By Merry Cherney
The 18th Annual Summit on Environmental Law and Policy at Tulane University brought together a diverse set of speakers who spoke on various pertinent environmental issues. From the BP Oil Spill and its aftermath to hydraulic fracturing and genetically engineered food, the Summit provided a two-day summary of some of the more pressing ecological topics facing our world in the next ten years.
The Summit is organized every year by the Tulane Environmental Law Society and is open to attorneys, students and university faculty, public interest organizations and the general public.
One of the highlights was Saturday’s keynote speaker Yvon Chouinard, founder of Patagonia, celebrated environmentalist, pioneering rock climber, and author.
“When it comes to environmental problems, we don’t need to look for the cause, it is humanity who has led to the unprecedented levels of environmental degradation,” said Chouinard. “Yet, the beauty of the situation is, if humans are the problem, we are also the solution.”
In modern society there is a belief that sustainable business is a new idea. However, the truth is sustainable businesses have existed for centuries. In building a sustainable company, Chouinard looked at the models followed by companies that have been around for over 400 years – talk about sustainable!
What these companies share is commitment to quality and encouraging their customers to consume better, not more. Unlike present corporate models that seek instantaneous and speedy growth over a short period of time, these companies grew slowly, but continuously. Most importantly, these businesses are innovative. As Chouinard said, “The consumer didn’t want a Model-T, he wanted a faster horse.”
Chouinard has always believed in leading by example and the power of human agency.
When development his company and products, Chouinard started by examining the phases of production of his products from fabrics and dyes to entire lifecycles. For example, after discovering formaldehyde in the cotton used to produce clothing, Chouinard switched to organic cotton that is much less toxic. He also sought to close the circle of consuming and disposal. Patagonia’s products are designed to be long lasting and easily repaired – zippers can be replaced and patches can be sewn on. In this vein, Patagonia takes back worn-out clothes and recycles them back into clothing production.
In the face of the massive global problems, Chouinard stresses the power of global citizens. He said if you want to change the government, change the corporations. To change the corporations you need to change the consumer.
Chouinard believes civil democracy is the most powerful force of change. From the protests in Washington against the Keystone Excel Pipeline to the fight for the Energy Efficiency rules in Louisiana, by standing together and making our voices heard, it is citizens who ignite change.
I leave you with this one quote from Chouinard that really made me think:
“We all have resources to do good, mine is my company.”
What is your resource? And how can you use it to promote the betterment of your community, society, and the environment?
If there is one thing to be learned from Chouinard, it is that humans are a powerful force. We have proven that we are capable of destruction, but the question is, are we capable of greater change?
Meredith Cherney is a student at Tulane University in New Orleans studying Environmental Studies and Communications. She is currently working for Alliance for Affordable Energy to advocate for fair, affordable, environmentally responsible, community based energy. Check out Alliance’s website for more information: all4energy.org