BBC Report: Patagonia Founder On Why Business Needs a Healthy Environment

BBC Report: Patagonia Founder On Why Business Needs a Healthy Environment

By Alison van Diggelen, host of Fresh Dialogues

Why should businesses even care about a healthy environment? That’s a fundamental issue for Yvon Chouinard, founder of Patagonia, the outdoor clothing company. Chouinard and Patagonia are respected by many environmentalists who credit them for putting this philosophy into practice:

“Fundamentally, businesses are responsible to their resource base. Without a healthy environment there are no shareholders, no employees, no customers and no business. Our mission is to use business to inspire and implement solutions to the environmental crisis” Yvon Chouinard, Patagonia

Chouinard is putting his money where his mouth is with a generous company “Earth Tax” devoted to environmental activism. He explained to me how he’s inspired young people and companies to protect the environment.

Nevertheless, Patagonia is arguably fighting a losing battle, especially at Christmas time, when rampant consumerism is in full swing. Here’s my latest BBC report that explores the contrast between Patagonia’s priorities and that of Silicon Valley shoppers who just want “more stuff” and wouldn’t dream of being seen twice in the same dress (dahling!)

This week, as the pro-business, “to hell with the environment” Trump administration prepares to take power, I plan to launch a new series of interviews. My aim is to profile leaders and organizations that are making the environment and climate change action a priority; and are standing up to Trump’s anti-science, anti-environment recklessness.

My report aired on BBC Business Matters on December 23rd.  The segment starts at 16:00 on the BBC podcast.

Here’s a transcript of the segment (edited for length and clarity) and a longer version of the report:

BBC Host, Roger Hearing: Alison, I know you’ve been looking at all this…the commercialization of Christmas…I imagine where you are in California, there are a lot of people being pushed into buying things they might not want to? I gather you’ve been investigating…

Alison van Diggelen: Absolutely. I had a rare interview with Yvon Chouinard…he’s the founder of Patagonia, the sustainable outdoor clothing company and is revered by many environmentalists. Chouinard explained to me why his company wants to minimize its impact on the environment and inspire other businesses to do the same. I visited one of Silicon Valley’s busiest malls to see if this green message is resonating with consumers.

[Music: Walking in a Winter Wonderland at Valley Fair Mall]

Alison van Diggelen: I’m here in the mall and there’s a tangible sense of stress as Christmas fast approaches. Shoppers crowd their favorite stores, cell phone lists in one hand, fistfuls of bags in the other. Exhausted mothers and fathers are pushing prams, groups of teenagers maraud the aisles, laughing and posing for photos.

I’m right by the “North Pole” and Santa is waving to wide-eyed children, surrounded by about a dozen Christmas trees with twinkling lights and red baubles. A baby took one look at Santa and started crying. There’s a sickly sweet smell of cinnamon and pumpkin spice in the air. People are looking for bargains: quantity not quality. For many shoppers, “the environment” is the last thing on their minds.

Eggnog gal: There are a little bit of Grinches…but that comes with Christmas. They’re very angry and hostile and they just want to get in the mall, get everything they want and leave. Maybe it’s just the crowds, the financial burden. Maybe they’re just not in the holiday spirit this year.

Young mom: My son’s closet looks like Beyonce’s…it just has so much clothing in it. I love children’s clothing and I buy him so so much. He’s two and a half and he’s so cute! [laughter]

Teen: I just feel like, if I wear a dress once, people see me wear it, like I’d rather have a new dress…something else people can see me in. I’d rather have more stuff than just like one really expensive thing.

Alison van Diggelen: This “wear once” mentality is abhorrent to Yvon Chouinard, who’s notorious for wearing the same flannel shirt for over 20 years. His company, Patagonia is known for its sustainable outdoor clothing. As a founding member of the “One Percent for the Planet” organization, it donates one percent of its sales (not just profits) to environmental causes.

Alison van Diggelen: You’ve impacted so many businesses. Steve Jobs once called you to “green” Apple?

Yvon Chouinard: We’re influencing small companies, not large companies. A lot of the green stuff is green washing.

Alison van Diggelen: Do you feel Apple’s efforts are green washing?

Yvon Chouinard: Absolutely – it’s like that with every large corporation. They’ll pick the low hanging fruit, but when it starts getting a little bit tougher…They’ll do the things that turn into more profits, but when you really have to knuckle down and be truly responsible, they’re not going to do it.

Alison van Diggelen: What do you feel has been your biggest influence in greening the world? The business or consumer side?

