Let My People Go Surfing

Let My People Go Surfing

Summary of Let My People Go Surfing by Yvon Chouinard: This book provides valuable insight into the process of developing an ecological, innovative, virtuous, and economically viable business!

Note: this is a guest review written by Brieg Jaffrès from the “Besoin d’Aventure” (‘In Need of Adventure’) blog.

Review and Summary of Let My People Go Surfing by Yvon Chouinard (Founder of Patagonia):

By Yvon Chouinard, 2017, 272 pages

The green business model

This is the story of a man with a rebellious spirit, who became an entrepreneur in spite of himself.

He managed to integrate his passion for extreme sports, environmental protection, and ethics into the Patagonia company. Patagonia has become the archetypal company that respects its employees and the environment, while never neglecting its economic purpose and ensuring its longevity.

Preface by Naomi Klein

Buying to live instead of living to buy…

In this preface, Naomi Klein (author of This Changes Everything – Capitalism vs the Climate from 2015) shares a powerful message that can be summed up as follows:

[If enough of us change our behavior, we may have a chance of preserving what we need most: a planet that feeds us, protects us, and keeps us all alive.]

Preface to the first French edition by François Lemarchand (Founder of Nature & Découvertes)

In this preface, François Lemarchand says that Yvon Chouinard is a Californian hero!

California is the cradle of the outdoor philosophy, with John Muir as its icon, creator of the famous militant nature protection association “The Sierra Club.”

He says that California remains the world’s laboratory. In most areas, its inhabitants are already in the post-modern era that will soon be imposed on us all.

Yvon Chouinard, (of Franco-Quebecois origin and living in California), is 20 years ahead of his time in inventing the holistic enterprise, the postmodern enterprise where work and leisure are interconnected. Patagonia, a steadfast, high-quality outdoor clothing and equipment brand!

Yvon Chouinard is a Zen master who knows that, to achieve a goal, one must not focus on the goal itself, but concentrate on the means and conditions necessary to reach it.

His product creation philosophy is beauty, simplicity, product effectiveness, and action.

He likes to recall this phrase from Saint-Exupéry (Author of the book “The Little Prince“):

[It seems that perfection is reached not when there is nothing left to add, but when there is nothing left to subtract.]

A charismatic and inspirational boss, he gave credibility to Patagonia products by experimenting with them himself, spending 90% of his time in nature.

He created a new style of management by autonomous MBA delegation (Management by absence).

This book offers a formidable lesson in optimism for those seeking to live in coherence with their values. If you put this book down, you’ll see business in a different light. Companies can do good for people, and live in harmony with the earth while creating wealth.

Why this book?

Originally, Yvon Chouinard intended his book to be a philosophical handbook for Patagonia employees. In fact, however, it’s a goldmine for any company, whatever its size.

Patagonia’s mission is “to use business to inspire and implement solutions to the environmental crisis.”

Yvon Chouinard reminds us that by 2050, we will be between 300 and 500% above our planet’s capacity to renew its resources.

Throughout history, so many companies have collapsed under the same scenarios. If you consider globalization and capitalism as one giant empire, then the consequences are irreparable.

He says that [all life has a beginning and an end, and so do all human activities.] Species evolve and die out – what could be more normal? And yet, we are suffering the 6th great extinction of species…

Humans bear direct responsibility for the complete destruction of many wonderful creatures. Yvon Chouinard is particularly saddened by the fate of our own species, as we seem incapable of solving our own problems.

He recognizes that his large and influential Patagonia company has a responsibility to society. Patagonia has increased its efforts to be even more responsible.

The new edition of this book shows what Patagonia has done in the last decade to achieve this, and what the company plans to do in the coming one.


Right from the introduction, Yvon Chouinard starts off with a bang

He sees his company as an experiment. For him, Patagonia exists to put into practice the recommendations of all those catastrophic books on the state of our planet. He also says that Patagonia exists to challenge conventional wisdom and present a new style of responsible enterprise.

He believes that the commonly accepted model of capitalism, which demands endless growth and is responsible for the destruction of nature, must change. Patagonia and its 2,000 employees have the means and the will to prove to the business world that doing what’s right and good for business remains profitable.

 It took him 15 years to write the first edition of this book, enough time to prove his ability to break with conventional business practices and build a model that not only works but works better.

Especially for a company that intends to still be around in 100 years’ time.

1 – History

As a boy, he wanted to be a trapper. When he was 8, his family moved from Quebec to Los Angeles. He didn’t speak a word of English. As a teenager, he spent weekends and school vacations surfing and climbing with his friends.

sea games Let My People Go Surfing by Yvon Chouinard

To practice mountaineering, you needed equipment to insure yourself. But back then, there weren’t many brands available. He began to make his own climbing pitons, and then improved them continuously.

