As Penguin Random House continues its ongoing commitment to social responsibility, today we’re featuring an interview with Penguin Press Vice President and Publisher Scott Moyers. He worked closely with world renowned environmentalist and Patagonia co-founder Yvon Chouinard on his book, Let My People Go Surfing; a 10th anniversary fully updated trade paperback edition was published by Penguin last fall.
In this interview, Scott offers insights into Mr. Chouinard’s book, business philosophies, core values, and environmental activism as well as the “contagious success” of Patagonia, whose primary mission is “to use business to inspire and implement solutions to the environmental crisis.” The recent news on the Earth Setting a Temperature Record for the Third Straight Year reminds us all of the urgency of global warming and the importance of how we consider the environment.
What brought about your initial contact with Yvon Chouinard and how would you characterize the experience and process of working with him as his book editor and publisher while presenting all aspects of his life and business?
Yvon Chouinard is powerfully inspiring because he has stubbornly refused to do anything with his business that does not advance its core mission: “to use business to inspire and implement solutions to the environmental crisis.” You can’t be in partnership with him without learning that, one way or another. I was submitted the book by his agent, Susan Golomb, in 2004 or 2005, and I knew enough about Patagonia’s brand halo, as they say, and was sufficiently taken by the voice on the page, which even in proposal form had that thrilling ring of authenticity and irreverence, that I went for it, and was fortunate enough to prevail in a heated auction. But really diving off the deep end with him was something else entirely. First, everything was slightly irreverent, and counterintuitive – what business leader calls his memoir “Let My People Go Surfing?” Which is from the company policy that when the surf’s up, employees should feel free to hit it. And he wanted to do an oddball trim size, with all sorts of funky sidebars and a lot of art. And he and Patagonia nudged us over to using a different kind of paper, recycled, of course. And on and on.
But what really hit me was the story of the business itself. Just one story for now: there came a point when Patagonia commissioned a holistic environmental impact study of their entire business. What came back surprised and dismayed them: the worst thing they were doing to the planet was using so much factory-farmed cotton. As you can imagine, cotton shirts, etc., make up a big chunk of the business. What did they do? They pulled all of their cotton products, reinvented their supply chain, sourced their cotton ethically and in such a way as to catalyze environmentally responsible cotton growing more generally… in short, they used their market power to be a force for good and not ill. And ultimately, in the long run, they were more profitable by doing so! In the short run, of course, they had to absorb a tremendous hit to the bottom line. Needless to say, if they were a publicly held company, this might have been impossible, even unimaginable. Though thanks in no small part to Patagonia’s example, there’s been a change in consciousness, and perhaps it’s less unimaginable than it was. I hope this book has contributed to that; I think it has.
How does Let My People Go Surfing, divided into a History of Patagonia and eight Philosophies sections, best inform and inspire readers through key takeaways from this environmentally-responsible businessman/adventurer and his company?
I think the bottom-line takeaway for your own life and work is that, in area after area – design, production, distribution, marketing, finance, HR, management, environmental stewardship – if you don’t blink, if you keep fear at bay and keep your focus on the most quality for the least harm, you will be a magnet for talented, big-hearted colleagues and customers, and your story will carry. Every time this company took a short-term hit to innovate in the direction of greater responsibility for the state and fate of the earth, the more successful they have been in the long term.
How transferable are Mr. Chouinard’s approaches to business, life and the environment to other industries and individual readers?
No one wants to leave their values at home when they come to work. Yvon Chouinard never did, and his company has been an enormous force for the good. We all are part of the problem that is the global sustainability crisis, including global warming, one way or another. Activism and capitalism don’t have to be opposed, in fact they can’t be, if we’re going to keep this planet of ours and all the creatures on it.
What factors were involved in the decision to produce a new edition of Let My People Go Surfing on the 10th anniversary of its first publication and what are examples of some of the most significant new content?
