March 14, 2022

Are We Taking Appropriate Responsibility for Our Actions?

We exist in a world where manufacturing leaders have not always taken appropriate responsibility for the harmful impacts of their operations. Ultimately, the manufacturing industry can and should develop the leaders needed to create a desirable future for all global citizens.
Defining Peace and Social Justice

We continue to explore humanist commitments; last week focused on the need for peace and social justice, and we will be looking at responsibility this week.  A previously shared definition of responsibility is that "I will be a good person—even when no one is looking—and own the consequences of my actions."  We must be willing to make the right choices regardless of the outcome and be accountable when we have made mistakes.  While what others believe is right and wrong aligns with various codes of conduct, cultural values, expectations, and social mores, it is essential to clarify what is appropriate for the specific organization.  Furthermore, to create an environment of caring and trust that allows community members to come forward to work through issues that fall in the fuzzy area between clear right and wrong.

"I stood indicted as a plunderer, a destroyer of the earth, a thief of my grandchildren's future.  And I thought, My God, someday what I do here will be illegal.  Someday they'll send people like me to jail. - Ray Anderson
A Spear in the Chest

In the summer of 1994, Jim Hartzfeld approached Ray Anderson with a question from a sales associate from the West Coast, asking a simple question "Some customers want to know what Interface is doing for the environment?" He immediately thought that they had not broken one environmental rule despite producing carpet tiles made from petroleum-based chemicals.  They were in 100 percent legal compliance with all regulations.  However, while he further considered the question, a book found its way to his desk.  He shared the details of his "spear in the chest epiphany" after reading The Ecology of Commerce: A Declaration of Sustainability by Paul Hawken.  Ray began a responsibility journey from thinking that his job did not affect the environment to adopting the aspirational value to make his company a sustainability leader.  This objective has been successful by all accounts with a legacy that continues for Interface.

A Successful Do Boy

Another responsibility exemplar is Yvon Chouinard, who one author anointed the "patron saint of dirtbags," also known as the Do Boys, as one of the originals of that group in Yosemite.  Chouinard was a rock climber looking to improve the environment with pitons that could wedge into cracks in the rock face but be removable, leaving no scars or gear behind.  The humble beginning of a piton selling then for $1.50 each, leading to Patagonia's future of nearly $800 million in sales with 30 stores across the United States.  The company has a significant focus on running its organization through the lens of sustainability.  Their programs for materials, environment, and animal welfare responsibility are robust.  The company has fair, humane, legal, and safe working conditions.  There is also a fully transparent sharing of information regarding the company operations and those across their supply chain.  The resulting responsibility improvements include:

• A living wage paid to workers at 35% of its apparel assembly plants

• Virgin down that is 100% certified to the Advanced Global Traceable Standard

• Renewable electricity covers 100% of its needs across the United States

• Fair Trade sewn product on 82% of its lines

• Support for 72,000 workers through its Fair-Trade program

• A program that has repaired 56,000 garments

• The diversion of 35 tons of fishing nets into hat brims

• The use of virgin cotton that is 100% organically grown

These are just a few examples of sustainable practices that significantly reduce Patagonia's carbon footprint.  However, they also understand that there is still a need for further improvement.

Image Credit: Thirdman from Pexels

Developing Responsible Leaders

The opportunity to change the world exists for those willing to be globally responsible leaders.  A culmination of the humanist commitments sets the stage for manufacturing executives to lead in a manner that leads to a positive impact.  Leaders from small plants to global conglomerates can collectively take small actions that lead to a collective improvement for all societal participants.  Developing responsible leaders takes:

1. Embracing complexity – Developing the ability to analyze and address difficult questions around the conflicts of interest, money, power, and resource distribution.

2. Seeing from multiple perspectives – Interdisciplinary and intercultural competencies are necessary when taking a multiple perspective approach to addressing local to global sustainability challenges to combine the best of traditional, local, innovative, and scientific solutions.

3. Educating responsibility – Universities and corporations need to inform students and employees to become individually educated persons taught to be socially responsible citizens that can positively impact a desperate world.

The manufacturing industry can and should develop the leaders needed to create a desirable future for all global citizens.  

Key Takeaway

We exist in a world where manufacturing leaders have not always taken appropriate responsibility for the harmful impacts of their operations.  Thankfully manufacturing sustainability exemplars like Ray Anderson and Yvon Chouinard are leaders that fully embraced their obligation to create a better world.  They built successful companies focusing on doing the right things from an environmental and social perspective, with an additional desirable result of enhanced financial performance.  

First Step

Manufacturing executives interested in learning more about sustainable manufacturing can visit the OECD website to view the business benefits of adopting a more responsible approach.  In addition, they provide a toolkit with a seven-step guide for manufacturing operations to improve your positive impact.

My Gratitude

I continue to be grateful for the work of sustainability exemplars like Ray Anderson and Yvon Chouinard.  I am equally thankful for women like Melinda Chouinard, where Yvon gives his wife credit for making Patagonia a "notably humane place to work." An example is her work to set up a childcare center on the company grounds.  In 2012, she urged him to become a B Corp, the first business in California to earn this certification.  Melinda Chouinard is another case of a woman playing a significant role in supporting – and inspiring – a successful man.    

Sneak Peek

Next week's blog will integrate humanist principles into leaders' roles, shifting from understanding the importance of responsibility to service and participation.

To learn more about our work or read more blog posts, visit

Cover Image Credit: Mikhail Nilov from Pexels

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