With his father’s help, he built a small workshop behind his house. In the following years, he spent his winters forging pitons, and in summer he climbed the walls of Yosemite and Wyoming National Parks in Canada.

 In those days, he lived on a few dollars a day, particularly proud of the fact that climbing had no economic value for society. Sleeping more than 200 days a year in a sleeping bag, he felt like a wild species: adaptable, resilient, and tough.

A few years later, he brought out his first catalog to showcase the climbing gear he forged during his winters.

The catalog consisted of a one-page Mimeo listing the products and their prices, with the footnote “do not expect prompt delivery between May and November,” as he wanted to stay free during the summer to climb and surf… To improve the pitons, the other designers added things. Conversely, he and his partner Tom Frost worked hard to cut back, reducing weight and volume without ever sacrificing strength and safety.

His first company, “Chouinard équipement”, was not an end in itself, but just a means of paying the bills to go climbing.

However, despite growing sales, profits at “Chouinard équipement” didn’t exceed 1% at year-end.

Yet by 1970, “Chouinard équipement” had become the largest supplier of climbing equipment in the United States. However, the pitons used by climbers were damaging the rock faces. He and his partner Frost decided to stop making pitons.

It was his first major environmental decision!

Fortunately, there was an alternative to pitons: aluminum wedges.

They began manufacturing their own models. Their new catalog began with an editorial on the harmful consequences of using pitons and a 14-page article on “clean” climbing.

mountaineering Let My People Go Surfing by Yvon Chouinard

It was in England in the 60s, however, that he had his first idea for clothing. He discovered a velvet fabric, resistant to abrasion and tearing, perfect for climbing. He had shorts made and they sold so well that he had to repeat the order quickly.

In 1970, during a climbing trip to Scotland, he bought a traditional rugby jersey.

Chouinard quickly realized that it was perfectly suited to climbing. He ordered a few jerseys from the manufacturer, which sold like hotcakes.

Chouinard immediately realized that this was a way of increasing his margins (not very high for climbing gear). Subsequently, he added anoraks, bivy bags, backpacks, and various items of clothing to his product line.

At this point, it was time to separate the climbing gear sold under the Chouinard équipement brand from the clothing.

The name Patagonia was chosen because it conjured up a romantic vision of glaciers cascading down the windswept fjords of Patagonia. 

In 1973, the famous Fitz Roy massif logo appeared.

Our company almost went under: learning how to run a company
learning how to run a company Let My People Go Surfing by Yvon Chouinard

Patagonia almost went under…! It was growing, but too fast, and with insufficient margins.

[We learned the hard way the difference between ‘running a forger and ‘selling rags’] (clothing).

– Y Chouinard

In 1979, a general manager by the name of Kris McDivitt was appointed to run the company. The company finally had someone who could channel its owner’s wild creativity.

By the early ’80s, Patagonia was rocking bright colors across its entire range. And yes, it was Patagonia that unintentionally launched the 80’s neon fashion! From ’85 to ’90, Patagonia’s sales jumped from $20 million to $100 million a year!

Yvon Chouinard was a free spirit.

Yvon Chouinard kept an outside eye on Patagonia. In his opinion, a company needs someone who spends time outdoors to ‘test the waters’ so to speak.

He would return from his travels excited with ideas for new products, new markets, or new materials. Then he began to see profound changes in the world and came back with stories of ecological and social devastation.

He soon discovered that grassroots activism could make a difference and that a degraded natural habitat could be restored by sheer force of will.

In ’86, Patagonia pledged to donate 10% of its profits to associations fighting to preserve and restore natural habitats.

Patagonia then upped the ante to 1% of sales. 

In 2001, the 1% for the Planet association was created. More on this later…

In the early 90s, Yvon Chouinard asked himself why he was in business to run a company.

So, with a dozen of his top managers, he set off for a walk in the windswept mountains of Patagonia. The aim was to understand what had drawn them to the corporate world, what they wanted Patagonia to become…

During the trip, they wrote down Patagonia’s values and code of conduct.

They called these values and guidelines “philosophies.”

Patagonia values

[Patagonia makes products that improve both quality of life and the environment.

All company decisions take into account the context of the environmental crisis.

Maximum attention is paid to quality (defined by the product’s durability), its versatility, and the minimum use of resources in its manufacture.

Fashion criteria are not at all part of the company’s values.

Patagonia recognizes that the well-being of communities is part of sustainable development.

Patagonia takes its decisions in consideration of the general well-being.

Without giving it priority, we seek profitability through our activities. However, growth and expansion are not core values of our company.

To mitigate the negative environmental consequences of our company’s activities, we impose an annual tax of 1% of our sales, which is donated to activist associations.

Patagonia encourages active positions in line with its values: simplicity, dynamism, innovation.

Employees must agree with the Patagonia charter.]

