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Mindful : June 2015
Do we truly need that new TV, or does acquiring it satisfy the primal urge to acquire, fulfilling emo- tional needs with material goods? Each purchase decision has ramifications far beyond the cash register, and being a mindful consumer means considering what goes into the sourcing, produc- tion, distribution, and delivery of a good or service, before mindlessly whipping out a credit card. The point isn’t that we should stop buying stuff. We need to transact to sustain ourselves, live our lives, a nd support the economy. But when we do consume, we should aim to do so mindfully, supporting com- panies that attend not only to the bottom line, but to the well-being of the planet, their employees, and society. To illustrate the company ’s view, Ma rcario recently talked to Fast Company about Patagonia’s controversial “Don’t Buy This Jacket” ad. What the ad is really getting at, she told the magazine, is “‘ Don’t buy more tha n what you need.’ The more you consume, the more strain it has on the earth’s resources. We don’t want that, because we all care about this nest we’re in. We put out a film this year called Wo r n Wea r, which celebrated the durability of our product and the fact that it can be handed down from generation to generation, and that you ca n bring it back to us and we’ll repair it.” Practicing mindful consumption can seem like a tedious, exhausting endeavor. Even simple buying decisions—like whether or not to buy a new sa lad bowl, and which one to buy—can be fraught with ethical uncertainties and una nswerable quanda ries. Is it better to spend a bit more and buy a wooden bowl made by artisans in North Carolina? Or to save a little money and get the cheap plastic one at Target? There’s no one right a nswer, of course. And being a mindful consumer doesn’t mean only shopping orga nic, or never buying from a chain store. Instead, it mea ns deeply considering each choice, weigh- ing the competing priorities and implications, a nd embracing—on an emotiona l level—the decision. It means being accountable to oneself, and to society, about the impact of our purchasing habits. While it may seem like a daunting commitment to practice mindful consumption, in time those considerations come more easily. Mindful buying becomes an intui- tive decision, rather tha n something to labor over. “If you ask enough questions you get down to the root causes,” said Chouinard. “And if you ask enough questions it’s like, ‘Why are there so many irresponsible companies making shoddy things as cheap as possible?’ It’s because we’re demanding it. The consumer. That’s where the buck stops. We’re no longer called citizens, we’re called consumers. We’re the ones asking corporations to make this stuff. So we’re the problem.” Rampant consumption will diminish our resources, not to mention leave us unsatisfied a nd spiritually a nd financially bankrupt. “There’s no business to be done on a dead planet,” said Chou- ina rd, quoting the conser vationist David Brower. “And that ’s what we’re facing.” It’s not so surprising that Patagonia was founded by a leader with a deep commitment to the environment. But I was surprised to encounter another mindful leader, equally attuned to envi- ronmental concerns, in the most unlikely industry: autos. When I caught up with Bill Ford in the green room of an auditorium in San Francisco, he was energized. Ford—heir to the eponymous automotive dynasty and the former chief executive and chair- man of the company who now serves as executive chairman—had just walked off the stage. In f ront of 1,000 people at the Wisdom 2.0 conference, he had come out of the closet as a meditator. Wearing jea ns, a crisp dress shirt, and an expensive-looking blazer, Ford reclined on a white leather couch, nursing a bottle of water, as he explained to me how practic- ing mindfulness meditation had changed his life, and his family’s company. Ford’s journey bega n with his own commitment to environmentalism. Growing up in northern Michi- gan, he spent time outdoors in all seasons, the forests and frozen lakes reminiscent of Scandinavia. As a boy, Ford latched onto the caretaker at an old fishing club his pa rents belonged to, following him through the woods, learning about the trees and fish. “That sparked an early interest in all things nature,” he said. But it wa sn’t until he got to college that he realized that much of the world was being pillaged and pol- luted by the very industrial complex that had created his family’s wealth. He returned home after school, saw a strip mall where there had once been a beauti- ful meadow, “a nd I’d think gee, how ’d that happen?” Ford studied liberal a rts a nd philosophy, becom- ing one of the more contemplative members of his family dynasty, and a committed conser vationist. Yet the momentum of his last name carried him deep into the fa mily business, a nd he eventually rose to run the company. He still kept reading, though, kept thinking about the natural world, kept trying to reconcile his own environmental views with the work his company did. But he struggled. In an old-line industrial compa ny that was doing the bare minimum to comply with environmental regula- tions, how could he be true to his va lues? When he joined the company he was told to stop associating with environmentalists and keep his Mindful consumption implores us to be honest with ourselves about what we need, as opposed to what we want. 62 mindful June 2015 business