What can payments firms learn about ESG from a mountaineer-turned-global business owner?

by Michèle Woodger, The Payments Association

50 years ago, mountain-climber Yvon Chouinard founded Patagonia – the outdoor brand which would rise to global prominence for its groundbreaking ESG policies. In The Future of the Responsible Company, Yvon Chouinard and Vincent Stanley, the company’s Director of Philosophy, mark Patagonia’s anniversary with a look back over five decades of trial and error in developing the organization into a progressive and responsible business. The book offers organisations and their leaders an insight into how businesses – of all scales and industries – can tailor their practices towards a more sustainable, ethical future… in their own words: “to articulate the elements of business responsibility for our time”.

So, what can companies in the payments and fintech sectors learn from an outdoors brand? Unrelated industries perhaps, but key learnings can be applied, and unexpected parallels made too, not least the spirit of innovation and exploration characterising both sectors.

In their book, Chouinard and Stanley share implementable insights around areas as diverse as manufacturing, materials sourcing, shareholder responsibilities, collaboration, customer service, responsibilities to staff and across the supply chain, and of course PR. One stand-out example is the now-famous 2011 advertising campaign involving the New York Times asking customers not to buy Patagonia jackets. Seemingly counterintuitive, it was in fact an ingenious way of solidifying brand reputation. And it continues to succeed in promoting the company’s ethical business model by appealing to those who share the belief that Black Friday encourages a culture of throwaway consumerism.

The directors-come-authors make clear how governance philosophies and business decisions taken at every level of management can help mitigate the climate crisis and promote work that is ethical, sustainable and meaningful. Moreover, one crucial chapter is dedicated to the importance of sharing knowledge with other businesses travelling along the ESG journey. Chouinard and Stanley discuss how strategies around embracing the circular economy, becoming a B-Corp, offsetting carbon emissions, paying the living wage and so on can be applied.

Finally, a series of checklists for organisations looking to build an ESG strategy is also very useful – especially, perhaps, for smaller payments firms looking to do good but wondering where to start. These handy lists cover issues as broad as accounting methods, pension offerings, flexible working and childcare schemes, subsidized (preferably sustainable) travel, the longevity of products, codes of conduct for supplier relations, even access to natural light in the workplace to promote employee wellbeing…the list is comprehensive and, crucially, achievable.

Chouinard’s philosophy, that “any company…should behave as if it will be around in 100 years” may seem an impossible ask in a tech-oriented sector constantly evolving and accelerating such as payments. Yet this optimistic, future-proofed ethos – involving setting long-term ethical goals around workers’ rights, ecology and sound business governance – is certainly something that payments firms can all aim to embrace.

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Want to learn more about The Future of the Responsible Company? We have two copies of the book to give away to subscribers of The Payments Association’s ESG Toolkit. To subscribe click here.


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