Imagine, it was 1991 when Patagonia decided to adopt all his values. Yvon Chouinard was more than 20 years ahead of most companies!

Thanks to this regrouping with his managers, called “philosophical training,” Yvon Chouinard finally understood after 35 years why he was in business:

He wanted to make Patagonia a model for running a business with good environmental management and sustainability to which other companies could aspire.

In ’93, Patagonia innovated by manufacturing a fleece from recycled polyester soda bottles.

In ’94, Patagonia carried out its first in-house environmental assessment.

Since 96, all Patagonia cotton garments are organic.

Between 1985 and 2016 Patagonia was able to distribute $66 million in funding and in-kind donations to grassroots environmental associations.

Patagonia’s charter of conduct for running a business can be summed up as follows:

[Make the best products, causing the least environmental impact, use business to inspire, and implement solutions to the environmental crisis.]

You can use this charter as inspiration for your own company!

For example, the charter/mission I have defined for my company Besoin d’Aventure is:

[Encourage simple, clean travel to limit environmental impact. To reconnect people with nature and help them realize their dreams of natural travel.]

2 – Philosophies

Patagonia’s philosophy is an expression of the company’s values, applicable to any type of business.

Philosophical principles are general guidelines. In a company that lasts, the operating methods for running a business may change, but the values, culture, and philosophy must remain constant.

These principles must be communicated to employees so that they can take the initiative without having to follow the boss’s orders. This ensures that everyone is pulling in the same direction, increasing efficiency, and avoiding misunderstandings.

Let My People Go Surfing by Yvon Chouinard

2A – Product Design Philosophy

The first part of Patagonia’s mission is to make “the best products,” period, without forgetting ease of care, a criterion of quality.

The dictionary defines quality as “A degree of excellence.” Patagonia has therefore drawn up a list of criteria to be respected.

Here are the main questions a designer should ask to determine whether a product meets Patagonia’s standards:

Is it functional?

Every creation starts from a need.

Without a serious, concrete request, the product may be great, but difficult to justify in the Patagonia product line. You have to ask yourself: who needs it and why?

Is it multifunctional?

Why buy several garments when one is enough? Today, it’s also an ecological issue. The materials we manufacture, sell, transport, store, clean and finally dispose of have an impact on the environment at every stage, and we are directly responsible for this.

The customer must therefore also ask himself “Is this purchase necessary?” Do I really need a new fleece? Don’t I already have something that will do the job, will this garment also serve me for something else?

Beware of all enterprises that require new clothes.”

– David Thoreau, American philosopher, naturalist and poet

Is it durable?

Remember that the longevity of a product comes down to that of its weakest component…

Is it repairable?

Patagonia produces videos to show customers how to repair their garments themselves. Patagonia wants to make it easy to keep the product as long as possible.

This may seem counterproductive for a brand that has to sell.

However, this “sincere” philosophy that tells customers “don’t buy this product if you don’t need it” works. Indeed, it appeals to all those who are sensitive to environmental issues.

And there are plenty of them in the outdoor world! But sincerity is very important!

Let My People Go Surfing by Yvon Chouinard

One of Patagonia’s most famous commercials!

Does it match our customers’ physique?

The cuts of some garments are better suited to young, slender climbers (or athletes).

Other product lines, on the other hand, are more suited to older fishermen (or sportsmen) with a stronger physique. It also varies from country to country!

Is it as simple as possible?

Design should be dictated by minimalist function.

Complexity is often a sign that function has not been sufficiently taken into account.

Good design is as little design as possible”

– Dieter Rams, Director of Design at Braun

Is the product offering simple?

Few of us have the time, patience, and skills to choose from a 12-page menu in a restaurant.

People today have too many choices, and are tired of having to decide constantly, especially when it comes to making intelligent decisions.

The best restaurants in the world offer a limited menu. The best stores have already selected the equipment that will suit you best, according to your level and budget. As the Dalai Lama says, abundance of choice is not happiness.

The most successful companies offer a limited number of well-made items. At Patagonia, the first criterion for success is how to run a business!

Is it an innovation or an invention?

Yvon Chouinard says he much prefers [to design and sell products that are unique and of such quality that there is no competition.]

There’s no point in inventing them. Innovation is much faster because you start with an existing product or design idea. The most successful companies are based on innovation, not invention.

Like creative cooks, we can take inspiration from the original recipe, then close the book to make our own dish.

Is it a global creation?

A global company has to adapt its products to local markets and produce locally.

Is it easy to maintain and clean?

Ease of maintenance is becoming a quality criterion. That said, environmental concerns take precedence.

Does it add value?

What Patagonia designs and manufactures is the best of the moment! Anything that isn’t up to scratch goes back to the drawing board.

To know how to run a business, Patagonia is committed to treating its customers with respect and has put in place an absolute guarantee. Every effort for every customer is well worth it.

Is it authentic?

