Beloved by nature enthusiasts and urban dwellers alike, Patagonia is an outdoor clothing and gear designer founded in the early 1970’s. Since its inception, Patagonia has a legacy of environmental and social responsibility that has been codified in its mission statement: “Build the best product, cause no unnecessary harm, use business to inspire and implement solutions to the environmental crisis” .
Climate Change in the Apparel Industry
As an environmentally and socially-conscious business, Patagonia has recognized climate change as the key “crisis” to overcome in its mission. Climate change has significantly impacted the apparel industry, from upstream farmers and manufacturers to downstream retailers and consumers.
On the suppliers’ end, volatile temperatures and depleting global water supplies reduce crop yields and increase textile prices . While cotton is the most commonly used natural fiber, it is extremely thirsty, and a single shirt requires 2,700 liters of water. Cotton production is linked to a decrease in global water footprint due to over-drawing by cotton farmers, and it is associated with disproportionately high pesticide use relative to its land use. Commonly used synthetic fibers such as polyester require less land, water, and pesticides; however, due to greenhouse gases emitted during manufacturing, polyester has twice the carbon footprint of cotton .
On the consumers’ end, the rise of fast fashion has led to shortened fashion cycles and micro-seasons, driving increased clothing consumption and waste. As the apparel industry has grown, it has become the second most polluting industry in the world after oil, equivalent to the entire country of Russia , and consumers are increasingly demanding ethical practices and transparency.
Patagonia’s Mission Against Climate Change
Since its founding, Patagonia has made concerted efforts to actively reduce its environmental impact. Its products are made primarily with textiles causing lower environmental harm, including both natural materials (organic cotton, hemp) and synthetic fibers (recycled polyester). Since 2000, Patagonia has worked with certifier Bluesign to monitor its supply chain and ensure the safety of fabric chemicals and dyes used in its manufacturing . Patagonia quantifies its corporate carbon footprint and measures renewable energy usage, which it aims to improve on an annual basis. Over the longer-term, Patagonia works to develop innovative products that are more durable and repairable, thereby extending their useful life and decreasing their environmental impact.
Additionally, Patagonia supports environmental non-profit groups and encourages other companies in its ecosystem to do the same. Since 1985, it has contributed $70 million to non-profits through an “Earth Tax” comprising 1% of sales. Patagonia’s founder Yvon Chouinard co-founded a non-profit which has raised an additional $100 million in contributions from member companies . In 2016, Patagonia announced it would donate its Black Friday sales to organizations focusing on air, water, and soil protection; it projected $2 million in sales and ultimately achieved $10 million, with 100% of proceeds contributed . Employees are encouraged through an Environmental Internship Program to volunteer up to 320 hours per year for environmental non-profits while still receiving full pay.
Lastly, Patagonia engages in advocacy and education with external stakeholders. It regularly highlights environmental issues on its corporate blog, with recent articles including global warming’s impact on cold-water fishing, the importance of regenerative organic agriculture, and environmental protection of U.S. federal lands. Through its “Vote our Planet” initiative, Patagonia encourages customers and employees to vote for local, state, and national candidates who support climate action. Patagonia registered as a certified B Corp in 2011 and a Benefit Corporation in 2012, a legally binding commitment to the environmental and social goals laid out in its corporate charter .
Additional Recommendations & Concerns
There are additional measures Patagonia should take to manage climate change in its global supply chain. It launched its “Footprint Chronicles” in 2007 to provide transparency about its products’ origins and allow consumers to identify specific manufacturers associated with their items. However, it is unclear whether the full supply chain has been traced; furthermore, Patagonia should disclose key environmental initiatives it has implemented at each of its farms, mills, and factories.
Patagonia currently quantifies carbon footprint and renewable energy usage only for its corporate network, but it should also aim to do so for its full supply chain. Over the medium-term, Patagonia should incentivize better performing suppliers by including relevant metrics on its internal product quality scorecard, developed in 2015 to evaluate quality metrics including lack of environmental harm.
A key concern facing Patagonia management is the tension between good and bad growth . As the brand has become increasingly popular with mainstream consumers who may not be aware of its environmental and social mission, one questions whether Patagonia’s rapid growth and increasing demand for its products is causing undue stress on its supply chain sustainability. How should Patagonia best use its unique position to further effect change across its devoted customers?
 “Patagonia’s Mission Statement”, Patagonia (2017), http://www.patagonia.com/company-info.html
 Zaczkiewicz, A., “Is Climate Change Killing the Seasonality of Fashion Apparel Retailing?”, Women’s Wear Daily (October 18, 2016), http://wwd.com/business-news/business-features/climate-change-impact-fashion-apparel-10525390/
 Drew, D. and Yehounme, G., “The Apparel Industry’s Environmental Impact in 6 Graphics”, World Resources Initiative (July 5, 2017), http://www.wri.org/blog/2017/07/apparel-industrys-environmental-impact-6-graphics
 Sweeny, G., “Fast Fashion Is the Second Dirtiest Industry in the World, Next to Big Oil”, Ecowatch (August 17, 2015), https://www.ecowatch.com/fast-fashion-is-the-second-dirtiest-industry-in-the-world-next-to-big–1882083445.html
 “Our Business and Climate Change”, Patagonia (2017), http://www.patagonia.com/climate-change.html
 Addady, M., “Patagonia’s Donating All $10 Million of Its Black Friday Sales to Charity”, Fortune (November 29, 2016), http://fortune.com/2016/11/29/black-friday-2016-patagonia/
 MacKinnon, J. B., “Patagonia’s Anti-Growth Strategy”, The New Yorker (May 21, 2015), https://www.newyorker.com/business/currency/patagonias-anti-growth-strategy