BOOKS: “The Responsible Company,” by Yvon Chouinard and Vincent Stanley
By now you’ve likely heard the story — in the late-’60s, itinerant surfer and big-wall climber Yvon Chouinard began hand-forging climbing gear in a seaside shed under the name Chouinard Equipment. He eventually added a clothing line, which grew into outdoor apparel giant and environmental champion Patagonia, a company that now banks somewhere in the neighborhood of $500 million a year. Somewhere along the way, however, Chouinard became a poster child for socially and environmentally conscious business management, and his latest book, “The Responsible Company,” distills what he and co-author and Patagonia veteran Vincent Stanley have learned on the subject throughout the company’s 40-year history.
Early in the book, the authors reveal that Patagonia’s attention-getting practices have them keeping some odd bedfellows theses days, most notably price-slashing juggernaut Wal-Mart, which Patagonia has been consulting on environmental improvements over the last few years.
It seems Wal-Mart and countless other major companies are coming to the sobering realization and fairly common-sense ideal that Patagonia has operated on for years — “doing good creates better business.” In other words, the less resources and energy consumed by a company, the more profit they will make.
Despite some modest examples of Patagonia’s successful environmental initiatives, the book isn’t rife with the kind of horn-tooting one might expect from a book on business published by a for-profit company. On the contrary, Chouinard and Stanley level the playing field by stating that Patagonia is not the model for a responsible company, and there is no human economic activity that is yet worthy of the popular buzzword “sustainable.”
In addition to an interesting state-of-the-union address on business and the environment, the meat of the book is a sort of elemental style guide for responsible business practices, something useful for not only CEOs and corporate bigwigs, but anyone looking to create a more meaningful existence at work.
So perhaps responsible is the new sustainable — any company can boast about philanthropic work or financial donations, but it requires something more to take responsibility for the inherent environmental and social damage done by your company and make steps to alleviate it.
MUSIC: “A Stone, A Leaf, An Unfound Door,” by The River Whyless
As if nodding to the muse of nature that inspired it, “A Stone, A Leaf, An Unfound Door” begins with the sound of footsteps next to a nearby stream. After a few folky, fiddle-filled movements, the music gains strength, as curiosity often does when looking under the right rocks. The wandering tune reaches a celebratory high point and then gracefully descends. Such an orchestrated outline follows the full arc of an album, but this is only the first song of ten.
The River Whyless, a four-piece folk band from Asheville, NC, has created a musical wonder with their first album. Though at times sounding similar to Fleet Foxes or The Head and The Heart, the dual-songwriting efforts of Ryan O’Keefe and Halli Anderson have laid the foundation for something thoughtfully original as well as genuinely Appalachian. Underneath it all, the crisp, flowing rhythms of Matt Rossino on bass and Alex McWalters on drums both anchor and elevate the artful song structures. Freshman effort or not, The River Whyless has created a unified, coming-of-age album that’s best ingested in its entirety. For a quick taste, check out “Cedar Dream Part II,” “Great Parades,’” “Pigeon Feathers” or “Stone” … or “Unfound Door” … or you might as well just listen to it all. Go to www.riverwhyless.bandcamp.com, where you can listen to the album and name your price (hello, free music!) for an instant download, as well as check for upcoming tour dates.
— Jeff Miesbauer
APPS: Columbia GPS PAL
While some branded smartphone apps seem to be little more than a thinly veiled marketing gimmick, the GPS PAL app from Columbia Sportswear stands out as a truly useful tool that just happens to be stamped with a brand name.
The GPS PAL, which stands for Personal Activity Log, provides GPS tracking with the ability to log photos, notes and videos as waypoints along the route. It tracks distance, time, pace and elevation automatically and provides a cool summary when your route is finished. The app also automatically syncs your routes and trip reports to an online journal, where they can be shared, compared and organized.
As a climber, I could see the app being extremely useful for approaches with difficult route-finding, but hikers, backpackers, runners and mountain bikers will find it an easy replacement for a GPS unit in most cases. It has already come in handy for measuring progress on training runs and relocating poop bags on after-work hikes with my dog.
Add to that the fact that it costs nothing, doesn’t require any map downloads (it maps through Google), tracks well without cell phone service and works better overall than some apps I’ve paid five bucks for, and the GPS PAL is a real keeper. The only real downside is that running the GPS for long periods of time (multi-hour hikes) seems to drain the phone’s battery quickly.
Free, GPSPAL. Columbia.com