And on the surface, MEC certainly appears to embody the ideal of the responsible corporation. The company actively promotes the resale and recycling of its products, and it has worked hard to cut down on product packaging and energy use at its stores. Over the last 14 years, MEC has funneled more than $2 million to conservation proj-ects across Canada, ranging from the Tomifobia Nature Trail in Quebec to the Caribou Commons Project in the Yukon. The company Web site even enables visitors to test their personal "Ecological Footprint," based on such factors as how many miles they drive each day.

But Kohn admits that Mountain Equipment Co-op has just begun its journey. The company only began to work actively to become a leader in social and environmental responsibility in 1997. It's one thing to enable people to eat trail mix above the treeline in Jasper. It's another altogether to understand the real environmental and labor effects of how your suppliers manufacture your products in countries like China and Vietnam. Kohn admits that MEC has not yet developed any foolproof way to measure perform-ance at such far-flung facilities, though the company does try to inspect those factories.

Kohn isn't fretting the details that remain undone - yet. "We always knew we needed to walk before we could run," he says. Still, the lesson is clear. Even a cooperative business - one that takes in a cool $150 million per year yet proudly forswears profits, that dominates its home market, that serves a progressive clientele - still finds it very difficult even to define what signifies doing good as a company, let alone how a "good" company should act.