Patagonia’s mission statement reads: “Build the best product, cause no unnecessary harm, use business to inspire and implement solutions to the environmental crisis.” Climate change, a devastating symptom of human activity on Earth, is the very definition of this crisis we must overcome if we hope to survive.
Our work has always begun first by acknowledging that Patagonia is part of the problem. We make products using fossil fuels, built in factories that use water and other resources, create waste and emit carbon into the air. We ship our products around the world in boxes and plastic bags. We consume electricity—some generated using renewable resources and some not—at our corporate offices, distribution centers and stores. We drive cars and ride on airplanes. As individuals, we consume products of all shapes and sizes—probably more than we need.
Knowing we are part of the problem, we must also recognize that climate change—as a deadly condition of infinite human actions—is not an issue we can tackle outright. That’s why we try to stay focused on specific things Patagonia can do to reduce, neutralize, or even reverse the root causes of climate change.
We believe in extending our mission to cause no unnecessary harm to every area where Patagonia has influence. That way, as Patagonia grows in size, our efforts to meet the challenge of our mission can be amplified exponentially.
The categories of our work include:
- Reducing the environmental impact of our company and supply chain
- Supporting grassroots activists by paying an Earth Tax
- Using our company voice to advocate for systemic change
- Empowering our customers by making quality products that can be repaired
- Supporting regenerative practices in ranching and agriculture
- Envisioning a new approach to business
In this article we will explore each of these areas of activity and describe our approach. But, to be clear, this is not an attempt to tie everything up with a beautiful bow. In some ways, we’d do a lot more to help the environment if we just went away. But in other, more important ways, we believe business has a unique opportunity to be part of solutions that aren’t available to individuals or governments, and we believe all businesses have a responsibility to take steps to stop the environmental crisis we face.
Reducing the Environmental Impact of our Company and Supply Chain
Measuring Our Carbon Footprint
Based on analysis of the best information available regarding our corporate facilities (offices, stores and distribution centers), we estimate Patagonia’s global operations resulted in emissions totaling 3,617 metric tons of CO2e in fiscal year 2015.
Renewable Energy Use
During FY 2015, we generated 203,502 kWh of on-site renewable energy and purchased 980,112 kWh of green power at several of our global offices, stores and Reno distribution center. We know we can increase these numbers and are developing plans to do so.
We currently operate stores across the globe and have a distinct philosophy when opening new ones. We believe in using and improving existing buildings, rather than constructing new ones. When we can’t stick to this principle, we design our buildings with aesthetic appeal, try to make use of environmentally conscious construction materials and fixtures, and build them to last. And we always do our best to make our stores unique, reflecting the history and natural features of their locations.
We define the quality of our company, in part, by the degree to which we can reduce our impact on the environment. It means taking a holistic approach to all aspects of our business, which includes how we use resources at our buildings and facilities. Two specific green building projects are highlighted below.
Employee Transportation – Drive-Less Program
The Drive-Less program provides a monetary incentive to employees to carpool, ride a bike, skateboard, take public transportation—anything but drive alone to work. U.S. and Canadian employees are paid $2 per trip, up to two trips per day. Each employee can earn up to $500 (pre-tax) per year. The first year we saw 900 employees collectively drive 690,000 fewer miles, reducing CO2 emissions by 500,000 pounds and saving 25,700 gallons of fuel.
We use a considerable amount of paper to print our catalogs, as well as for office work and other uses. Our first choice, when it’s technically and economically feasible, is to buy paper that contains the highest level of post-consumer waste. Our second choice is recycled paper made with de-inked post-industrial recycled fiber. If we cannot source a paper that is 100% recycled, we opt for papers that contain virgin fiber from non-endangered forests, and we give preference to papers that are Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) certified.
Supply Chain Initiatives: Chemical and Environmental Impacts Program (CEIP)
Patagonia developed the Chemical and Environmental Impacts Program—based on industry best practices and standards—for the purpose of managing chemicals and environmental impacts in our global supply chain. The program covers all areas of environmental management systems, chemicals management, waste management, water use and emissions, energy use, greenhouse gasses and other air emissions.
Materials & Technology
We build durable products that don’t need to be replaced as often. Because they last longer, their environmental impacts are spread across a longer timeframe. Our R&D department is constantly looking to improve and innovate on the materials we use to ensure we are truly making the most durable, long-lasting, best-in-class products.
Where possible, we use raw materials that cause less environmental harm than their conventional or non-recycled counterparts. They include:Natural Fibers
bluesign® Approved Materials
Patagonia has worked with bluesign® technologies since 2000 to evaluate and reduce resource consumption in our materials supply chain, and to assist us in managing the chemicals, dyes and finishes we use to build our products. In 2007, Patagonia became the first brand to join the network of bluesign® system partners. We currently have 45 suppliers that are bluesign® approved (many are key suppliers) and as of spring 2015, 56% of our fabrics are bluesign® approved.
Internal Quality Scorecard (The YC Index)
During FY 2015, we established an internal scorecard to rate the quality of Patagonia products on a scale from 1-10 (1 being the worst, 10 the best). We define and measure quality by a product’s durability, repairability, multifunctionality, non-obsolescence and lack of environmental harm. It is our goal to consistently produce products that average a rating of eight or better.
