Friday, February 17, 2012

Patagonia Charges Ahead with Bold Moves

Our home closets and drawers contain ancient Patagonia clothing and luggage. They have been bundled, dragged, scraped, twisted and lugged across countless airports, cars, camping areas and hallways. The stuff never dies. On the infamous Black Friday following Thanksgiving, when Americans gorge on retail therapy post Romanesque meals, Patagonia unveiled a brilliant campaign: Don't Buy This Jacket.

Patagonia, a privately held company, long at the vanguard of sustainable business practices, was advising its loyal customers not to buy new Patagonia products it didn't need. Through its Common Threads Initiative, the company asks consumers to take a pledge to buy and use less "stuff," but also makes available a new service via eBay where consumers can purchase used Patagonia goods. This act led to expected derision by traditional writers at Forbes and The Economist, but we thought it was brilliant (I am a huge aficionado of consignment myself).

The life cycle impacts of product development, including outdoor clothing, is fairly astounding when you dig deeper. If you peruse Patagonia's Footprint Chronicles you will find transparent information on how and where Patagonia products are made. The outdoor industry writ large is making admirable (beyond admirable) headway in improving its environmental and community impacts. Both the Outdoor Industry Association and its European counterpart have been involved with reducing the impacts of outdoor equipment and clothing through its design initiative the EcoIndex. The trends in transparency and design changes harkens back to Interface Corporation's first corporate sustainability report, resplendent in its shocking (gasp!)Take-Make-Waste mantra.

517 Companies. 60 Industries. California Most Recently. Will Washington State Be Next?

In early 2012, ushering in the new year with zest and promise, Patagonia again got high water marks by standing in line to become California's first B (Benefit) corporation. For all you legal scholars out there you can read this tome about why there needed to be a national movement to create legislation that promotes (and functionally enables) good corporate citizenship. Yves Chouinard, the wiry and peripatetic founder of Patagonia said "I learned at an early age that it's better to invent your own game; then you can always be a winner." Patagonia is a game changer and so is the story of B Corporations.

Here is the skinny from a non-legal perspective: most corporations, by law, have a fiduciary duty to shareholders to maximum their return on investment. That's it. If the company reduces that value through its sustainability and community level initiatives, it becomes vulnerable to shareholder litigation.

To successfully address sustainability issues, corporations must be able to fulfill commitments to communities, employees, other stakeholders and the voiceless "environment" which permits us to live and do business. This cannot occur unless changes are made to state law, in consort with a longer conversation about the role of business in community life.

In an effort to change the system reforms that would enable better corporate citizenship, B Lab, itself a non- profit corporation, started a new certification system to encourage recognition of businesses that wanted to address societal issues in addition to making a profit.

B Corps, unlike traditional businesses:

  1. Meet comprehensive and transparent social and environmental performance standards;

  1. Meet higher legal accountability standards;

  1. Build business constituency for public policies that support sustainable business.

Washington State is considering adopting B Corp legislation which would help the sustainable tourism industry prime the pump for future action. Support these efforts and continue with your good work. It pays off. Just ask Mr. Chouinard.

Heidi Siegelbaum

Calyx Sustainable Tourism

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

For All The Chocolate Lovers Out There
By Steve Gersman

Have you ever been to France? Have you ever had “chocolat chaud” there? For chocolate lovers, it’s the nectar of the gods. It’s not like a bar of chocolate, or those sumptuous desserts with hot, thick chocolate oozing out of them. It’s not like “pot au chocolat” or even a dreamy mousse.

Chocolat chaud stands alone.

It’s a liquid, comes in a cup, but is almost too thick to drink. So you get a spoon. But I never use the spoon. For me, tiny sips give the most pleasure, like savoring the first sip of a superb vintage wine. Made from three different types of solid chocolate, melted, then blended with cream and sugar, this is not for the faint-hearted. The drink is so rich that I have sometimes, when I am not feeling totally self-focused, shared a single cup with a friend.

To call this potion a hot chocolate is to call Versailles a house. If I wax nostalgic, that is only partly true. I always order chocolat chaud when I’m in Paris. Put it down to my love of chocolate and some of the finer pleasures in life.

But it’s not just about Paris. It’s about pleasure. If you haven’t been near Pike Place Market in years, you now have a reason to make an exception. On First Ave, just one storefront down from the SW corner of Stewart, is a French bistro called Le Pichet. If you live in Seattle or are lucky enough to visit, Le Pichet or its sister restaurant, Cafe Presse make it as only the best in France do. Le Pichet or Cafe Presse

Oh, and if you like French cuisine, they make the best French onion soup too, but only in winter. Bon appetite!
London, One More Time
By Ellen J. Wallach

It is 6pm on a very hot August evening and I’m riding on the Underground.  Crowded?  No, packed solid!  August in London means tourists, heat, humidity and no air conditioning.  For the most part in public places, A/C has not crossed the pond. But, I have a seat.  For five weeks this summer, I almost always got a seat.  I’m of an age that mothers tell their children to stand or sit on their laps and give me their seat.  They give the child “the eye,” a small nod up and a quick look at me.  The kid understands.  All children understand their mother’s “eye.”  I was walking around London six or more hours each day. I didn’t need the seat, but I did want it. I’m not proud. I took it every time.