Authentic clothing, designed to perform a function, doesn’t have to follow fashion.

Patagonia garments should be beautiful, even works of art!

Fashion is ephemeral… and art timeless…

Are we chasing fashion?

Patagonia is committed to quality, so design moves slowly. Good design takes time. Then Patagonia proposes the prototype to the core group: selected customers, wholesalers, and store employees. They have to validate the product and predict whether it will sell.

Are we designing for our core target?

We need to think of customers as concentric circles.

In the center, the core target, are the preferred customers.

Are we causing unnecessary damage?

To do as little damage as possible, be aware of what you’re doing at each stage of the manufacturing process.

For example: Most 100% cotton garments are made from an average of 73% cotton, the rest being chemicals such as formaldehyde to prevent the fabric from wrinkling or shrinking.

Cotton fields account for 2.5% of cultivated land but consume 22.5% of the chemical insecticides and 10% of the pesticides used in agriculture!

GMO cotton now accounts for 70% of the world’s industrial cotton crops.

Let My People Go Surfing by Yvon Chouinard

Since 1996, all Patagonia garments have been made from organic cotton.

At the time, Patagonia was torn between its environmental principles and its quality requirements.

In 1996, customers ranked quality first, followed by brand and price. They were much less interested in environmental issues. However, Patagonia made an early ecological shift, and it’s paying off today.

Patagonia says it takes responsibility for its products from birth to rebirth, i.e., to the point of recycling. Patagonia encourages its customers to send their garments for repair rather than throwing them away.

2B – Production Philosophy

The key word is “discover”, not “invent.” To stay ahead of the competition and design technical products, our ideas need to be as close to the source as possible to run a business. That is, our target customers.

There are different ways of approaching a new idea or project:

  • The traditional scientific route, but that takes too long. By then, your competitors will have passed you by.
  • The entrepreneur’s way: take a big step forward and if everything goes well, you’ll move forward; if it doesn’t go well, you’ll back off a bit. It’s much faster to learn by doing!

One important thing: try to teach your way of thinking to everyone who works with you.

Yvon Chouinard says [even though I know that at Patagonia we encourage everyone to be a bit crazy and take risks, we have no desire to become Martyrs.]

Testing is an integral part of the product design process at Patagonia. Testing means:
  • Evaluating competitors’ products.
  • Trying out ideas on the fly to see if they’re worthwhile.
  • Living with a new product to measure its potential.
  • Determining whether it’s strong enough.
  • Conduct test marketing to find out if people will buy it.
  • Borrow ideas from other disciplines. It’s important to borrow and adapt ideas even from an unlikely source…

2C – Distribution Philosophy

Mail order

Patagonia’s first mail-order principle is that it’s just as important to sell itself and its philosophy as it is to sell its products.

Telling the Patagonia story, educating customers about the garment layering system, environmental issues, and the company itself – this is the mission of the catalog, largely as much as selling the products.

The Patagonia catalog is first and foremost a showcase for the company’s image.

Patagonia’s mail order mission, along with the book that helps you run your business, is to achieve a 100% customer satisfaction rate.

And here are some traditional mail-order concepts that Patagonia doesn’t follow:

  1. Analyze sales per square centimeter.
  2. Organize consumer panels.
  3. Give more space to the most expensive items.
  4. Writing texts that appeal to vanity and guilt.

Here are the concepts followed by Patagonia for the creation of a new store:

  1. Do not construct a building.
  2. Try to save and restore old buildings wherever possible.
  3. If not, build quality.
  4. Use recycled and recyclable materials.
  5. Everything built must be repairable and easy to maintain.
  6. New buildings must be built to last.
  7. Each store must be unique.

Products are presented in showroom format. Stock is stored in the cellar or in an adjoining warehouse.


The company requires its retailers to generate at least 20-25% of their sales from Patagonia products. To run a business, the brand must also be its first or second supplier.

Yvon Chouinard says, [By offering a little bit of everything, most outdoor stores are no longer really specialized. It would be perfect if the typical outdoor store customer had average tastes and an average mentality, but we’re talking to smart people who have money to spend and little free time.]

[The common trait between all outdoor fans is that they don’t waste their time hanging around in stores.]

– Y Chouinard

Therefore, it’s in a retailer’s interest to commit to a few well-selected brands he believes in and to make himself a name as a supplier/stockist.

2D – Image Philosophy

Without really realizing it, we spend our lives creating and developing a personal image that is perceived by others. Companies, too, create and develop an image that is the result of their own actions, or of a collection of ideas from the imagination of an advertising executive. A company’s image can appear very different from what it really is…

[Promoting our brand is simple: we tell people who we are. It’s much harder to invent fiction than to tell true stories.]

– Y.Chouinard

Patagonia’s brand image emanates directly from the values of outdoor activities and the passions of its founders and employees. In orderto manage,Patagonia decided not to reduce the company to a slogan.

