CEF Spotlight

Lessons from Patagonia National Park

Patagonia 2015 bright
Last month, nine outstanding leaders from CEF member companies were chosen from a highly competitive field of applicants to embark on a sustainability leadership development trip to Chile to witness the launch of a new national park in the Aysén region with renowned adventurer and VP of Environmental Initiatives for Patagonia, Rick Ridgeway, and corporate sustainability expert Jib Ellison. The winners were deemed by the selection jury as being at “an inflection point in their lives or careers with regard to sustainability—ready and eager to take their sustainability leadership to the next level within their communities and/or organizations—as well as being strong team players accomplished in setting ambitious goals and getting results.”

During this week-long journey, participants experienced and explored the vast restored wildlands of the Chacabuco Valley, while fostering leadership skills and sustainability expertise that they can use to accelerate sustainability within their organizations, and beyond. Here are the reflections from the winners:

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Aaron Frank
Director, Corporate Citizenship, Insights & Integration at The Walt Disney Company

Our journey to Patagonia was a truly unique and transformative experience for which I am incredibly thankful. It was an honor to be surrounded by such a great group of sustainability professionals, in such a breathtaking location, guided by such inspiring leaders as Rick Ridgeway, Jib Ellison, Yvon Chouinard, and Doug Tompkins.

And then the news of Doug Tompkins’ passing a few days after our departure from Parque Patagonia. It hit with such shock and impact that it is difficult to put into words. It certainly made the lessons I took away from our trip all the more poignant and meaningful.

There are two lessons that stand out the most. First, the value of focus. So much of what Doug and Kris Tompkins have accomplished in Chile and Argentina is a result of focus. They picked their place, selected their method, and implemented it more effectively and tenaciously than anyone could have imagined (except of course Doug and Kris). They weren’t distracted by detractors, complications or critics – they simply plowed ahead with a singular focus and determination. As a result, they have placed 2.2 million acres of land in permanent preservation. That’s the beauty of focus.

And second, the critical nature of storytelling. There’s nothing that captures people’s attention and emotions better than a good story. Simply put, if you can’t explain your vision in a clear and compelling way through stories, you can’t lead a movement and you’ll struggle to lead people. Stories capture people’s imaginations, and inspire them to believe and to follow. Doug, Rick and Jib all demonstrated this during our trip.

There are many more lessons to share, but perhaps the best way to summarize our trip is with a saying that Doug repeated during our time with him, “There is no right way to do the wrong thing.”

Thank you CEF, Patagonia, Rick, Jib, Yvon and the Tompkins’ for a remarkable experience.

Susannah Pratt-Calvin
, Operations Environmental Initiatives Program Manager at Apple

The CEF trip to Patagonia provided a wonderful opportunity to meet a diverse group of young leaders addressing the challenges of corporate sustainability. Though varied industries, it was helpful to discuss new opportunities and best practices across our companies. The uniquely positive and motivated group left me with a optimistic outlook that through innovation and creativity, businesses can continue to thrive in unison with environmental sustainability.


Ramirez, Luis Fernando
Luis Fernando Ramirez
, Manager, Sustainability at FEMSA

When I read for the first time that the CEF Sustainability Leadership Development Program was curated and organized with the mission of providing a life-changing experience for the participants I knew that I had to be there. At the end, this objective was achieved in my case.

With simple activities, great people, profound conversations and an amazing landscape, my learning process started in the Chilean Patagonia.

The first thing that amazed me was the fantastic location, in the middle of Valle Chacabuco featuring yellow steppes, turquoise lakes, cold rivers, diverse forests and beautiful mountains. I was inspired by the work in progress made by Kris, Doug Tompkins and their friends. One of the largest national parks in the world that started with ~200,000 acres is set to become a bi-national park once the Chilean and Argentinian governments contribute additional acreage, currently part of neighboring national parks. This is just one of many projects for Kris and Doug, yet it’s part of a lifetime conservation project at a larger scale in the region. From this I learned that there are no small projects if all of them are made with passion and purpose.

The second amazing aspect of the trip was the people. Having informal conversations with our trip leaders Rick Ridgeway and Jib Ellison, and the other participants, great people, with different backgrounds and a common interest in making our world a better place. From them I learned that we must identify where our capabilities, experiences and knowledge can be used to generate a significant, positive impact.

It’s difficult to communicate everything that we absorbed during the one-week trip, and the week after when we received shocking news about Doug’s accident. But Rick Ridgeway’s post after the accident reflects a lot about what we learned in our conversations with Doug and the team.

