Patagonia is in a league of its own. For almost three decades the outdoor apparel and gear company has been a champion of environmental stewardship and social responsibility. They are leaders in reporting transparency, responsible marketing, employee engagement, consumer education, and helping environmentally oriented start-ups.
Patagonia is a member of 1% for the Planet and they are a Certified Benefit Corporation. Being a Benefit Corporation (B Corporation) they are legally required to:
1) Have a corporate purpose to create a material positive impact on society and the environment.
2) Redefine fiduciary duty to require consideration of the interests of workers, the community, and the environment.
3) Publicly report annually on its overall social and environmental performance using a comprehensive, credible, independent, and transparent third-party standard.’
Patagonia’s involvement with 1% for the Planet is another way that they advocate for the environment and give back to the wider community. The goal at 1% is to empower everyone to drive major pro-social initiatives. For almost a decade they have been helping businesses to be engines of positive environmental change. They support, food, wildlife, water, climate, environmental education, land stewardship, and environmental human health.
Patagonia is about far more than sustainable clothing and food, they market their products more responsibly than almost any other company in the world. They are committed to lowering consumption levels, to illustrate the point a couple of years ago the company took out a full-page ad in the New York Times on the biggest retail sales day of the year, “Black Friday.” The advertisement pictured its R2 Jacket beneath a caption reading: “Don’t Buy This Jacket.”
Now the company is taking its advocacy to the next level by promoting a campaign called “responsible economy” which is aimed at shaping policy and influencing businesses in addition to reaching consumers. This campaign is looking to explore what a sustainable economy of the future will look like. It asks important questions about the future of growth while acknowledging finite limits.
In addition to reducing unnecessary consumption, they are very involved with ensuring that their products do not end up in landfills. Through its Common Threads Initiative, Patagonia encourages consumers to buy and sell its clothing through a storefront on eBay. They also encourage customers to sign a pledge agreeing to responsible product stewardship.
Patagonia’s employees are also very much involved in the company’s sustainability efforts. As part of the Footprint Chronicles, Patagonia employees travel the world tracking products from design to distribution center scrutinizing all aspects of the company’s product and supply chain. This is not only for Patagonia employees it also serves to educate consumers.
The owner of Patagonia is Yvon Chouinard, he recently traveled to Cleveland to receive the Inamori Ethics Prize from Case Western Reserve University’s Inamori International Center for Ethics and Excellence. The prize is awarded to people who have demonstrated exemplary ethical leadership, and whose actions and influence have created the potential for improving the condition of humankind.
Chouinard is a hero in the sustainability community he is a global leader in corporate social and environmental responsibility. Chouinard was influenced by America’s naturalists John Muir, Henry David Thoreau, and Ralph Waldo Emerson.
The elimination of toxins at Patagonia illustrates the reason why so many sustainable business leaders venerate Chouinard. When he found out that formaldehyde in his clothing was giving his employees headaches, he radically altered his supply chain eliminating the toxin altogether.
Eliminating pesticide-laden industrially grown cotton, was no small feat as he was hard pressed to find an organic alternative. Rather than give up, he leveraged his company to help create an organic cotton farming industry.
Mr. Chouinard is an inspiration to so many people in and out of the business community because he is doing more than being responsible, he is trying to change the way business is done. He is the embodiment of ethics and leadership that values people and the planet.
Earlier this year Patagonia launched a $20 million dollar internal venture fund to invest in environmentally responsible startups focused on clothing, food, water, energy, and waste. As Chouinard stated, it is “about positive benefit to the environment.” Equity investments, partnerships, and joint ventures are focused on using business to help solve the environmental crisis.
To add to Patagonia’s long list of sustainability initiatives, the company announced that it will use 100 percent traceable down across its entire collection of down-insulated products starting in the Fall 2014 season.
© 2013, Richard Matthews. All rights reserved.
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