Yvon Chouinard: Young people. I wrote this book “Let my people go surfing” that has gone around in nine languages and that has influenced a lot of young people and small companies are really paying attention.  The idea of changing large corporations is pretty naive of me.

Alison van Diggelen: I spoke with Jesse Simons of the Sierra Club, an environmental group founded by Scottish naturalist John Muir. He praises Patagonia’s eco leadership but feels it could do more…

Jesse Simons: I’d like to see Patagonia go “all in” on their work on clean energy (and follow Apple’s lead by) committing to 100% clean energy and doing it all the way up the supply chain to ensure that every piece of clothing, zippers, everything are coming from a manufacturing site powered by the wind, the sun and the earth.

Alison van Diggelen: Gary Cook at Greenpeace credits Patagonia’s efforts against our “throw away culture” with its “don’t buy this jacket” campaign and its repair and recycling services. But he points to the company’s continued use of toxic chemicals and he’d like to see them eliminated from its supply chain.

Although Patagonia is seen to be raising the bar on corporate sustainability practices, its prices are out of reach for many consumers. Back at the mall, I spoke with another bargain hunter…

Diana V: We went to check out the Patagonia store in Reno, Nevada and couldn’t find anything for under $100, so we left…We’re just being very cautious right now with our money. Waiting to see what happens with our economy and our national political situation.

End of Report

Bonus material 

This part of our interview didn’t make the final cut:

On Patagonia doing more

Sierra Club’s Jesse Simons: I’d like to see them (Patagonia) work with other outdoor industry brands to show them how it actually makes biz sense to stand up to bad trade deals. It would be great to see them take their leadership and use it to get other companies to similarly pay a living wage, take care of the environment in countries where they’re manufacturing their goods, so that they can feel good about saying no to bad trade deals.

Chouinard talks on Earth Tax, Agriculture and Death (I’ll post the full interview here soon for your listening pleasure)

A: Tell me about your trip to Scotland in 1970 – why was that the inspiration for Patagonia clothing?

Y: I was in business of making climbing equipment. I came to Scotland to climb Ben Nevis and saw a rugby shirt in Dept store in Edinburgh. At that time, active sportswear was basically grey flannel sweatshirts, pants. Men didn’t wear colorful sports clothes. It had a blue body, yellow stripes. I was wearing it around Yosemite, everyone said “Woah!” A light went off…I imported a few…I said, maybe I’ll get into the clothing business.

A: Tell me about that 1% for the planet? An earth tax?

Y: Your typical large corporation is out to make as much money as they can for the shareholders. And what the shareholders do with their profits is their biz. We believe it should be done in the business as well.

I believe in taxes. Especially the kind of taxes where you get to decide where the money goes. So we just tax ourselves 1% of our sales – not our profits – 1% of revenue given away to 900 different small activist organizations working to save our planet.

A: Some people say there’s a conflict here: you are an environmental company. You’re saying: save the planet but at the same time, you’re saying: buy our products. You have to make your products, you have to sell your products. You have to make a profit in order to stay in business. Otherwise you go belly up. So talk about that conflict between being a company, a business and doing good for the planet.

Y: Well, to put a spin on it. I’d say buying a jacket from us causes less harm to the environment than buying a jacket from another company that doesn’t put all the thought and processes causing the least amount of harm. For instance, we only use organically grown cotton. That’s fine. Growing cotton organically causes less harm but it doesn’t do the world any good. It still causes the world a lot of harm. That’s why I decided to go into the food business. I want to go beyond organic foods, organic cotton to what’s called regenerative agriculture. The difference is, regenerative agriculture builds soil and captures carbon. And so now I have to go to my cotton farmers – who supply us with cotton – and say: you can’t plow any more because every time you plow, it releases all the carbon you’ve captured back into the air. So agriculture is one of the biggest causes of global warming so it’s probably the biggest thing we can do to save this planet.

A: So is that going to be a major focus for Patagonia?

Y: It’s a major focus for me, that’s for sure. I’m really excited about this. I think it’s our only hope to regulate the climate. We’re not going to do it any other way. Agriculture has a chance of sequestering so much carbon out of the air through changing our grazing practices and our farming practices; and basically going back to the old way of doing things. And that’s what gets me excited.

A: Tell me about the long term future. How are you going to make sure, beyond your lifetime, that Patagonia keeps the environment central to its mission.

Y: We’ve become a B-corporation company. That’s different than a regular corporation. In a B-corporation you can put down what your values are and they have to be values that are good for the planet, good for society. So the way the law states: if I die tomorrow, the stock is in a trust and this trust would have 8 years to divest 80% of that because the law doesn’t want you to have all your stock, your foundation have all your stock in one corporation. (In) a B-corp you wouldn’t necessarily have to do that and we wouldn’t have to sell to the highest bidder which would be to go public. All the laws force you to go public, pretty much…we wouldn’t have to do that

A: But would it keep the environment central to its mission?