The third and final learning was about friendship and purpose. We were witnesses of the great friendship between Yvon, Malinda, Doug, Kris, Rick, Jennifer and Jib, a friendship that from my point of view was based on a common passion, nature. Kris Tompkins, shared with us several times, that we can only take care of things we love. Translating this to other personal and professional arenas I can say that for all our projects and endeavors we need to have a common purpose with potential to become a legacy in the future, and a great team to walk together sharing this common purpose, using friendship as the corner stone.

Rest in peace, Doug Tompkins.

Schoening, Brian
Brian Schoening
, greeNG Senior Project Manager at Northrop Grumman Corporation

It was truly an honor to be selected for this year’s leadership development program and it is an experience that will have long lasting impacts on me. Going into the trip I felt like this was the Golden Ticket to the legendary land of Patagonia, a mystical place that inspired the sustainability thought leaders who I admired and indirectly learned from. That ticket came also carried with it a peace of mind – the permission (from both my family and work) to step out of my day-to-day routine and for five days be solely present in my surroundings.

Patagonia Park itself was breathtaking, and no description that an engineer could write would do it justice. Early on, it struck me as disappointing that it took a thirteen hour international flight, a two hour domestic flight, and a six hour car drive on mountain roads to reach such a beautiful landscape. In reflection, I realize that Patagonia Park is really an old idea implemented in a new location. Many of us are actually fortunate enough to be within a short drive of many equivalently pristine parklands. I discovered a new appreciation for national parks, the leaders that created these sanctuaries, and my individual responsibility to them.

While the landscape will be remembered through pictures, the individuals that surrounded me and the lasting relationships developed will keep the adventure and inspiration alive. We created a foundation through which we can leverage one another’s successes, learn from the “Mess” Ups, and collaborate as we advance in our professions. I came to appreciate that as individuals we may not have the exact right answer to today’s global challenges, but we each have our own unique responsibility and approach to being a part of the collective solution. I left Patagonia refreshed by each individual’s passion for sustainability and motivated to take on new opportunities within my own organization.

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Nalini Singh
Principal, Structuring and Commercial Analytics at NRG Energy 

Attending the 2015 CEF Sustainability Leadership Development Program in the heart of Parque Patagonia – Valle Chacabuco – was an incredible privilege, made more memorable, notable, and impactful by the special location and impressive group of participants, program leads, and board members of Conservacion Patagonica. I can think of no better environment to learn about the complexities of restoring an ecosystem than the “land of giants.”

As the group learned from Doug Tompkins, the mission of restoring the vast and wild biodiversity of Patagonia is a grand undertaking, with delicately tailored species-specific programs established to restore the habitat, recover endangered species, and protect biodiversity. In discussing hurdles, complexities, and resistance experienced in our own sustainability undertakings, the group was able to witness how each of these program areas are unique solutions, yet part of an interconnected solution.

A truly unique and once in a lifetime experience, it was enriching to share passions, organizational and professional successes and failures, and solutions to further accelerate sustainability within our organizations. Rick Ridgeway and Jib Ellison provided invaluable insights into and perspectives on sustainable business practices, articulating the business value of sustainability, and how “the viability of business itself depends on the resources of healthy ecosystems and on the stability of just societies.”

Some of takeaways from the group’s many discussions included the following:

  1. Sustainability is the next driver for innovation. Just as new technology was the catalyst for business innovation in the 1990s, sustainability is an integral part of development. The process of sustainability-driven innovation can come in the form of changing business processes, launching new services, diversifying applications for current services, or changing management techniques.
  2. Conscious leaders are needed for companies to transform. They are people who see a path and inspire others to travel along it with them. These leaders motivate, inspire, and influence their peers by exhibiting a few qualities:
    • Self-awareness – allowing one to keep ventures and values aligned and to serve with authenticity and humility
    • Seeking win-win outcomes – demonstrating to organizations the benefits of acting on synergies and operating as ‘one’ rather than for the benefit of each individual business segment
    • Creating a learning-focused environment – everything is seen as a learning opportunity, encouraging employees to think differently – even radically – and to continue to experiment
    • Helping others to shine – facilitating, reconciling differences, and honoring divergent viewpoints then combining strengths to produce positive and powerful outcomes
  3. There is value in storytelling. The importance of storytelling is its capacity to inspire and inform us on a personal level. Climate change and sustainability discussions often focus on large, global problems, in a scientific context. To inspire individual action and accountability, issues need to be presented on a human scale. Talk to me about how the world’s glaciers are losing ice at an extensive rate and I will feel despair and discouraged. Tell me a story about a group of volunteers who camped at a backcountry base camp with minimal access to fresh food and showers, but enthusiastically removed fences, dug out invasive plant species, collected native seeds from prairie plants, and built miles and miles of meandering trails in Valle Chacabuco. This type of story fills me with a sense of possibility.
  4. Everything we do or do not do has an outcome just as everything is interdependent; success on a great scale requires maximization of these interconnections. Can organizations evolve their decision making to recognize this?
  5. You can be an activist or inactivist.
  6. There are problems and then there are predicaments. While one has a solution and the other must be endured, we must keep from forgetting that things that are worth it take time.

