Green champions – Patagonia still doesn’t want you to buy that jacket, but will sell you a used one
In our “Conversations with Green Champions,” Rolland President Philip C. Rundle asks sustainability-minded companies about their approach to environmental responsibility.
In the second part of a two-part interview, Paul Hendricks, Environmental Responsibility Manager for Patagonia, talks about Worn Wear, consumerism and a memorable ad, and loyal customers who read every word of Patagonia catalogs.
The first interview was titled “Patagonia is a mission-driven activist company.”
Build the best product, cause no unnecessary harm, and use business to inspire and implement solutions to the environmental crisis.
Q: How do you take responsibility for the full lifecycle of Patagonia products?
A: It starts with the first part of our mission: build the best product.
If we are designing and building the most durable and most responsibly made products, that is the best environmental story we can have. If you keep a product in play longer you minimize the environmental impacts of having to replace it – the inputs required to dispose of the old and make the new.
Responsibly made means using renewable energy sources, using regenerative or recycled inputs, increasing social benefit, and maximizing efficiencies in our supply chain. We are also digging deep downstream – making sure products are re-used, re-purposed and recycled. End of life use is a huge focus.
Worn Wear, just launched online, is a good example: We take back all Patagonia garments regardless of condition, make repairs and mail them back to customers. If damaged beyond repair we recycle the clothes. When you’re done with, say, a jacket you can trade it in, and someone else can buy it used. Lots of really good used gear out there.
Q: Patagonia seems out of step in a consumption-oriented world – why is business thriving?
A: We question that point often. Our business model takes responsibility for its negative impacts and makes us think more holistically about operating within the limits of planetary health. This is out of step with the typical view of the role of a corporation.
Patagonia reflects growing trends in society – and people are identifying with that story more than ever. Especially millennials, who are seeing the impact of consumption, and looking for a sense of agency with their dollars. We give them an outlet.
When we put out that ad headlined “Don’t buy this jacket” we really meant it. And we still do. We know consumption is the bane of the existence of the planet, and we give people an opportunity to be responsible about it.
Patagonia is not trying to grow the pie of consumption, but trying to grow our piece of it, because we feel we are doing it better than anyone.
Q: How do you maintain a sustainable supply chain?
A: That could be a full-day conversation, because the majority of our impacts as a business are in our supply chain. We have a fourfold process to evaluate any supplier: 1) environmental impacts, 2) social impacts, 3) quality, and 4) business capabilities (i.e. cost and on-time delivery). All four are on an equal playing field.
Patagonia has a team that works with suppliers to assess their social and environmental impacts, and helps move them along the responsibility path. If a supplier is out of whack with our environmental and social standards, we can move that business elsewhere.
We have great sophisticated suppliers who show us what we should be doing in many respects, so we tap into their work and capacity. They are central to our business model.
Q: What is role of print communications at Patagonia?
A: Print has always been core to Patagonia. Catalogs are a main avenue of communications with customers. We put out 11 every year, and see them as means for talking about environmentalism and consumption. Friends of my parents have kept every Patagonia catalog for 25 years and read every word.
Every year we produce an environmental and social initiatives booklet. At 120 pages last year it is more like a book. It recaps our work with our supply chain, non-profits, internal programs, and corporate advocacy – it’s one of our most valued communications. We call it our annual report, even though we are not a public company, because it reports on the work we are doing to create a different future and a different way of business. And we are proud of that.
Q: Do you see Patagonia as a green champion?
A: No. We have accomplished lots but have a long way to go – if we call ourselves a champion that would indicate we have reached a finish line of sorts. We still have an impact on society and the environment, through our existence as a business, and are on a constant journey to make that better.
Photo: Kyle Sparks/Patagonia
1Forest Stewardship Council® (FSC®) is an international certification and labeling system dedicated to promoting responsible forest management of the world’s forests.