Supporting Grassroots Activists by Paying an Earth Tax
1% for the Planet
Since 1985, Patagonia has pledged 1% of sales to the preservation and restoration of the natural environment. Since then, we’ve awarded over $70 million in cash and in-kind donations to domestic and international grassroots environmental groups making a difference in their communities. In 2002, Patagonia founder, Yvon Chouinard, and Craig Mathews, owner of Blue Ribbon Flies, created a nonprofit called 1% for the Planet to encourage other businesses to do the same. To date, 1% for the Planet member companies have contributed more than $100 million to nonprofit environmental groups.
Tools for Grassroots Activists Conference
In 1994, we organized our first Tools for Grassroots Activists Conference to give the environmental groups we support the tools they need to attract members, publicize issues, communicate to donors, inspire citizens to take action and be effective in today’s fast-paced, technology-charged, competitive world. We hold the conference every two years.
Patagonia gives employees throughout our worldwide operations a number of interesting opportunities to support environmental work. One program is the Environmental Internship Program, whereby employees can work up to 320 hours for nonprofit environmental groups while receiving their full pay and benefits.
Using our Company Voice to Advocate for Systemic Change
The Cleanest Line – Company Blog and Voice
The goal of The Cleanest Line is to further Patagonia’s mission by encouraging dialogue about the products we build, the sports we love and the environmental issues we’re concerned about. It’s where we voice our opinion about difficult and relevant policy decisions. By spreading the word about specific environmental issues, we can increase awareness and inspire action as quickly as possible. In the last year we have spoken out on several issues, including, but not limited to:
Because of the impact dams have on ecosystems, communities and cultures, Patagonia opposes the construction of new dams and supports the removal of obsolete ones. We also support a transition toward lower-impact energy and water sources that, combined with conservation and increased efficiencies, cause less harm.
Vote Our Planet
During election years, Patagonia, through marketing and ad campaigns, encourages its employees, customers and the greater public to Vote Our Planet. Patagonia supports candidates at the local, state and national levels who support clean water, clean air, strong climate action and a courageous shift to renewable energy.
In 2011, Patagonia became a certified B Corp, which means our company’s overall environmental and social performance is measured and independently verified by B Lab, a third party. In 2012, we went a step further and incorporated as a Benefit Corporation—the first company in the state of California to do so—which legally binds us to work to achieve the environmental and social commitments set out in our corporate charter. Currently, 30 U.S. states and the District of Columbia have adopted Benefit Corporation legislation.
Empowering our Customers by Making Quality Products that are Repairable
Worn Wear is an environmental program conceived to reduce the footprint of Patagonia products and encourage consumers to change their relationship with not only our stuff, but ultimately, all stuff. Worn Wear promotes investing in quality, repairing things when they break, passing along clothing to others when it’s no longer being used, recycling worn out goods and celebrating the clothing that travels with us through life. Through this program, we fix our customers’ gear in our stores and at our garment repair center (the largest in North America), teach them how to fix broken items themselves and provide opportunities to purchase quality used clothing and gear instead of new.
Under our Ironclad Guarantee, when our customers aren’t satisfied with our products, they may return them to us for repair, replacement or refund. We always try to repair the things we make—to keep them in play for as long as possible—and we use customer feedback to inform product design and construction.
We continue to accept responsibility for Patagonia products from birth to rebirth, taking back all worn out Patagonia products that customers return to our stores at no charge. Whenever feasible, we facilitate the reuse or recycling of these products. Since 2004, we’ve recycled or upcycled 164,062 pounds of Patagonia products.
Supporting Regenerative Practices in Ranching and Agriculture
Regenerative Grazing and Agriculture
Healthy grasslands, managed with regenerative grazing techniques, produce more forage for livestock, retain topsoil, increase the water-holding capacity of the soil and capture tons of carbon per acre every year. According to the Rodale Institute, switching the world’s croplands and pastures to regenerative organic agriculture could sequester more than 100% of the world’s annual carbon emissions. We recently began partnering with Wild Idea Buffalo Co. to produce Patagonia Provisions’ Buffalo Jerky. Wild Idea is committed to restoring grasslands through grazing techniques that build soil quality and biodiversity. They’re conserving important regional ecosystems and helping to reduce CO2 in the atmosphere at the same time.
The tradition and culture of food have always been important to us at Patagonia. On our many travels, meals become a vital part of the experience. But today’s food industry is in a crisis. Modern technology, chemistry and transportation combine to put more distance between people and their food than ever before. Industrial models of food production harvest fish indiscriminately, overgraze our prairies, fill our livestock with antibiotics and dust our crops with pesticides and fertilizers. Patagonia Provisions, our new food line, is about finding solutions to repair this broken food chain.
Envisioning a New Approach to Business
Tin Shed Ventures
In 2013, we launched $20 Million & Change, an internal investment fund to help like-minded, responsible start-up companies that use business to address environmental problems. After investing well over $20 million, the fund was renamed Tin Shed Ventures, honoring the tin shed in which Yvon Chouinard started Patagonia. We believe that success in business over the next 100 years will have to come from working with nature rather than using it up. This investment fund is one of our attempts to use business to help solve the environmental crisis and inspire change in the next generation of business leaders.
To understand how best to prioritize our efforts now and in the future, Patagonia is presently guided toward 2050 by a concept called Planetary Boundaries. Developed by the Stockholm Resilience Center and based on the research of 28 internationally renowned scientists, Planetary Boundaries sets out nine precautionary boundaries for critical areas of change, including climate change, ocean acidification, land-system change, biosphere integrity and others. We are using this framework to identify what is most material to our business, where we have the most influence, and where we can best affect change. It will guide what we should be doing as a business to mitigate human-driven environmental change.