Y: That’s part of the values that we’ve inculcated in our charter, under being a B-corporation.

A: Will your son or daughter stay at the helm?

Y: I don’t know…I have no idea what’s going to happen after I’m dead.

A: Are you grooming them to do so?

Y: Yeah, they are slowly taking over more responsibility, absolutely. My daughter is head of sportswear design right now and my son is on the board. They both have the same values that my wife and I have.

A: One last question: going back to Scotland – John Muir, I know he’s been an inspiration to you. Do you have a favorite quote or inspiration from him?

Y: (laughter) When I was a climber, it was John Muir and Emerson, Thoreau and the transcendentalists, philosophers which had a different attitude to climbing mountains than say the Europeans did, which was to conquer the mountains; and our attitude was you climb them and leave no trace of having been there.

BBC Conversation: Alibaba’s Jack Ma has a green mission

BBC Conversation: Alibaba’s Jack Ma has a green mission

By Alison van Diggelen, host of Fresh Dialogues

Jack Ma may be the richest man in China, but he’s also one of the greenest. Or is headed in that direction. He has commented publicly on China’s serious pollution and said that it’s a problem that “must be solved.” The Ma man is putting his money where his mouth is (see below for details).

Since 2009 he’s served as the Chairman of the Board on the Nature Conservancy’s China program and says, “Our challenge is to help more people to make healthy money, “sustainable money,” money that is not only good for themselves but also good for the society.”

So what’s behind Jack Ma’s environmental conscience? With vast wealth comes the ability to take a longer term view of the world:

“Most companies, when they’re doing good, they enjoy today’s wonderful life. They don’t worry about five years later—but I worry about five years later,” says Jack Ma. “I think one thing’s for sure — China’s environment will get better in 10 or 20 years. Business people like myself are beginning to pay attention to social issues including the environment and taking action and really treating this issue very seriously. And we’re doing it not for P.R. reasons, but because we know it is important. We know it is serious and that if we don’t take action, it will hurt ourselves, our children and our families.”

Here’s a transcript:

McDowall: Our guest is Business Matters regular, Alison van Diggelen. Among her many talents, Alison is an acclaimed interviewer and is host of the Fresh Dialogues series, which you can find online, and which features experts on green technology, sustainable enterprise, celebrities and inspirational women… Alison, good afternoon to you in the Golden State. Can we talk for a minute about Alibaba? What do you make of this chap Jack Ma?

van Diggelen: Well I’m quite impressed by Jack Ma. Jack Ma has a green mission, a Fresh Dialogues report

Of course, I’m always looking for the environmental, green angle as you mentioned earlier Mike. And he’s probably made enough money for a small country to live on, so he’s really turning his attention to the environment. He’s actually a major player in putting the attention on China’s environment. Its really bad: air pollution, water pollution. So I understand he’s putting 0.3% of the revenues from Alibaba into environmental causes, which I say: three cheers to that! (Reuters reports Alibaba’s revenues were $2.4Bn in the last quarter).

McDowall: Point three percent? Mind you, the revenues are enormous.

van Diggelen: Yes, absolutely. That’s probably a good tranche of money there.

McDowall: So he’s obviously someone we’re going to be seeing a lot more of in the future. He appears to be keen to raise his profile internationally. He’s obviously very well known in China and you know, ringing the bell on Wall Street…Yahoo was a big investor. We’re going to be seeing a lot more of this guy.

van Diggelen:  I think a lot of people…the froth and the excitement…part of the reason for that is that it’s an opportunity for global investors to buy into China’s growth and as everyone knows that is just poised to keep growing. I think only half of the Chinese population is online, so there’s a lot of growth potential there.

McDowall: Sure. We’ll keep watching….

Keep listening to our conversation as we discuss: The Scottish referendum, Larry Ellison’s retirement and why the Ig Nobel Prizes will make you laugh, then make you think.

You can listen to other Fresh Dialogues BBC Conversations here where we discuss: the future of driverless cars, Apple’s green credentials, Tesla’s new gigafactory and many more topics.


Competition: Fresh Dialogues Doing For Drought

Competition: Fresh Dialogues Doing For Drought

California is in its worst drought since 1977. Some say it’s the worst in a century.

