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The New York Times had an interview the other day with Ryan Gellert, the CEO of Patagonia, a company that has been aggressive in being pro-conservation and about as anti-consumerism as a company that sells stuff to consumers can be.

There were some interesting quotes from the interview worth pointing out here, specifically about the subject of growth:

"We’re a consumer-goods business that makes apparel people may want and people may like," he says.  "But we’re not making stuff that people need to survive. Let’s be ruthlessly honest with ourselves about that. Let’s also be ruthlessly honest about the fact that everything we do as humans has some impact on the planet. You have to constantly wrestle with this. And on behalf of Patagonia, I try to really challenge ourselves on the notion of growth."

Gellert goes on:  "There’s the philosophical dimension of this, and there’s the operational dimension. What does it look like to either stop growing or move backward? It’s really complicated. Holding a business flat might be the greatest magic trick in business. I don’t know any example where that’s ever been intentionally done and done successfully. I’m not antigrowth. But I am deeply committed to making sure we’re moving at a pace that we think is appropriate. We’ve walked away from distribution that was pretty meaningful because we just didn’t feel like we could have an impact."

Gellert says that he is "comfortable with the imperfect but consistently committed body of work that Patagonia has delivered. We try to be relentlessly transparent, both internally and externally, about the work we’re doing and our shortcomings.

"My belief is that our biggest contribution has not been the money we’ve given away. It’s not individual issues that we’ve advocated for. It’s not scaling grass-roots environmental activism through different levels of support. It’s operating from the bowels of business and proving that businesses can exist to do more than maximize the wealth of their owners, really consistently proving that in ways big and small over decades."

KC's View:

This is all about relentlessly understanding and being consistent with one's basic value proposition, and never losing touch with the basic values that got you to where you area.

Gellert seems to understand that consumers have every right to be skeptical:  “It is absolutely valid and important that people approach what they hear from business with a high level of cynicism," he says.

It is up to business leaders to make sure that people's cynicism never is justified.