• Matt Sykes

Talking purpose with Yoda

Last October I quit my job to fly to California and meet Rick Ridgeway, Patagonia’s Head of Environmental Initiatives. Rick has been involved with some of the most culturally influential sustainability projects in the world.

Patagonia’s Footprint Chronicles, the documentary 180 Degrees South and the Sustainable Apparel Coalition are a couple of examples. He was also part of the first American team to summit K2, the world’s second highest mountain at 8611m.

Listening to Rick was like listening to Yoda. Seriously! A resounding message from that pivotal 2-hour conversation was the importance of a clear purpose statement in a business’ success. He shared Patagonia’s own journey …

Their original mission was to “Build the best product, cause no unnecessary harm, use business to inspire and implement solutions to the environmental crisis.” But apparently founder Yvon Chouinard wanted something simpler.

Rick explained the goal was to be more “prescriptive” and less “proscriptive”. i.e. recommend a pathway rather than tell staff what to do. The 2019 result was the much sharper and urgent call to action, “We’re in business to save our home planet”.

To judge its success, just look up the story of how a Patagonia employee refused to sell a huge order for branded vests to a tech company “for not doing enough to save the planet”.

When it came time to finally ink Regeneration Project’s purpose statement in March 2020, I had Yoda’s wisdom echoing in my mind. The crux was trying to replicate the same simple, prescriptive but definitive spirit.

“We guide leaders in the transition to regeneration.”

By guiding our clients, we stand side by side as equals.

By leaders we mean business leaders of all kinds; private, public and third sector.

By transition we recognise that sustainability’s ‘less harm’ approach is not good enough.

By setting regeneration as our new collective target, we use global best-practice tools and knowledge to actually cultivate positive impacts.

Time will tell how successful our purpose statement is in aligning the energy of our team, clients, partners and community. Rick’s words echo in my mind and I think they have a lot of relevance to other businesses who are rethinking their purpose at the moment.

As Yoda would say,

“In a dark place we find ourselves, and a little more knowledge lights our way.”

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