Five weeks in a free three bedroom flat (apartment) in central London.  It was our retirement dream come true.  My husband and I had for years talked of spending two months a year in a different city when we retired.  We love traveling, but staying in one place and really getting to know it was so appealing.  When Tom retired, so had the economy.  An apartment in London, Paris, Rome, or Barcelona was not in our financial future.  Too expensive! As luck would have it, the only person I know who lives in Europe called and made this proposition:  his fully furnished Art Deco flat in a fabulous area of London (Marylebone) in exchange for staying with Dolce.  Would we like to cat sit for five weeks? Would we!

I’ve been to London many times.  The first trip was on my honeymoon in 1965.  I’ve seen things change with each visit.  This trip would be slow London, giving me time to look around, watch and listen, pick up conversations with strangers and snoop down interesting mews (once a row of horse stables, now flats.)  (One Sunday morning we found Madonna directing a new movie about Prince Edward and Wallis Simpson.)  After 45 years of observation, some things have changed, some have stayed the same, some should have changed, but didn’t and some things I just don’t understand.

I changed.  And this time I went with a different husband.
Forty five years ago the food was lousy, the tea fantastic and the coffee instant Nescafe.  Now London is a gourmet paradise.  The restaurant and pub food is fabulous, the many street markets are selling fresh produce from the farmers, homemade cheeses, savory and fruit pies, and ready to eat prepared foods.  Forty five years ago women over 30 all dressed like the queen (frumpy but without a crown) and the men were wearing suits from the same bolt of cloth- dark gray or black wool with a white stripe.  Today, so many women are smartly and age appropriately dressed.  At least one third of the men are still wearing the same suit.

My first musical theater experience in the stalls (orchestra seats) in London featured pre-ordering drinks to be picked up in the bar at intermission and a heavy Fire Curtain that fell after the first act.  When the audience returned for the second act, everyone sang God Save the Queen and the curtain went up.  The drinks and the curtain are still operational, but no singing.

Some of my keenest observations happen in the loo (bathroom.)  Toilets are each in private rooms.  No looking under the door as in the US. Back, sides and door are floor (or nearly) to way above your head.  What privacy.  Toilets used to flush by pulling a chain from the ceiling as the water tank was usually on the wall well above your head.  Today, the tanks are near the seats, like ours.

Public restrooms in the US often sell a variety of supplies (tampons, contraceptives.) In London I found Chewable Toothbrushes.  These were capsules in vending machines containing what looked like a white toothbrush without a handle.  You chewed this and spit it out.  It claims to be a toothbrush and a breath freshener in one. No toothpaste or water required, just chew.

In England you can purchase all kinds of insurance in the supermarket!  The one that caught my eye was Wedding Insurance.  It is advertised as “taking care of things you can’t prepare for, such as the photographer cancelling or a close relative falling ill.” You can pay for coverage for “presents, flowers, cake, transport and wedding attire.”  It nowhere discusses what happens if one of the betrothed gets cold feet.

London is known for its wonderful public transportation.  The streets are packed with all sorts of transport, but I noticed two additional creative options. On July 30th London, following the lead of other large cities, began a Cycle Hire program.  There are bicycle docking stations all over the city.  You pick up the bike at one station, cycle to your destination, and leave it.  To use this scheme (service) you pay a  charge to activate a key that unlocks all of the bikes for a day, a week, or longer.  Once you are a member, the first 30 minutes of any trip are free.  For additional time, there is a fee depending upon how long you use the bike.  You can make unlimited journeys of under 30 minutes with no usage charge.

From bicycles to Bentleys, Ferraris, Aston Martins and Porches, join the Classic Car Club.  This private club has a selection of “coupes to convertibles, sports to saloons, classic and brand new.”  By joining you receive an allocation of points that can be exchanged for hours behind the wheel of the car(s) of your dreams.  No maintenance, storage or security hassles.  The Club takes care of everything. It also hosts special events at 3am so members can take the cars for a spin.  
Nice to see them using the streets during the “off hours.”

And, then there is the language.  Tom and I were waiting for a rural bus in the Kent county side when a large, red double decker bus passed by. Emblazed on the entire side was:  “Hold onto your balls boys, the wags are back in town. Footballers’ Wives .” What do you make of this? I couldn’t figure it out, either.  I’ve since learned that Footballers’ Wives, a British TV drama, had been off the air for a few years.  Wags is an acronym for “wives and girlfriends of high profile football players.”  Football in Britain means soccer in the US. So, the show is returning!  There you have it.

We are back on the tube and I’m sitting next to a young woman totally wrapped in black, only her face is showing.  She turns and asks, “Are you from the United States?”  I say, “Yes.” She is from Saudi Arabia and is thinking about doing her graduate work in the U.S. She wants to know about “R-Kansas.”  I finally figure out that she is asking about Arkansas.  We have an extended discussion of US cities.  We had a long way to go.  I finally get the nerve to ask a question that had been on my mind, “Are you hot under your robes?”  And, she replied, “Oh, no, it is much hotter at home in the desert.”

Life is all about perspective.  The challenge is to keep an open mind, seeing the familiar as new.