Yvon Chouinard is an environmentalist, entrepreneur, and philanthropist, legendary climber, and surfer. He is also a writer, writing essays on outdoor climbing issues and ethics, and more recently publishing a book about mixing environmentalism and sound business practice in corporate policies (Green Economy Initiative, 2011). Chouinard is most noted for his clothing and gear company, Patagonia, Inc., where he has constructed a culture that strives to create an ideal working environment where employees thrive and become more productive at the same time. Patagonia’s environmental ethic is outstanding, having founded 1% For the Planet, an alliance of businesses that contribute at least 1 percent of their net annual sales to approved environmental organizations, and is working to revolutionize supply chain transparency in their company. Sustainable business practices have been at the core of the company since it was founded in the late 1950s – long before sustainability and being “green” became buzzwords. Yvon Chouinard is not only a successful business person, but a leader with discipline, vision, and influence.
There are many definitions of what makes a great leader. When US News chooses America’s Best Leaders each year, they judge based on the following criteria: Setting direction, cultivating a culture of growth, and achieving results. Sustainable leadership focuses on leaders who have helped create products and services with positive environmental or social impact; in others they have helped build a corporate culture that rewards and nourishes employees and stakeholders in new ways. According to Maxwell (2002), successful leadership is determined by a leader’s effectiveness and impact on their organization. However, to gain this level of leadership takes a lifetime of discipline and perseverance.
When Maxwell speaks of the traits of a leader, he emphasizes the importance of disciplined direction. Without disciplined direction, no one achieves and sustains success without it (Maxwell, 2002). Yvon Chouinard exemplifies this trait, using discipline and perseverance to develop a successful business while staying true to his personal values. With success came a strong sense of responsibility. Chouinard realized that a profitable company not only provided the opportunity to achieve personal goals, but made it possible to make the company an outstanding place to work, and to be an important resource for environmental activism. Chouinard’s first business began out of dissatisfaction over the quality of climbing hardware, so he taught himself blacksmithing and began forging his own equipment. Soon, he was able to support himself by selling equipment to climbers from the back of his car, and by the 1970s, his company had grown to be the largest domestic supplier of climbing equipment. By 1973, their clothing line had expanded and grown popular enough to necessitate its own label, so Patagonia was born (naturally...