The premier outdoor gear and clothing enterprise fosters employee wellness with flexible hours and onsite daycare. Solar panels provide 10 percent of the energy at the firm’s Ventura, Calif., headquarters. And a percentage of Patagonia’s profits are redirected through the company’s Earth Tax Fund to sustain and support grassroots environmental organizations and employee environmental work.
To acknowledge such a conscientious, humanistic business approach, Case Western Reserve University has selected Chouinard for the 2013 Inamori Ethics Prize, honoring his integrity as a business leader and lifetime commitment to corporate social responsibility.
Chouinard will receive the honor on Thursday, Sept. 12, with a day of activities at Case Western Reserve that reflect on corporate social responsibility and protecting the planet.
A free and public academic symposium at noon in Severance Hall will feature Chouinard along with panelists Pat Conway, founder of Great Lakes Brewing Co.; Michele Hunt, founder of New York City-based Leadership Change Catalyst; and Chris Laszlo, associate professor in the Department of Organizational Behavior at the Weatherhead School of Management and a partner and co-founder of the strategy consulting firm Sustainable Value Partners.
Following the symposium, a business and community spotlight event will run on the Kelvin Smith Library Oval (next to Severance Hall) from 1:30 to 3:30 p.m.
The prize ceremony, where Chouinard will present the Inamori Lecture, “The Responsible Economy,” begins at 6 p.m. at Severance Hall.
Free tickets for both the academic symposium and the ceremony can be reserved online at clevelandorchestra.com or by calling the Severance Hall box office at 216.231.1111.
“Yvon Chouinard was one of the earliest pioneers in Corporate Social Responsibility,” said Shannon French, director of the Inamori International Center for Ethics and Excellence and the Inamori Professor in Ethics at Case Western Reserve. “His integrity shines through his actions and the way he has consistently aligned his corporate policies with his core values. Patagonia has been enormously successful, but he was repeatedly willing to put that success at risk in order to do the right thing for the planet and for future generations.”
About Yvon Chouinard
A legendary rock climber and avid outdoorsman, Chouinard channeled his passion for nature into a successful enterprise that sets high standards for ethical practices to “create the best quality with the least impact.”
“The reason I am in business is I want to protect what I love,” Chouinard said in 2009 interview. “I used to spend 250 days a year sleeping on the ground. I’ve climbed every continent. I’m old enough to see the [environmental] destruction.”
Born in 1938, Chouinard is the son of a French-Canadian handyman, mechanic and plumber. The family lived in Maine before moving to Southern California.
Joining the Southern California Falconry Club at age 14, Chouinard’s investigation of falcon aeries led to an interest in rock climbing. To make adaptations to reflect new climbing methods, he launched his first entrepreneurial venture in 1957 that grew into Chouinard Equipment, one of the sport’s largest suppliers.
In 1972, he realized climbing products were damaging the rocks, so he introduced and patented new rock-friendly aluminum chocks—his first major business decision on behalf of the environment. That revolutionized climbing and led to further company success.
In the 1974 essay, “The Word,” Chouinard and his business partner, Tom Frost, described what has become the philosophy behind modern rock climbing: to encourage climbers to consider their intent and environmental impact while ascending heights.
Chouinard later infused the same ethical principles into Patagonia’s clothing and gear lines, using recyclable and organic materials for warm and sturdy, yet fashionable, products. Rather than turning a blind eye to environmentally harmful standard cotton practices, he chose exclusively pesticide-free organic cotton—launching an organic cotton industry in California in the process.
His book, Let My People Go Surfing, describes Patagonia’s unique employee-focused work environment. And his campaign, “About Our Common Water,” reduces Patagonia’s water footprint by auditing energy and water quality in its textile production. He also co-founded The Conservation Alliance to encourage other companies to take similar steps.
Chouinard’s numerous honors include the prestigious David R. Brower Conservation Award in 2012 from The Glen Canyon Institute for his lifetime conservation efforts, a cover story in Fortune magazine and a ranking by U.S. News and World Report that placed him among American’s Best Leaders in 2009.
For more information about the Inamori Prize and events, visit case.edu/events/inamori/.