The Patagonia image is a human voice, expressing the joy of those who love the world, are passionate about their commitment, and want to influence the future. This means it can shock as well as inspire.


For its product photos, Patagonia has always taken pictures of real people real people, doing real things, with a caption underneath. And now all the industry’s catalogs and magazines copy them…


Copies are as much about Patagonia’s ideas as they are about their products for running a business. There are two kinds of copy: personal stories that illustrate a value or support a cause, and descriptive texts to sell the products.

Their copies are very stringent since Patagonia doesn’t hesitate to take a stand and shock. So, they have to be sure of what they’re saying.


Patagonia’s 3 principlesof promotion can help you run a business:

  1. We are committed to inspiring and educating rather than promoting
  2. We prefer to gain our credibility rather than buy it (Word of mouth, good press)
  3. And, we only use advertising as a last resort (trade magazines)

[Our customers are smart. Shopping is not one of their hobbies. They want a deep, simple life. They’re tired of being the target of aggressive advertising.]

–  Y. Chouinard

A positive, independent press article is worth much more than advertising space.

[We believe that the best way to get newspapers talking is to have something to tell. What works best for us are inserts in the press to announce the opening of a store or warn about certain environmental issues.]

– Y. Chouinard

Patagonia’s advertising budget corresponds to less than 1% of sales!

2E – Financial Philosophy

[A company is responsible for the resources it exploits.]

– Yvon Chouinard

In practice, Patagonia considers its balance sheet to be positive in order to run a business, when the company has been able to do “some good” in the year. In fact, profits are simply the result of a vote of confidence from their customers.

The third part of Patagonia’s code of conduct for running a business is [Using business to inspire and implement alternatives to the environmental crisis.]

To become a role model, and to set an example, Patagonia must therefore present benefits.

Let My People Go Surfing by Yvon Chouinard

A loyal customer will buy new products without any convincing. A sale to a loyal customer is worth 6 to 8 times more in terms of profitability than a sale to another customer.

Yvon Chouinard believes that quality is no longer a luxury. Consumers demand and expect it. It’s quality, not price, that has the greatest correlation with a company’s success.

Companies with a reputation for quality have a return on investment 12 times higher than their competitors.

[When we have to make an important business decision the answer is almost always to improve quality in order to run a business. We want customers who buy our clothes because they need them, not on a whim.]

– Yvon Chouinard

2F – Human Resource Philosophy

“The master in the art of living makes little distinction between his work and his play, his labor and his leisure, his mind and his body, his education and his recreation, his love, and his religion. He hardly knows which is which. He simply pursues his vision of excellence at whatever he does, leaving others to decide whether he is working or playing. To him, he is always doing both.”

– LP Jacks, English Educator and Philosopher

Work should allow us to express ourselves by doing something useful and enjoyable at the same time. Work also earns money, but that should be its second function…

Yvon Chouinard can’t imagine a company that would seek to produce the best products without passionate staff, or that wouldn’t use its own products.

Patagonia is looking for employees who are committed not only to the environment, but also to reversing unnecessary hierarchy, excessive consumption, and inaction.

Corporate culture

If you want to run a company where employees have fun while they work, and see themselves as the ultimate customers of what they make, then you have to make sure you hire the right people, treat them well, and train them to treat others well…

[Our greatest successes come from teamwork. In our culture, we applaud the orchestrabut we have a hard time tolerating anyone who tries to stand alone in the spotlight.

Our employees are die-hard fans of our products, people who like to spend their time in the mountains and in nature. It’s much harder to find a “pure” executive who’s into climbing or river rafting than it is to teach an outdoor sports enthusiast an office job.

We take our time when hiring someone. We have the choice since we’re inundated with responses to every vacancy. Candidates meet their future bosses as well as their future colleagues.

It happens that a candidate for a managerial position is received by groups of 4 to 6 people and returns twice, even three times in a few weeks.] – Yvon Chouinard


[We appreciate employees who have rich, full lives. We encourage parents to spend time with their children.]

– Yvon Chouinard

A daycare center has been set up in Patagonia’s California offices, so parents can eat with their children at lunchtime.

[At Patagonia, our daycare center is the source of our best products: happy children.]

– Y Chouinard

2G – Management Philosophy

“It is not the strongest of the species that survives, nor the most intelligent that survives. It is the one that is most adaptable to change.”

– Charles Darwin, English naturalist and paleontologist who originated the theory of the evolution of species

Patagonia wants employees capable of questioning a decision if they consider it unsuitable!

[Since we can’t give orders to our employees, we have to:

  • Either convince them that what is being asked is right.
  • Or make them understand it for themselves.] – Yvon Chouinard

The key to true consensus: good communication. The best managers are never at their desks, yet their teams can easily find them and approach them.