Reservoirs are only a third full. Rainfall totals were about 40 percent of normal last winter. Farmers are pumping groundwater to keep crops alive. Wildfire risk is extremely high. And wildlife is in danger as creeks run dry.

Although some people are saving water, (even refusing to shower) much more could be done!

What are YOU doing to help save water? What do you think should be done to save water?

Have YOUR voice heard by sharing your top tips and creating awareness…

WIN the Fresh Dialogues #DoingForDrought Competition

Let's talk about droughtTop Prize:

* Winner will receive a Fresh Dialogues Drought Hero Award and be interviewed and featured on Fresh Dialogues YouTube Channel next to top green influencers like Elon Musk, Tom Friedman and Meryl Streep.

*He or she will get to meet an influential green industry leader.

* The winning video will be featured on Fresh Dialogues and will help influence water use in California and may also help shape water policy both here and around the world!

Honorable Mention Prizes:

*Each will receive a Fresh Dialogues Drought Hero Award

* Each video will be featured as “honorable mentions” on Fresh Dialogues.


1. What’s the plan?

Make a short #DoingForDrought video (2 minutes max) on YouTube and mark it public. It could feature an interview with a family member, friend, or local business owner who is affected by the drought,  or it could be just you, telling the world what you’re doing for the drought.  If you don’t have a YouTube channel, use a friend’s channel or set one up, it’s easy.


Make a #DoingForDrought poster illustrating what you’re doing or what you think should be done.

2. Then what?

Send us a link to your video or send us a jpg of your poster using our contact page with your name, email and hometown.

3. Does it cost to enter?

No. It’s a free competition, open to all.

Fresh Dialogues Doing for Drought 4. What’s the Deadline?

Competition starts today and ends Friday October 10th, 2014

4. Who decides?

The winner and honorable mentions will be announced on Monday Oct 13th, 2014 by the Fresh Dialogues team. We will be looking for energetic and pithy messages. Be creative, be practical and most of all, have fun with it!

5. What else?

We encourage you to share the competition with friends and colleagues using the hashtag #DoingForDrought @FreshDialogues and share updates at Fresh Dialogues Facebook Page

6. Still got more questions?

Send us your burning questions using our contact page or on Facebook

Good luck!


Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.” Margaret Mead




Apple vs Samsung: The Battle for the Green Halo

Apple vs Samsung: The Battle for the Green Halo

By Alison van Diggelen, host of Fresh Dialogues

Yesterday, I was invited to join the live BBC World Service show, Business Matters to discuss Apple’s green manifesto and its rivalry with Samsung. I was interviewed by the BBC’s talented Manuela Saragosa. Here’s a transcript of the highlights. Listen to the full interview here (green discussion starts at 26:00).

Saragosa: It was Earth Day on Tuesday… there’s been no dimming of the lights here at the BBC…but technology giant, Apple has been laying out its green manifesto to mark Earth Day. The company’s CEO Tim Cook put out a video, announcing a new scheme that allows any product made by Apple to be returned to the company for recycling.

Our guest, Alison van Diggelen is in California’s Silicon Valley. Alison, green business issues are your thing, what do you make of Apple’s manifesto? Is there substance to it do you think?

van Diggelen: I think there is substance to it. The reason they put out this video is: Greenpeace has been snapping at Apple’s heels for quite some time. I did a story a couple of years ago (for NPR’s KQED Radio) when they were looking at data centers. Greenpeace came up with their own quasi Apple ad (cunningly called iCoal), showing that every time you download something or send a photo on your iPhone, you’re putting more smog into the atmosphere. It was very clever and got Apple’s attention, and now they’re really moving ahead (According to a recent EPA report – Apple is now in the top 10 clean energy users nationally and uses 92% clean energy). One of their major data centers (in North Carolina) where they do Apple iCloud, has 100% green power: clean energy, using solar and fuel cells.

In the video, they’re doing a little chest thumping, saying “Look at us – here’s what we’re doing!” And of course, launching it on the week of Earth Day was a very clever move, a strategic move…

I do think Apple deserves to be lauded. It could do more, but I think shining a light on what it’s doing so far is good.

Saragosa: But it’s come a hugely long way. I know that in 2006, Greenpeace published its first guide to green electronics and at that point it rated Apple among the worst companies (it ranked 11 out of 14 companies). I suppose things have changed quite a lot since then.

van Diggelen: Yes. I think Greenpeace deserves credit for doing what it can to put the pressure on. This report it released went through all the major tech companies: Google, Apple, Facebook, Twitter (Amazon), saying: “Here’s what they’re doing folks!” Companies that you think of as pretty green and green advocates like Google, they’re not doing enough. They could do more.

