Patagonia

Andrew Hill

As part of my investigation into benefit corporations – a new legal corporate form springing up across the US – I asked early adopters a simple question: “Are you a capitalist?”

It put some of them on the spot. Benefit corporations are set up to serve a “triple bottom line” of social, environmental and economic objectives and their backers don’t fit the capitalist stereotype of cigar-chewing plutocrats running smoke-belching industrial behemoths. (Gary Gerber, who runs Californian solar energy company Sun Light & Power, is the first chief executive I’ve interviewed who apologised for coming to find me in his hybrid Toyota Prius because the two electric cars he uses were unavailable.)

I tend to agree with Christopher Meyer and Julia Kirby, whose book Standing on the Sun points out that capitalism is “only a term for what capitalists tend to believe and do”. They suggest that in time “puzzling exceptions to the pursuit [of financial profit maximisation] – corporate social responsibility, venture philanthropy, sustainability – will be recognised to have a logic consistent with capitalism”. Which would mean that even contrarian “reluctant businessmen” like Yvon Chouinard, the surfing and mountaineering founder of Patagonia, the biggest benefit corporation, are capitalists. Read more