Our week in Parque Patagonia was filled with exceptional details that aligned to create a memorable and inspiring experience. All participants were “deemed to be at an inflection point in their lives or careers with regard to sustainability,” and by the end of the experience, there was undeniable sense of responsibility. The opportunity to observe the crown jewel of South American parks during a special moment in history alongside passionate professionals and visionaries in the areas of conservation and sustainability has brought new significance to the choice of being either an activist or an inactivist.

Van Der Horn, Justin
Justin Van Der Horn
, Coordinator, Global Sustainability at Tiffany & Co.

Participating in CEF’s Leadership Development Program in Patagonia was an incredible opportunity. My motivations to apply were to network and learn from others working in corporate sustainability while building my leadership skills and capacity to influence positive change. I grossly underestimated how impactful it would be, though, to share such a unique experience with a small group of accomplished sustainability professionals. We quickly coalesced around being immersed in a wild and beautiful environment and our shared sustainability backgrounds. Not even the promise of an endangered huemul deer sighting curtailed our flow of group discussions. Though I do wish we saw the deer, I gained immensely from the conversations we had about personal and business connections to nature, resiliency, conservation, common challenges in corporate sustainability and leading with and without formal authority. I came away from the CEF trip to Patagonia with an amazing respect for the landscape and those working to conserve precious landscapes, renewed passion and focus for my work, new ideas and most importantly: amazing, lasting relationships with inspirational people in my field.

Villágran, Juan
Juan Villagran
, Director of Sustainability and EHS Global Systems, Duke Energy International

The Sustainability Leadership Development Program at the Patagonia National Park was a lifetime experience. This vivid and unique opportunity provided me with a different perspective on environmental conservation and restoration. It truly invited me to move from reflection to action.

Sharing this experience with talented sustainability professionals with different backgrounds was very refreshing. Meeting and learning from wonderful people like Rick Ridgeway, Jib Ellison and Doug Tompkins, who shared their passion for environmental conservation and restoration, was unforgettable and a true privilege.



Zenkin, Svetlana
Svetlana Zenkin
, Manager, Sustainability at Hewlett Packard Enterprise

Traveling to Parque Patagonia with a group of ambitious, energetic and kind individuals re-ignited in me a desire to explore more, both around me and in faraway places, and to take more risks inside and outside the workplace. It also renewed my optimism about opportunities to make a positive difference in the world, but also reinforced that making such a difference doesn’t come without constant work and a willingness to lead an unconventional life.

The trip was beautiful, educational, inspiring and fun, and I hope that it was only the beginning of a multi-year personal and professional transformation. Our journey planted the seeds for sustainability work to be continued over the next several decades. The connections that I made with the other participants, with our nurturing and inspiring trip leaders (Rick Ridgeway and Jib Ellison) will continue to inspire me for many years.

I will never forget meeting Doug Tompkins, the creator of Parque Patagonia. He was a leading conservationist who had been working with his wife, Kris Tompkins, to preserve over two million acres of land in the Patagonia region. He was also a relentless outdoor adventurer who completed numerous first ascents up snow-capped peaks and navigated many wild rivers in this magical area of the world. According to his friend Rick Ridgeway, he had the saying “Commit, and then figure it out” pinned above his desk once upon a time. We met Doug for a tour of the park’s visitor center, which he was still in the process of building, and aimed to eventually turn it over to the Chilean government and people. It was amazing to walk through the rooms that were still under construction and hear Doug describe what each room would depict: traditional agriculture, conservation projects, a review of the environmental and social issues that are dominating the world as a result of our economic system.

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