May 25, 2024
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Dubroff: Inside the launch of our inaugural ‘Civil Dialogues’ podcast

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I first got to know Vince Stanley five years ago when the Business Times held its Central Coast Innovation Awards in the wake of the Thomas Fire and Montecito Mudslides.

We had not given a lot of coverage to Patagonia until then and the Business Times sometimes felt that Patagonia’s stands against development were making it harder for working families to thrive on the Central Coast.

But the Thomas Fire events were a wakeup call on climate change and there would be no going back. 

We recognized Patagonia for its environmental insights and activism and, at our event, Stanley spoke plainly and eloquently about the climate crisis and its nearly universal impact. 

I also remember thinking that director of philosophy at Patagonia sounded like a pretty good gig.

My second encounter happened last year when he co-authored a new book, “The Future of the Responsible Company,” with Patagonia co-founder Yvon Chouinard. 

The book talked frankly about how hard it is to run an environment-focused company, recapped some missteps and recounted, from the inside, Patagonia’s experiences during that terrible winter of 2017-2018. 

Also, last year, Publisher Linda le Brock and I began working on a new Pacific Coast Business Times podcast — a series of conversations designed to bridge some of the gaps for intelligent talk left by the demise of our local newspapers.

Henry Dubroff
Henry Dubroff

Fast forward six months or so, a gazillion texts, emails and sponsor pitches later and Civil Dialogues makes its debut on April 26 on Spotify, Apple and anywhere you find your podcasts. 

We’ll soon have a dedicated Civil Dialogues page up on the Business Times website at pacbiztimes.com.

When it came to choosing our first guest, Stanley came immediately to mind as someone who would speak to the challenges of being a for-profit company at the crossroads of environmental issues.   

“Companies should have a larger purpose that governs/serves as an umbrella for all of its activities,” he said.

But getting to that point, even for Patagonia, took some time. 

Founded in a tin shed in Ventura in the early 1970s as a company to make climbing gear, Patagonia branched out into apparel as a way to make money to support the climbing business, a “cash cow” as Stanley and others saw it.

At first, Stanley said, it was the love of climbing and mountains that led to the first efforts to preserve these wonderful, remote sites and reduce human impact. 

But things changed.  

“It wasn’t until the late 80s that we started to look at — okay we are concerned about the fate of the earth,” Stanley said. 

“But what about what we are responsible for? The actions that are undertaken in our name to produce our products.” 

It was interesting to me that Patagonia’s overarching philosophy came into place in the aftermath of the Thomas Fire and as a pushback against some of the Trump Administration’s efforts to roll back protections for wilderness lands in Utah and elsewhere.   

“The company does have a philosophy. It’s connected very seriously now to its stated purpose, which since 2018 has been ‘we’re in business to save our home planet,’” Stanley said.

For all of its size, Patagonia’s revenue is well over $1 billion and it is a global brand, the company still has an underdog mentality. 

It has a love-hate relationship with many of the companies that it competes with, including WalMart where it has influenced how much throwaway packaging goes into many retail products.

And Patagonia’s philosophy means it is still rooted in the idea that climate solutions require community action. 

“We need allies. The environmental damage is caused by big corporations and is caused by decisions that are made anywhere on the globe. But the actual damage happens locally,” he said.

In his role, Stanley gets to respond to letters from oil field workers who love Patagonia’s products but don’t feel right wearing them to work. He said he tries to be understanding in his response. 

And Patagonia has become mindful that environmental issues are linked to other problems, vast economic inequality makes it hard for families to make smart choices and authoritarian governments — take Russia for example — do not care about the environmental impacts of their devastation of Eastern Ukraine.  

“We need friends and allies in places where the environmental damage is great… We need to be engaged with everyone who has an interest in changing the way we treat the planet,” he said. 

That sounded to me like an excellent way to launch a civil dialogue.

Henry Dubroff is the founder, owner and editor of the Pacific Coast Business Times. He can be reached at hdubroff@pacbiztimes.com.