December’s Letter from the Editor: Can a Company Do No Harm?

Letter from the Editor: Do No Harm

The holidays are here again and, yes, I will be watching A Christmas Carol (I like the cranky George C. Scott version) as I do every year, and reading the book to my kids. Dickens seems even more relevant here and now as the disparity between the rich and poor continues to grow in our society, making it feel as if we are headed back to the 19th century’s days of robber barons. And there is one line that chills me to the bone and feels especially relevant every time I read the book, when Marley’s ghost takes umbrage at Scrooge for telling him he was a good man of business.

“Business!” the ghost rages. “Mankind was my business. The common welfare was my business; charity, mercy, forbearance, benevolence, were all my business. The dealings of my trade were but a drop of water in the comprehensive ocean of my business!”

Well, two years ago outdoor industry giant Patagonia started down a path to try to make the common welfare its business. The company, founded by Yvon Chouinard in 1973, became the first B Corp in the state of California. A B Corp, or benefit corporation, is a company that instead of just being legally focused on profits for stockholders is obliged to put as much consideration into missions that further the good of society and the planet as well as make money. Now that may sound like posturing, but B Corps are highly regulated legal entities. The non-profit B Lab certifies and keeps a close eye on them, making sure they are indeed living up to their mission.

This is not something necessarily new. There are other B Corps in the outdoor industry such as California-based Kleen Kanteen, which has been certified since 2012. Taking a step even further, Eric Reynolds, founder of Marmot and Nau who is now working to produce clean drinking water in Rwanda, was campaigning for a Constitutional amendment that requires all U.S. corporations to include the Code of Corporate Responsibility in their charters. Originated by corporate attorney Robert Hinckley, the code’s 28 words (“… but not at the expense of the environment, human rights, the public health or safety, the communities in which the corporation operates or the dignity of its employees.”) would put into the foundational documents of all corporations a legal requirement that they must not just turn a profit but also do no harm.

Patagonia, a company that always seems conscious of each move it makes (sometimes too much so in the case of its famed “Don’t Buy This Jacket” campaign that resulted in it selling more jackets), has been doing just that. In 2013, it restructured and launched its $20 Million & Change fund, bent on giving cash to startups with beneficial missions. Naropa board member Rose Marcario became Patagonia’s CEO last January, intent on making it a more disruptive company in the way it does business. Last May, $20 Million and Change funded CO2Nexus, a Denver-based company that created a better system of washing textiles, saving water and energy in its sustainable process. In October, the company invested $13 million into solar panels in Hawaii.

Patagonia is good at business. We feature their products because they perform well out in the wild. Can the company continue to succeed while changing the world? We think so. We certainly need more businesses that do.

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