Patagonia wants to usher in a more “responsible economy,” and it’s willing to sacrifice its bottom line to do so. The outdoor-apparel firm, which has built a reputation on its ethical conduct, wants to challenge the commonly held notion that an economy based on growth and increased consumption is “tantamount to prosperity,” according to Jill Dumain, the company’s director of environmental strategy. “On a daily basis, we actively pursue our mission statement’s provision to ‘cause no unnecessary harm,’” said Dumain on Tuesday, following a breakfast briefing highlighting Patagonia’s four decades of social and environmental firsts. “At every step we ask ourselves, ‘How does this fiber or input affect the environment we live in and the people making the products and how can we reduce that impact?’”
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Patagonia also announced its latest environmental campaign, “The Responsible Economy.” Inspired by the overwhelming response to the provocative “Don’t Buy This Jacket” full-page ad it published in the New York Times on Black Friday in 2011, as well as its more recent “Better Than New” spread in the same paper touting the resale of gently used Patagonia clothing, the two-year initiative seeks to confront what the so-called “elephant in the room”: growth-dependent capitalism.
Patagonia’s latest initiative seeks to confront what the so-called “elephant in the room”: growth-dependent capitalism.
Societies and businesses all hinge on clean water, clean air, arable land, healthy fisheries, and a stable climate, notes the firm, yet humans are consuming the earth’s resources at a rate nearly one a half times faster than nature can replenish them.
Through its new enterprise, Patagonia plans to promote the concept that everyone must learn not only to consume less but to innovate as “quickly and ingeniously as possible” to reduce our impact on the natural world.
Yvon Chouinard, the founder and owner of Patagonia, described the campaign as the “most ambitious and important endeavor [the company’s] ever undertaken.” “Our other environmental campaigns—the depletion of the oceans, pollution of water, obstacles to migration paths for animals‚ have been about the symptoms of this problem,” he added. “Now we are addressing the core.”
Other pioneering concepts from Patagonia include the use of only organic cotton for all its cotton products since 1996, redefining corporate transparency through its “Footprint Chronicles” website, launching its “Common Threads” recycling partnership, becoming the first brand member of the Bluesign system, being the first company in California to incorporate as a “benefit corporation,” launching its “$20 Million & Change” fund to assist like-minded startups, and becoming one of the first American outdoor-apparel manufacturers to introduce fair-trade-certified garments.
Patagonia was among the first brands to use hemp, recycled polyester, and Tencel.
In addition, Patagonia was among the first brands to use hemp, recycled nylon, recycled polyester, and Tencel. It also co-founded 1% for the Planet, Freedom to Roam, the Conservation Alliance, and the Sustainable Apparel Coalition, and is a founding member of the Fair Labor Association.
In the two years that Patagonia has been beseeching its customers to buy less, its annual sales actually increased by nearly 38 percent to $575 million. Chouinard has estimated sales will continue to grow by about 15 percent each year. The disconnect is something the company struggles to reconcile, admitted Rick Ridgeway, the company’s vice president of environmental affairs. Despite occasional outcries of hypocrisy, Patagonia is barreling onward.
“Patagonia’s mission is to ‘inspire and implement solutions to the environmental crisis,’” Ridgeway said. “There are two vital concepts in that statement: we implement our own solutions and we inspire others to follow our lead.”