Casey Sheahan: The Next Industrial Revolution at TEDxMileHigh (Full Transcript)

Before I get rolling, I need to ask a couple questions to all of you. I need you to raise your arms up, I need to see some energy from you, and say “yes” if you agree with what I say. So this is an opportunity for you to use a little energy and engage with me for a second.

First of all, would you agree that there’s more business to be done on a healthy living planet versus a dying dead planet? Kind of a no-brainer, right? How about if corporations we’ve been talking about provided unadulterated, complete transparency about everything they make and sell in their supply chain, on the shelves of the grocery stores, everything you find. Do you think you could make more informed, educated, responsible buying decisions every day of the week? OK, two for two.

Do you think that companies would do better if they treated their employees well, they treated their factory workers well, provided gratitude and mindfulness, and all the things we talked about today, compassion, soul, that they had a happier work force, would they do better? OK, my speech is over. We’re going to go over to Hickenlooper’s bar and have a couple of drinks.

Because I’m done, thank you! No, this is what I wanted to talk to you about today. It is this complete transparency in the supply chain that is coming, that has been coming, a lot of speakers are going to talk about it today. It is the next revolution in business. The company that I work for, Patagonia, has been driving this for a number of years and we hope to really lead in this and to share it with other companies.

So, a little bit about the company: Yvon and Malinda Chouinard are the owners of Patagonia, the company is in Ventura, California, and I live in Colorado and commute back and forth. These two people have been great role models in my life, real mentors for me. Malinda is really the social conscience of the company. She’s the one who really instilled childcare so that every one of her friends could have a job at the company. Yvon is the real environmental vision, one of the most visionary in the world, I would say. Their mission statement from the very beginning has been to inspire and influence solutions to the environmental crisis.

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And we also make a lot of nice apparel, and we try to do it with the least amount of harm. I got started with Patagonia years ago. I shot photos for their catalogs, and they paid me quite generously and gave me free clothes to ski in. As a matter of fact, they still do. So it’s a nice bonus.

But many of you know about the company. We were the first to give away one percent of our sales to small and grassroots environmental causes. We pioneered a whole supply chain of organic cotton in the mid-’90s, which we gave to other companies and shared with them. We figured out how to make fleece jackets out of recycled pop bottles, which is kind of neat. When I joined the company in 2005, we had an idea that we were going to have all of our clothing, by 2010, completely recycled and recyclable. We didn’t make that goal. We got close; we got about 70% of the way there, and in fact, by fall of ’11, I think we’ll be almost all the way there. But, we set a new goal for ourselves. And this was by 2015 to have all of our apparel completely out of landfills. So if you bought a Patagonia jacket, it would never get thrown away.

What we wanted to do is kind of unorthodox, and it’s not unlike the uncommon culture of Patagonia, is what we want to do first is to buy less stuff from us. OK? Now, there’s a lot of other things we’re going to do, but think about that, because we have to do our job as a company to make really durable, multi-functional apparel that you’re not going to want to throw away. And if you do throw it away, or not throw it away, but give it away, we’ll help you with that. You can obviously give it to Salvation Army; we may find ways to help you sell it on the online community to eBay or somebody like that. We just don’t want it to leave the cycle at all.

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Now, if the product is completely shot, a zipper falls out, we’ll repair it. That’s fine. And at the end of its life, if it absolutely won’t work anymore, we have ways of repair nylons, polyesters, cottons, we can recycle all of those items back into new garments.

And finally, because we’ve been talking here tonight about how humans today are far out-stripping the needs of up to seven planets, just this little population of people that’s here now, we want to re-imagine a world that sustains us all.

[Use business to inspire]

So, I want to tell a little story about my boss, Yvon Chouinard, that dirt-bag climber, surfer, fly fisherman.

He got invited to go speak at Walmart, and to help Walmart figure out a way to reduce their manufacturing footprint. I was in one of the earlier meetings with some of the Walmart guys and the Sam’s Club guys, and I just got to thinking, this could be one of the biggest opportunities of our company’s whole future. Because here’s Yvon talking to a company with a scale 1,000 times ours, telling them to get their act together. I remember these stories that were being told at these meetings; we’d heard a story that Walmart’s buyers had asked General Mills to reduce the cardboard packaging around their Hamburger Helper. Hamburger Helper came with new packaging.

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