our behavior. We can buy less and reuse more. While taking that on may seem overwhelming, every little step is progress.
By Brittany VanderBeek and Sara Kennedy, Analysts