At Patagonia,there are no individual offices. Everyone works in an “open space,” without doors or partitions. This practice can help an entrepreneur to run a successful business.

The lost space of silence and reflection is compensated by better communication and a more egalitarian atmosphere. Humans, like animals, learn a lot from each other when they live in herds…

When recruiting managers, it’s important to distinguish between a leader and a manager. Leaders take risks. They have a long-term vision. They create strategies and drive change. Managers, on the other hand, manage teams.

Yvon Chouinard believes that, for good communication, there should be no more than 100 people on the same premises.

2H – Environmental Philosophy

“Anyone who believes exponential growth can go on forever in a finite world is either a madman or an economist.”

– Kenneth Boulding, American economist, teacher, pacifist, poet, systems theorist and philosopher

Yvon Chouinard is very pessimistic about the future of nature. We’re experiencing an unprecedented acceleration in the disappearance of species… which could lead to the extinction of part of the human species.

Humanity is in crisis, and we have created a bottleneck. The 21st century must become the century of the environment. In other words, our usual way of life is over.

[A pessimist who says, ‘It’s all over, there’s no point in doing anything,’ is the same as an optimist who says, ‘Relax, things will get better.’ Both ways of thinking lead to the same result: nothing gets done.]

– Yvon Chouinard

Yvon Chouinard is not dejected by these reflectionsbut content.

As a Buddhist, he accepts that everything must have a beginning and an end. Perhaps the human species has had its day and now needs to disappear to make way for other forms of life. Let’s hope they’re more intelligent and more responsible…

Whatever the case, he has found the cure for depression in action, which is the basis of Patagonia’s environmental philosophy.

Evil always wins when you do nothing.

– Yvon Chouinard

He has always believed that a government acting in the right direction should think its strategy in such a way that our society will still be viable a century from now.

We have to start from the assumption that our businesses depend on natural resources and that we are therefore part of the system and therefore have an obligation to maintain it as it is.

The root of the problem is that no government or company really calculates the true price of its impact on the environment!

The wilderness

For a French person, the Pyrenees are a wilderness. The furthest place from a road or a house in the United States is only 40 km.

If we define wilderness as a place more than a day’s walk from civilization, there are none left in North America (apart from a few places in Alaska and Canada). We need to protect these wild spaces!

In an article in Science magazine, environmental economist Robert Costanza writes that the benefits of unspoiled nature outweigh the benefits of exploitation by at least 100 to one. The economist also asks the question: what would be the economic gains if we were to increase the unfortunate$6.5 billion spent each year on preserving natural habitats to $45 billion? (A sum sufficient to create significant wilderness reserves). In return, nature would bring an estimated value of between $440 and $520 billion…

Let My People Go Surfing by Yvon Chouinard

Patagonia believes in reaching out to other companies to join the cause of saving our planet.

Here are the elements of this philosophy in a nutshell:

  1. Examine our conscience.
  2. Put our own house in order.
  3. Do penance.
  4. Support participatory democracy.
  5. Do good.
  6. Influence other companies.
Examining our conscience

[I don’t believe that human beings are fundamentally evil.I just think we’re not very intelligent animals:no animal is stupid or greedy enough to soil its own nest, except human beings…

We’re certainly not smart enough to foresee the long-term consequences of our everyday actions.]

– Yvon Chouinard.

For a company, one of the most difficult things is to learn about the environmental impact of its best-selling products; and if necessary, to transform them or withdraw them from sale.

In fact, one of the parts of Patagonia’s charter is: “to have less impact on the environment in our professional activity.”

Putting our own house in order

There’s only one way to lead a grouplead by example.

Every time Patagonia has chosen to “do the right thing,” it has proved financially profitable.

In 2005, for example, Patagonia began taking back polyester clothing from its customers with its “Worn Wear” program. This initiative can only come from the right people running a business.

Patagonia also has a second-hand clothing collection program, which the company buys back, cleans, and resells. This makes clothes cheaper and therefore affordable for everyone.

Patagonia’s offices have long been home to:
  • Wastepaper baskets.
  • Each employee has their own cup,
  • Lighting redesigned for a more energy-efficient system,
  • Wooden ceilings repainted white to bring in more light.
  • Heating and air-conditioning systems replaced by more innovative ones.

All this contributed to electricity savings of 25%. This may seem obvious to us today, but Patagonia was already 10 to 15 years ahead of the game!

Patagonia’s corporate environmental philosophy also encourages employees to get personally involved!

Patagonia maintains a support fund. Every time an employee donates money to an association of his or her choice, Patagonia doubles the amount.

Patagonia also allows its employees to take two months off to work for an environmental association, while retaining their Patagonia salary and benefits!

