Tuesday, February 21, 2006

Environmental Inactivist

When we came back from Costa Rica, Kathy and I were enthusiastic about doing more for the environment. As is sadly typical of us, however, we made a couple of changes and then otherwise went back to our usual routine. Recently a friend sent me as a gift Let My People Go Surfing, by Yvon Chouinard, the founder and owner of Patagonia, and I read much of it while we were spending this past weekend in the Shenandoah Valley. It served to remind me of our interest in lessening our impact on the environment, and as a result, this weekend Kathy and I had a number of conversations about the environment, and to some degree renewed our commitment to reduce our environmental impact.

When we got back yesterday, I spent part of the day surfing the web for environmental sites. One site I found, New American Dream, has a program called Turn the Tide, which discusses nine things everyone can do that has a positive impact. Funny enough, Kathy and I already do most of these things, and had decided to do another one of them before I even found the site. So if Kathy and I are already pretty much observing this checklist, maybe we're not quite as "inactive" as we think of ourselves. One thing we haven't done is the last item, which is inspire two friends to "Turn the Tide," so I'm posting here in the hope that some of you might consider undertaking some/all of these activities.

Ironically, even as we discuss positive environmental measures we can take, we are pursuing one of the biggest negative impacts on the environment, procreation.

Regarding the book, I enjoyed the reminder it served for me, but the first half of the book was a bit tedious with all the "I did this" and "we did that" that shows up in his recount of the company's history. The second half discussed the principles and philosophies that shape Patagonia and its desire to minimize the amount of harm the company does to the environment, and this is the part that I found inspiring. There are certainly a number of positive things that the company has done and continues to do, including donating significant money to grass-roots environmental groups, performing an environmental assessment to determine which of its activities can be changed so as to be more environmentally friendly, and using organic cotton. By no means do I want to suggest that such activities aren't noteworthy, but at the same time it might have been more intellectually honest if he'd noted some of his and the company's shortcomings. For example, Chouinard notes the amount of energy needed to ship something by air compared to ground transportation, but other than photos and mentions of travel to pretty much every continent, neglects to estimate the amount of energy his travel to go surfing, skiing, ice climbing ad infinitum consumes. Also, while he recognizes that the internet has become a significant source of business for Patagonia, he continues to produce catalogs, which, even though they're now being printed on recycled paper, inevitably have a greater impact on the environment than does the paperless web (he explains that some people like catalogs better than the Web, and it's easier to take a catalog with you). Rating: 7/10.