Standing on stage tonight at the ornate Severance Hall (home of the Cleveland Orchestra) Patagonia founder Yvon Chouinard was a long way from his beloved Wyoming trout streams and California mountains. He sported a sharp looking tuxedo, but it was easy to tell he would have preferred being in a pair of waders or climbing pants.
Chouinard was dressed up and far from home to receive the Inamori Ethics Prize. While he may have been uncomfortable in the formal wear, Chouinard made the audience even more uncomfortable with his plain-spoken, challenging message that "consumerism" is destroying our planet. That is a tough message to deliver when you are the CEO of a consumer products (clothing and outdoor gear) company, but the Chouinard is not your standard CEO, and his talk persuaded me that when I "need" (not want) new gear, Patagonia will be my choice.
"Simplicity. Responsibility. Restraint." Those are the keys to sustaining our planet, he said.
Chouinard tells the story of a 700-year-old plum business in Japan. "Now that's sustainability."
Simplicity doesn't equal a life of poverty or hardship, he said, while also noting that it's hard to simplify. "Somebody will have to stop me from flying to Russia to go fly fishing," he said, a small smile crossed his face, making clear that simplicity has its limits.
Chouinard drew applause when he criticized government and corporate America, but then he turned his sites on himself and us.
"We have the government we deserve...Government is a pawn of corporations...But we are the addicts. ... I am the problem. ... If we can change ourselves so will corporations and government will follow."