Doing penance

“If you want to die rich, you’re going to have to stay on the cutting edge. Always invest. Do not spend anything. Don’t eat your capital. Don’t have fun. Do not find out who you are. Give nothing to anyone. Keep it all. Die as rich as you can. But you know what? I’ve heard an expression that says it all: your shroud won’t have a pocket”

– Susie Tompkins Buell* 

*Susie Tompkins Buell: American entrepreneur, businesswoman, and donor for progressive causes.  She co-founded the Esprit and The North Face clothing brands with her first husband, Doug Tompkins.

In 1996, Patagonia pledged to donate 1% of its sales to environmental protection associationsa green taxself-imposed by the company, which draws its resources from this planet.

Supporting participatory democracies

Democracy always works best within a small, homogeneous society. Social pressure avoids the need for a police force.

It’s worth remembering that participatory democracy, financed by private philanthropic funds, nurtured the two great social movements of the 19th century. These were the abolition of slavery and the fight for women’s rights.

Another example: Theodore Roosevelt didn’t create Yosemite National Park, it was “John Muir,” a Sierra Club activist. Yvon Chouinard says he has learned from his life in nature that our planet loves diversity, while it hates monoculture and centralization.

1,000 activist groups, each dedicated to a particular issue, are often far more successful than most governments or large organizations.

Patagonia’s financial support for activist associations has been significant: between 1985 and 2016 Patagonia distributed $79 million in cash and in kind!

Patagonia also organizes a conference every 18 months called “tools for grassroots activists.” It aims to provide activists with the organizational, marketing and management tools and skills they need to better compete in a competitive media environment.

Patagonia also supports Planned Parenthood, an organization that not only addresses social issues but also works to combat overpopulationa major cause of environmental problems.

The countries where people suffer most are those with the highest birth rates, and often also the poorest. The destruction of their natural environment is often at the root of their poverty.

Yvon Chouinard has always believed that an agricultural revolution is needed to run a farming business.

The modern food industry is one of the main culprits in the destruction of our planet. We devote 30% of the world’s habitable space and 70% of its water resources to pasture and agriculture. No other economic sector has such an impact on the environment.

Biodiversity has been collapsing ever since industrial agriculture began using monocultures, machines and chemicals, whichhave become…. the norm.

In 2013, Yvon Chouinard created “Patagonia provision,” a new food company with the same values as the clothing company. An opportunity to guide the food revolution. To go beyond organic.

To return to old-fashioned farming, starting with biodynamics and crop rotation. If all crops were converted to regenerative agriculture, it would absorb 40% of our annual CO2 emissions…

Let My People Go Surfing by Yvon Chouinard

1% for the Planet Alliance

Preserving nature is essential to human survival.

In 2001, Craig Matthew and Yvon Chouinard founded the 1% for the Planet association.

This corporate club pledges to donate at least 1% of its sales to actions to protect and rehabilitate natural areas.

The sole aim is to increase the effectiveness of associations working in the field to preserve the environment by providing them with funds.

In return, members can use the “1% for the planet” logo and communicate this commitment to their customers (this logo enables consumers to differentiate between greenwashing and real action). My blog ‘Besoin d’Aventure’ is a member of 1% for the planet. I invite you to do the same if you have a business.

1% for the planet is a self-imposed tax on the use of the planet’s resources. It’s also an assurance that we’ll still be around tomorrow.

The solution is not complicated! We have to act, and if we can’t do it ourselves, we have to put our hand in our pocket.

“You must be the change you want to see in the world.”

– Mahatma Gandhi, political leader and important spiritual guide of India and the country’s independence movement.
Turn around, walk

The Zen master would say that: if you want to change governmentif you want to change businessyou have to change consumers. This method can help you run a changed company.

And then slowly! The consumer? I’m the consumer.

You mean it’s up to me to change?

Many of us are questioning our frenetic consumer lifestyle. We aspire to a simpler life, based not on the rejection of technology, but on a return to better-adapted technology.

If demand for sustainable products increases sufficiently, markets will change. Companies will have to respond, and governments will be forced to follow through.

[Patagonia will never be completely socially responsible, and we’ll never be able to make a product with zero environmental impact, but we’re committed to trying.]

– Yvon Chouinard

[Through my feeble attempts to simplify my own life, I’ve learned enough to know that, if we had to or wanted to live more simply, our lives would not be impoverished but enriched in all the ways that really matter…]

– Yvon Chouinard.

Conclusion to Let My People Go Surfing by Yvon Chouinard:

3 words to retain from this book: Dedication, quality, simplicity

This book reviews all the important aspects one should reflect upon before creating and developing a successful modern business.

It helps you ask the right questions for formulating your own charter: the visionand mission for running any business.

After summarizing Patagonia’s difficulties and successes, Yvon Chouinard presents the philosophical principles of each of his company’s departments:

  • Product design
  • Production
  • Distribution
  • Marketing
  • Financing
  • Human resources
  • Management
  • Environment

His principles are often highly innovative, offbeat, and sometimes contrary to common sense – and yet they work!