The interesting thing with Tim Cook that your listeners will definitely be interested in is that at a recent shareholders’ meeting, someone stood up and said: “We don’t like what you’re doing with all those clean energy data centers. Couldn’t you be using your funds to make better products…do other things?”

Saragosa: But is that a widely held view?

van Diggelen: This is the interesting thing: Tim Cook struck back at them. He said: “We believe that we must make the world a better place.” He stood up and said this to the shareholders…”If you don’t agree with it, sell your shares! Which was quite gutsy of him I thought. Since then Richard Branson (CEO Virgin Atlantic etc) has said the same (He recently wrote, “Businesses should never be entirely focused on the bottom line…I would urge climate deniers to get out of our way!“) So I think it’s great to see high profile CEO’s like Tim Cook and Richard Branson are doing that, and saying: Hey! We need to think about the environment, we need to think about our impact on the environment. I’m cheered by that.

Listen to more of our discussion re Apple vs Samsung battle, copycats, tech recycling, and safe disposal of electronic goods.

We also explored attitudes to the environment and clean energy in Asia with David Kuo of the Motley Fool in Singapore; and discussed the devastating levels of pollution in China’s major cities.

van Diggelen: I recently spoke with Andrew Chung, who’s a Chinese American venture capitalist in Silicon Valley. He’s doing a lot of work in China and he was telling me about one of the (green) companies he’s investing in. The impetus in China is huge: they’re having to do it because the pollution is so intense, people are dying from the pollution.

One of these companies that’s completely addressing that is LanzaTech. They’re capturing the carbon monoxide pollution from steelmakers outside Shanghai  and using it to create valuable fuel and chemicals, rather than ‘just’ capturing it. It’s a really interesting solution: a win win. A win for the environment, but it’s also a money maker and great for the steelmakers. So that’s the kind of play that’s going on in China.

Read more about Google’s Green Dream at Fresh Dialogues

EPA’s Lisa Jackson: On Fracking, Keystone and Running for Office

EPA’s Lisa Jackson: On Fracking, Keystone and Running for Office

By Alison van Diggelen, host of Fresh Dialogues

Environmental policy was front and center Tuesday evening at the Churchill Club in Silicon Valley as EPA Administrator, Lisa Jackson took the stage with former Michigan Governor, Jennifer Granholm. Fracking and the proposed Keystone pipeline were hot topics during the lively discussion.

In December, Jackson announced that she will leave her post after four tumultuous years in DC and didn’t rule out running for elected office. Speculation is rife about her running for Governor of New Jersey.

On Fracking

“It can and should be done safely..I’m enough of a scientist to say: the verdict is not in yet. We need more data.”

On the Keystone Pipeline

“I will be gone (from the EPA) before a decision is made. A revised environmental impact study will be done, then public feedback, then President Obama will decide ‘if it’s in the national interest’. This will take into account pollution, groundwater, and the economic perspective. It’s too soon in the process to say (if it will get the green light).

A Price on Carbon?

“The current climate doesn’t lead me to believe there will be a national law soon. But that doesn’t preclude state action (such as California’s), and the private sector, where important progress can be made.”

Jennifer Granholm, who was a strong advocate for cleantech during her eight year tenure as Governor of Michigan added, “The Federal Government could offer a pot of money to incentives states to take action and stimulate progress from the bottom up.” She likened her idea to the “Race to the Top” program for education.

On Green Innovation and the Role of the EPA

“The EPA can level the playing field by setting emissions standards and goals which stimulate the private sector to compete and beat them. It often costs less than EPA estimates, due to private sector innovation. But the private sector needs uniform and not patchwork standards…”

“The EPA works for all the American people, not special interests…it’s not a zero sum game. For it to succeed no one needs to lose. There are win/win strategies. Regulations need to be enforced. The work we do is vital and sacred.”

On Science and Climate Change

“I am a scientist and at the EPA we have more scientists than any other Federal agency except NASA…We face a roll-back in the Clean Air Act. Be aware that consensus is enough – unanimity is not required or you’ll miss the window for action.”

There was a vocal climate change skeptic in the audience whom Jackson addressed directly saying he wasn’t representative of the majority of Americans.

On her Greatest Achievements at the EPA

“The endangerment finding made pollution actionable…and we raised fuel efficiency standards.”

As Dana Hull explains in the Mercury News, during Jackson’s tenure, the EPA finalized its endangerment finding which authorizes it to take reasonable efforts to reduce greenhouse gases.

The event was hosted at the Microsoft Campus in Mountain View by Rob Bernard, the company’s green czar.