“Who are businesses really responsible to? Their customers? Shareholders? Employees? We would argue that it’s none of the above. Fundamentally, businesses are responsible to their resource base. Without a healthy environment there are no shareholders, no employees, no customers and no business.” ( Chouinard, Y. (2006) Let My People Go Surfing. Penguin Books)
Patagonia is a brand beloved by many for their authentic origins and quality outdoor products. Unbeknownst to the majority of their customers, as a brand who appreciates the true beauty of nature more than most, Patagonia is a company and a culture that has been actively combatting environmental abuse for decades. As an American clothing company, Patagonia sits square in the middle of an industry which needs literal inputs from the earth in order to make their products. This is an industry that by all means causes harm to the environment. But over the last few decades Patagonia has been taking strides to minimize their negative impact on the world we live in, and has been encouraging others to join them every step of the way.
After discovering the disturbing severity of the environmental impact of chemically aided cotton production, Patagonia’s leadership decided to look for alternatives as input to their cotton products. In the fall of 1994, they made the decision to make all their cotton products with only organic cotton. A decision that would be scrutinized by many in the business world for increasing their costs, raising their prices, and likely spoiling their sales – but a step they found necessary towards getting started on the right path.
But Patagonia didn’t stop with their own processes. They took their environmental mindset, and began integrating it throughout the entirety of their supply chain. They reevaluated 100% of their existing supply chain on Social and Environmental responsibility, and chose only to continue working with partner companies who were also making substantial efforts to reduce their negative impact on the environment and to provide fair and just working conditions to their employees.
Another effort Patagonia made towards reducing their overall environmental impact, was to take a strong stance supporting the reusing, repairing, and recycling of their products. Against standard business practice, Patagonia actually encourages their customers to have an old jacket repaired (for free) rather than buy a new one, because each additional jacket they sell represents marginal use of resources from the environment. Currently Patagonia still pushes their “Worn Wear” campaign, which urges customers to keep their gear in service longer through repair and repurposing, and provides recycling options when repair is no longer viable.
After becoming known as a leader of conducting environmentally conscious business practices, Patagonia found that other companies with similar values were reaching out to them to ask questions about how to create more environmentally friendly business practices. In an effort to motivate all companies in this direction, Patagonia actually compiled a list of resources on “Green Business Practices” and share them (still) for free on their website, encouraging other members of the business community to join their movement.
In addition to supporting businesses moving towards greener practices, Patagonia has made a habit of Environmental Activism, and encourages and supports their employees to stand up and fight for environmental movements they believe in. Patagonia has gone so far as to budget additional financial support and even paid time off for employee activism when fighting for environmental and social causes.
Patagonia has taken strides in the right direction over the past few decades, but they have much more work to do. In recent media they have been criticized for talking the talk more than they have actually walked the walk. The most critical step that I would like to see them take moving forward is to merely continue doing what they’re doing. Improve their own practices, encourage other businesses to join them, and educate the end consumer that they themselves are ultimately the ones with the power to make change.
I picked up a well-used but left-behind copy of “Let My People Go Surfing” in a hostel in Quilotoa, Ecuador last summer. Yvon Chouinard (Founder and owner of Patagonia and author of the book) claims it to be “The Education of a Reluctant Businessman”. The story Chouinard tells is one of how to bring grand adventures and doing good together in a successful business, and since reading it, both the entrepreneur and the outdoor enthusiast within me have never been so motivated.
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- Chouinard, Y. (2006) Let My People Go Surfing. Penguin Books
- Spear, S. (2016, September 19). 10 Most Profound Passages From ‘Let My People Go Surfing’ Retrieved November 3, 2016, from http://www.ecowatch.com/let-my-people-go-surfing-2008599492.html
- Corporate & Social Responsibility History – Patagonia. (n.d.). Retrieved November 03, 2016, from http://www.patagonia.com/corporate-responsibility-history.html
- Environmental Impact. (n.d.). Retrieved November 03, 2016, from http://www.patagonia.com/environmental-impact.html
- Worn Wear. (n.d.). Retrieved November 03, 2016, from http://wornwear.patagonia.com/
- (n.d.). Retrieved November 03, 2016, from http://www.patagonia.com/reference-library.html