Back in 2006, “sustainable business” was just emerging as a concept in mainstream terms. Part of the good news of the past decade is that sustainability has become cooked in to the mix of business education, at the MBA level and down, and Let My People Go Surfing is widely taught. The past decade has been a period of great growth and thus change for Patagonia, and it has also really doubled down and then some on its environmental activism, so there was so much more to tell. Yvon added a good 20% of new material to the book, including an entirely new chapter on environmental activism, and Naomi Klein has added a passionate new foreword. There are revisions throughout the book, my favorite being that it’s now in four-color and Yvon and Patagonia have added many wonderful new photographs. One way or another, all of the additions only sharpen the point, which is that, as Naomi Klein puts it in her foreword, “This is the story of an attempt to do more than change a single corporation – it is an attempt to challenge the culture of consumption that is at the heart of the global ecological crisis.” And to have fun doing it! Contagious fun, contagious righteousness, contagious success – that’s Yvon Chouinard and Patagonia, and that’sLet My People Go Surfing, now cleaned up for the next 10 years, and then some.
Learn more about the book:
Here’s how Matthew Pearl describes his search for a good story that inhabits the environs he calls “gray-area history”:
“A few years ago I stumbled on a stray detail indicating that century publishers would hire agents to obtain valuable manuscripts that were fair game under the laws. Because of their shadowy place in history, I could not find much else about this group, but I was intrigued. Building on this fragment of legal and publishing history, I tried imagining more fully these freelance bounty hunters – the history of their profession, what they might be called on to do, who they were, their backgrounds, how their lives would bring them to this unusual profession and how the profession would shape their personal lives. As far as historical fiction goes, it fit one of my ideals: a bit of gray-area history that cannot be explored very far without the help of fiction. In this case, it seemed to me to call for informed speculation – what I’d refer to as research-based fiction – plus plenty of imagination.”
The result is […] The Last Bookaneer. Matthew has performed this kind of historical fiction sleight of hand successfully before with Dickens and Dante; now he turns to Robert Louis Stevenson living in Samoa in the midst of writing his last book.
As always his history is dead-on, when Matthew writes about real characters, there are no gray areas. But in The Last Bookaneer, it’s his fictional characters- the literary pirate Pen Davenport and his assistant Edgar, that bring the chain-smoking, gone-native, near deified-by-the-locals-in-Samoa Stevenson to life.
I feel sure you’ll get lost in the world Matthew Pearl conjures. What more can a reader ask?
President, Editor in Chief
For many of us, a love of reading starts at home. For Mother’s Day, let’s celebrate our inspiring moms by sharing a few of their favorite books. Four Penguin Random House employees explain which titles are especially meaningful to them and to their mothers.
“My mother and I have both read Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen many, many, many times. I remember discussing the book with my mom when I couldn’t have been more than twelve and again more recently when I read this classic as a woman in my 40s. In our most recent discussion, my mom and I marveled at the subtleties that stand out the more one has lived, details such as how very quickly Elizabeth Bennet’s feelings for Mr. Darcy turn from distain to admiration once she has witnessed the grounds of Pemberley (seriously, no sooner has her carriage pulled up to the front door than she is swooning for the guy!). Also the bigger picture. As a girl I was furious with Mr. Darcy for his treatment of Elizabeth Bennett but, in the final analysis, Elizabeth’s pride was just as vicious as Mr. Darcy’s prejudice. Pride and Prejudice, two big vices to watch out for! I will always treasure the conversations I’ve had with my mom about this favorite book.”
-Sara Carder, Editorial Director of Penguin Publishing Group
Turns out Pride & Prejudice is a popular favorite…
“Every time I read the book or watch the movie it’s something I get to share with my youngest daughter. We both love it so much, we’re always quoting it to each other!”
-Mother of Katherine Stewart, Marketing Coordinator, Penguin Press
“My mum was a teacher and her favorite author was Roald Dahl, which she often read to us as kids. The BFG was my favorite because the main character is Sophie, like me. My mum sadly passed away 6 years ago so she didn’t get to meet two of her granddaughters. But I’m lucky enough to have several of her Roald Dahl books (with her name written inside so they didn’t get lost at school), which I read to my children. It’s a lovely reminder of her.”
-Sophie McNeill, Director, Partnerships and Audience Development for Brightly
“One of my mom’s favorite books is Unbroken by Laura Hillenbrand. My mom is inspired by this true(!) story of Louis Zamperini’s endurance and courage. It’s a miracle that Zamperini survived a plane crash, starvation, and torture—not to mention post-traumatic stress disorder. Just when you think that things couldn’t get any worse for him, they do. But he doesn’t just survive all the terrible things that happen to him, he learns to forgive and live a full and happy life. Zamperini’s story is a testament to the power of grace and forgiveness.”
-Joanna Ng, Assistant Editor, Penguin Publishing Group
Grab a new book to share with the mother in your life!