CC BY –SA 3.0 - Tom Frost (~1938 - ) - http://www.fastcompany.com/files/next-46-sustainability2.jpg
A photo of rock climber Yvon Chouinard. First published in Chouinard 1972 Catalog

Look up Yvon Chouinard on Youtube and you are as likely to find video clip retrospectives of his rock climbing expeditions as you are his myriad interviews on sustainable business practices and green economics. Although he says he hates the term “sustainable” for being misused, Chouinard has brought the concept into the mainstream with his Patagonia brand, which tells the consumer that less is more, and not to buy his jackets.

As a young adventurer transplanted to Southern California from Maine in the 1950’s, Chouinard joined the ranks of foundational climbers such as Royal Robbins and Tom Frost, who cut their teeth at Stoney Point in Los Angeles before leading first ascents in the Sierras and around the world. Chouinard developed and produced the gear for these adventures through Chouinard Equipment, initially trading in carabineers and pitons. Later, in the 1970’s, he was at the forefront of the clean climbing revolution, which saw the introduction of removable protection to the sport of rock climbing (his Chouinard Equipment catalog from 1972, the first in which he sold removable, or “clean,” climbing protection, makes for interesting reading).

Positive environmentalist messaging has been a notable feature in Chouinard’s various enterprises, and it is worth pointing out that he has repeatedly ended product lines for ostensibly environmental reasons. He essentially phased out moneymakers like the piton and nonorganic cotton, despite strong sales, because of their detrimental impact on climbing areas, rivers, etc.

Today, Chouinard appears to live a full life, surfing on his lunch break, delivering keynote speeches to business school graduates, and field testing Patagonia products around the world. One of his more frequently cited quotations holds that, “The more you know, the less you need.” With that in mind, we think it is a good assumption that Mr. Chouinard manages to travel pretty light. 

By Brian Gruters


Brian writes about science, conservation, and ways that people interact with nature for various publications, as well as his blog, briangruters.com. He is an aspiring surfer, member of the Southern California Mountaineers Association, and likes to explore mountains and canyons.