Patagonia, the famous outdoor clothing brand, has always been one step ahead of its competitors.

Today, many companies are copying its worldwide success.

Mission accomplished for Patagonia ….

Since one of its missions is “Using business to inspire and implement solutions to the environmental crisis.”

Reading this book quite literally changed the way I look at entrepreneurship. It demonstrates that it is possible to be an entrepreneur and have a positive impact at the same time… knowing that this model and these concepts can be adapted to any business sector.

This book inspires you to think big, because ultimately, the bigger a company grows, the more positive impact it can have if it chooses to do so in the first place!

I also like the way it’s written: impactful, convincing, with powerful language. It is a great example for entrepreneurs who want to improve their communication in order to more effectively convey their ideas.

This book will help many entrepreneurs to make a green shift, to feel more in tune with their aspiration to “do good around them.”

Above all, Patagonia hopes to influence small, independent businesses…

So… what will be your part?

My rating : Permanent Record by Edward Snowden Permanent Record by Edward Snowden Permanent Record by Edward SnowdenPermanent Record by Edward SnowdenPermanent Record by Edward SnowdenPermanent Record by Edward SnowdenPermanent Record by Edward SnowdenPermanent Record by Edward SnowdenPermanent Record by Edward Snowden

Have you read “Let My People Go Surfing”? How do you rate it?

Mediocre - No interestReasonable - One or two interesting paragraphsIntermediate - Some goods ideasGood - Had changed my life on one practical aspectVery Good - Completely changed my life ! (No Ratings Yet)


Read more reviews on Amazon about “Let My People Go Surfing”

Buy on Amazon “Let My People Go Surfing”

Strong points:

  • Great entrepreneurial values.
  • A different way of thinking showing other possibilities.
  • A call for change for something more sustainable.
  • Quick and easy to read.

Weak points:

  • No concrete tools for applying the philosophy (but plenty of examples).
  • Yvon Chouinard comes across as overconfident at times.
  • The environmental aspect may put off those with limited interest in the subject.
  • Somewhat repetitive.

The Handy Guide to Let My People Go Surfing

Patagonia’s six-step product design process

Yvon Chouinard achieved success with Patagonia by adopting principles to make his products more attractive and determine their market viability.

Here are the 6 steps in Yvon Chouinard’s product design process:
  1. Evaluate competitors’ products
  2. Try out ideas on the fly to see if they’re worthwhile
  3. Live with a new product to measure its potential
  4. Determine if it’s strong enough
  5. Conduct test marketing to find out if people will buy it
  6. Borrow ideas from other disciplines. It’s important to borrow and adapt ideas, even from an unlikely source.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) concerning Let My People Go Surfing

1. How has Yvon Chouinard’s Let My People Go Surfing been received by the public?

Yvon Chouinard’s book has been a huge success. It is also on Amazon’s best-seller list.

2. What has been the book’s impact?

Let My People Go Surfing has had a positive impact on readers, who have left a multitude of positive reviews. The book is a great source of encouragement and inspiration for all those who want to run a business, or who are looking for a business model with greater integrity and attuned to societal concerns.   

3. Who is the target audience of Let My People Go Surfing?

This book, which illustrates the entrepreneur’s journey and business principles, is aimed at anyone looking for a business model in line with ethical, environmentally-friendly capitalism.

4. What are Patagonia’s promotional principles?

  • Committed to inspiring and educating rather than promoting
  • Earn credibility rather than buy it (word-of-mouth versus advertising)
  • Use advertising only as a last resort

5. What are the book’s tips for running a business?

According to Ivon Chouinard, if you want to run a business where employees have fun while they work and see themselves as the ultimate customers of what they make, then you have to make sure you hire the right people, treat them well, and train them to treat others well.

New Patagonia store concepts VS traditional concepts

Patagonia’s concepts for a new storeTraditional mail-order concepts that Patagonia does not follow
Do not construct a buildingAnalyze sales per square inch/centimeter 
Try to save and restore old buildings wherever possibleOrganize consumer panels 
Otherwise, build qualityGive more space to the most expensive items 
Use recycled and recyclable materialsWrite copies that appeal to vanity and guilt
Everything built must be repairable and easy to maintainNew buildings must be built to last

Who is Yvon Chouinard?

Yvon Chouinard

Yvon Chouinard was born in Lewiston, Maine (USA) in 1938. In 1953, at the age of 14, he took up rock climbing as a member of the Southern California Falconry Club and became an avid climber. Then, in 1957, he began earning a living selling the equipment he made from the trunk of his car.

In 1965, he joined forces with climber and aeronautical engineer Tom Frost. From that point on, his handmade products became industrialized. He opened his first store, Great Pacific Iron Works, in the seaside town of Ventura, California.

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