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We’re no longer citizens, we’re consumers, says Patagonia’s Chouinard to VC Students

May 20, 2019

“We’re no longer citizens, we’re consumers,” pointed out Patagonia founder and owner Yvon Chouinard at Ventura College on Earth Day, April 22, 2019.

“Webster’s says someone who’s a consumer is someone who destroys,” he continued.

I took a break from writing my Earth Day piece that was published in the local paper (and reprinted with some addendums and photographs here) to listen to Yvon Chouinard’s wide ranging conversation with his long time friend and business associate Rick Ridgeway. He also engaged with student questions, and gave away copies of his new book, Some Stories: Lessons from the Edge of Business and Sport.

What’s on his agenda these days has less to do with selling fleece and making money and more to do with:

  • developing regenerative agriculture,
  • encouraging people to read books,
  • getting people to vote politicians who will take care of our planet,
  • and educating women in third world countries.

He argued passionately that we all must do what we can to address climate change: we must from reduce emmisions, increase the scale of conservation of protected natural areas to serve as carbon sinks, increase the scale of regenerative farming and grazing.

Patagonia as a company is committed to saving the planet– it’s even in their mission statement.

According to Chouinard, the most important solution is regenerative agriculture which is healthier for the planet and for people too because regenerative ag replaces missing nutrition from commercial ag, including micro-nutrients.

How many plants can you name? Do you know the use for? The average indigenous woman knows the names and uses of 500 plants.

The way we’re eating, Chouinard points out, we’re not getting the nutrients we need, even if the food is organic, so we need to go back to regenerative organic ag and grow foods with more nurtients and by building top soil

All life depends on 6” of earth.

Regenerative ag holds on to those top 6″, and saves it. It captures carbon by not tilling, holding it in the ground where it belongs, explained Chouinard.

“If people knew the facts they should just jump on that,” said Chouinard. “That’s why I’m so excited about agriculture anyway.”

Rick Ridgeway further explained that “Regenerative ag supports soils by increasing organic matter, and that organic matter, dead or alive, is made of carbon.”

That organic matter, as it dies it’s still sequestered in the soil. Scientists measuring carbon going from the air into the ground in regenerative protocols are extrapolating that if this type of farming went to scale, we could put back the carbon we’re releasing.

Climate change isn’t the problem.
Climate change is a symptom.
The real problem?
Too many people using too much stuff.


One of the cover crops – turmeric – 2 crops double the money plus 10% for cotton and complete success.

How can a product do less harm but do more good? Rick Ridgeway asks. People say we can’t. We’ve lost sight of our ability to deal with it because we’re divorced from nature. When you develop those sensitivities you notice those changes going around you that’s related to climate change.

Connect deeply to nature

Make that commitment

“I’ve often said there’s no difference between a pessimist who says don’t bother and an optimist who says it’s fine don’t bother doing anything,” says Yvon Choiunard.

If you see climate change as overarching and don’t do anything then you’re a climate denier

Their conversation was followed by students with questions. One student, clearly inspired,  asked how to volunteer at Patagonia. While they don’t have such a program, they do have internships. Last year, they offered 16 internships; 9k applied.

Students were also curious to learn more about the benefits of regenerative agriculture.

Regenerative agriculture, they learned:

  • tastes better because there’s a direct correlation between taste and nutrients.
  • takes organic way further
  • makes it as simple as possible
  • is better at sequestering carbon

For example, compared to other meats, buffalo is much better for sequestering carbon, and is more nutritious if it is raised on the prairies where buffalo have 300 different things they can eat on the prairie. While some buffalo farmers take them to and “beef” them up, naturally there’s only 3% fat which are mostly omega 3s and full of nutrients.

In addition, the speakers pointed out that

  • Regenerative organically grown tastes better, has more nutrients, and is better for climate.
  • If they continue to grow toxic food we can vote not to eat it
  • When you do the right thing you end up making more money
  • Farmers are spending all their money on chemicals and losing topsoil
  • Regenerative ag can produce 6x more food per acre
  • People are unemployed all over the world and lots of young people who’d like to have a small farm could do regenerative ag as It employs people
  • Regenerative farming uses less water; the ground is back alive again and full of what holds the water
  • We’re going to run out of water before we run out of anything on this planet.

A few memorable quotes from Chouinard:

  • The way I solve problems, if I get an idea I immediately take a forward step and if it feels bad, step back.
  • Some business people are so afraid of change – start out right away and do it.”
  • Large public companies by their very nature can not be responsible they have to answer to stockholder who want a return on investment.
  • Look at PGE – they didn’t do any tree work so they could give bigger divedends to stock holders.
  • We hire very independent self motivated people and leave them alone
  • We can do the things we do because we’re a private company.


Another student asked about where to begin to create change.

  • Whatever you’re good at, you gotta do it
  • Free time? Volunteer!
  • Money? Give it away!
  • What can you offer? what can you do? go do it!
  • ACT – the core of activist

In the meantime, check out Yvon Chouinard’s new book — and get inspired! What will you do first?

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