The Wharton School, the University of Pennsylvania's business school, runs an Outward Bound kind of program, and this year two dozen students were fording rivers and camping near Doug's Pumalin Park.
One morning they gathered in a conference room at one of Doug and Kris's farms, most looking waterlogged, a little sleep-deprived, still wearing their caps and fleece jackets to ward off the damp cold. They were about to hear an unconventional lecture from Doug and Yvon, two wildly successful businessmen, about their passion for conservation, restoration, and temperance in consumption.
It was at once an incongruous and yet encouraging scene. Most, I guessed, would end up in power suits and designer outfits in sleek urban offices, but they were quiet and attentive, a few taking notes. Doug began by describing how he bought his first 17,000-acre Chilean property (for the price of a San Francisco condominium) after deciding that at Esprit he was part of the global problem because he was selling more clothes than consumers really needed.
Now, he said, his goal is to save what he can of this precious planet by conservation and reforestation. The small farms are an important part of the plan because if he can make the local honey and tree-nursery businesses succeed, it will wean this part of Chile off the global economy, which has such a voracious appetite for natural resources. It's a work in progress, he emphasized, but he's plainly at peace with that progress. As he told the Wharton students, "There's no right way to do the wrong thing."
Yvon talked about Patagonia's decisions to dedicate 1 percent of its total sales to saving the planet and to reject pesticide-heavy regular cotton and convert to organic cotton when everyone said it wouldn't work. "We were like alcoholics," he said. "We needed to take the first step by acknowledging we're polluters. Every time we've decided to do the right thing, we've made money. As David Brower once said, 'There's no business to be done on a dead planet.'"
Then he said, to general laughter, "The three of us are going to hell, but we still have a chance to get some things right before we get there."
When my turn came I said, "Remember, these two guys have had great lives, they've had fun and made lots of money. But in the end their business careers will be about much more than making money – that's what you have to remember in your own careers." Then I added, "They may still go to hell, but I don't think I'll go with them because somehow they'd manage to find the hottest corner."
Maybe we can just work out something for eternity in a corner of Patagonia.