Legacy, and the impact of a socially responsible company culture.

As we begin to wrap up the year, and move toward the season of giving, I can’t help but contemplate our company’s mission.

We’ve done well this year, had the opportunity to invest back into our company, and we did quite a bit of free and discounted work for both national and local nonprofits. We even took losses on a couple projects because we believed in the mission.

But another event has happened last week that has really brought social responsibility to the forefront of my mind.

Doug Tompkins & Social Responsibility

In 2010, I had the opportunity to meet & talk with Doug Tompkins, the founder of The North Face who became a prominent conservationist. He and I talked at length about his conservation efforts in Patagonia (more on this later) and about my newly formed business in the mountains of Colorado. We talked about adventure. We talked about capitalism. And we talked about life. He was one of the most interesting people I’ve ever met. Our conversation was relaxed and one of the most natural I had ever had with a stranger; especially a stranger of such prominence. I mean, the Founder of such an immensely popular brand shouldn’t be that down-to-Earth, am I right?

It is a strange feeling for me to smile about the way in which ANYONE dies. But Doug died Tuesday December 8th 2015 at the age of 72, doing something he loved. While obviously still tragic, there is something beautiful about a lifelong adventurer, accomplished outdoorsmen, and noted conservationist dying while kayaking in a part of the world he’s fought so hard to protect for decades.


What Doug has done throughout his life I’ve admired tremendously. Not just the travel & adventure he’s been able to have, but the journey he’s taken professionally. Doug founded ESPIRIT and The North Face, earning him plenty of money. However, in 1990, Doug decided to get out of “making stuff that nobody needed” (as he put it) and shift his focus to the issues that really mattered to him: corporate globalization, sustainable agriculture, preserving wild places, and stopping the clearcutting of ancient forests.

So Tompkins started the Foundation for Deep Ecology and moved to Chilean Patagonia, where he began using his fortune to buy up large parcels of land to form Pumalin Park. Two years later he founded the Conservation Land Trust. Through this process , He and his wife Kris (who is also the former CEO of Patagonia), to date, have donated close to 800,000 acres back to Argentina and Chile as a natural preserve. Facing challenges such as bad development projects, poor & corrupt local governments, and a powerful forestry industry; Doug has said, “I have even begun to think that I am caring for Argentina and Chile perhaps more than Argentines and Chileans.” At the date of his death a few days ago, Doug and Kris owned almost 2.2 Million acres of “ancient forest” in the Patagonia region of South America. I’d say Doug accomplished his goals and then some. What a feeling. What a legacy.

Defining our Legacy

I’ve been proud of the work we’ve been able to perform low cost or even donate at no cost for many causes we’ve believed in. But I’d be lying if I said a team as small as ours wasn’t stretched thin during that time. At times it’s put a strain on us, both with workflow management and financially.

The legacy Doug has left for the world has got me thinking about, well, my own – but also about Paramount’s. When it pertains to growing our business, I can ask myself all sorts of operational or personnel questions – and I can usually answer – if nothing else we usually have a plan to explore possible answers. But when it comes to legacy, even knowing what questions to ask becomes much more difficult.

  • Are we “giving back” enough?
  • How can we be better stewards of society and our community?
  • Can we accomplish these goals in a way that is financially responsible to our agency?

The Internal Impact of Social Responsibility

But how do we justify this as a business? Either we’re donating our time, which we all know time is money – or resources, which costs money – or actually donating money, which well, IS money. Don’t get me wrong, a pro-bono or low cost project may be warranted every once and a while. But because we are a small agency, without a ton of cash lying around; HOW we help will matter to the third question in this list. We really have run ourselves ragged for a no-revenue cause before, and that condition of work doesn’t end up helping the cause itself, and it certainly doesn’t inspire our team to do more good.  So answering the third question is vital.

Notice however that we’re not asking this question in terms of being financially “beneficial”, simply financially “responsible”. While I believe that true service will probably benefit our agency financially down the road (albeit indirectly); doing good with the sole motivation of benefiting yourself is hollow and will yield a hollow benefit.  Still there is real impact that comes from choosing socially responsible practices as core company values, many of which are not financial.

Community Impact

Pretty obvious, and should certainly be the primary motivation. Grand Rapids is an amazing city, with special things happening all over town. We are honored to have been a part of it thus far, and are looking forward to exploring opportunities to impact a community we very much believe in.

Skill Development

We’ll be encouraging our team to donate their professional talents during the week, and during paid time. If an employee is still “doing their job” while volunteering, in can enrich those skills through performing them in a completely new setting, with all different challenges.

Attitudes + Interaction

There are all sorts of statistics on this, but employees who come back after volunteering are upbeat. They feel good. And they’ll be happy their employer gave them the opportunity. A UnitedHealth Group study found that 87% of people who volunteered in the last year said that volunteering had developed teamwork and people skills, and 81% agreed that volunteering together strengthens relationships among colleagues. Encourage employees, or an entire team to go out together. By volunteering together, they’ll not just be out of the office with their co-workers – which is refreshing – but they’ll come back with a unique bond which will no doubt enhance the environment in the office.

Employee Health

According to the same UnitedHealth study linked above; 78% of people who volunteered reported lower stress levels, and 76% say that volunteering has made them feel healthier.


With morale high, productivity will go up guaranteed. Take this quote from Michael Stoik, manager of research and analytics for the Committee Encouraging Corporate Philanthropy: “A highly engaged workforce is more likely to exert extra effort and have lower turnover rates, which can be linked to increased output, sales, and profitability,”

Talent Acquisition

Again, there are plenty of statistics here too, but the fact of the matter is millennials are demanding these volunteer opportunities as they look for jobs, says Stroik. “They want to know the companies they work for will let them express their values while on the job,” he says. “Companies know that they have to build these programs into their workplace if they are to recruit and retain the best talent available.”

Giving Back

For all these reasons and more, in 2016 we hope to choose at least three charities to donate time, money, or resources. We hope to volunteer as a team at least one full day every quarter at a local service charity. We’ll also look for opportunities to provide pro-bono or low cost projects to non-profits and other worthy causes. If you are a business owner considering how to implement an employee volunteer program, or how to become more socially responsible, let’s talk. I think I could provide you with some great resources to get you started.

At Paramount, I feel blessed to have a team that has a heart for doing good. A lot of people SAY they care, and I’m sure they do. But we really do have a fire to prove it, both personally and professionally.  Reach out to me if you want to hear some examples, I’ll give you some great ones from our recent past. But I have a feeling we’re going to do some big things in 2016!