What role does business play in a time of ecological breakdown?
The current absence of government action on the climate and ecological crises means businesses have an important role to play as agents for applying pressure and taking their own steps to bring about positive change. When and where action is being taken, business can work in tandem with leaders, scientists and the community to bolster transitions that prioritise our planet over profits.
As essentially a group of people, offering products and/or services to people, we also have a responsibility to look at the negative impacts our business is having, and reduce these as much as we can.
In just one year, the clothing industry will contribute 1.2 billion tons of CO2 emissions into our air – that’s as many emissions as international flights and maritime shipping combined. One of the most responsible things we can do as a company is make high-quality stuff that lasts for years, so you don’t have to buy more of it. And then if there is wear and tear, repair it. As an extension of this, we’re also moving toward 100% renewable and recycled raw materials. By using both synthetic and natural fibres made from pre-consumer and post-consumer waste, we’re limiting our dependence on raw materials and reducing carbon emissions.
Talk to us about Patagonia’s values and mission.
Patagonia has been in business for coming up to 48 years. Since we started, we’ve been committed to using our company as a tool to reduce environmental impact and increase social justice. In 2019, we announced a new mission statement to make that commitment as boldly and firmly as possible – we’re in business to save our home planet.
It’s a pretty lofty goal, and we don’t have a set roadmap, but this is the ‘north star’ that informs our decision making. A set of values also keep us on track: “Build the best product”, “Cause no unnecessary harm”, “Use business to protect nature”, and finally, “Not bound by convention”.
That said, we don’t have all the answers; we’re still listening and learning, but having this to aspire to pushes us to continue to find solutions in service of our planet.
One example of this is our corporate venture capital fund Tin Shed Ventures, which we use to invest in environmentally and socially responsible start-up companies. Our work with a start-up called Bureo led to the innovation of a NetPlus material, made from discarded fishing nets, which is now serves as the material for the brims in all out hats and kept 35 tons of harmful waste out of the ocean this year.
How do you hold the paradox of slowing down consumerism while creating clothing?
We acknowledge that we build and sell gear. One of the most responsible things we can do is to make high-quality stuff that lasts for years and can be repaired, so you don’t have to buy more of it. Versatility is also important to us – you might have the one rain jacket for thru-hiking, a winter surf check, and wearing to and from the office on wet days.
Beyond the products and services is using business as a force for good. Our learning towards being a responsible business and being part of an activist community can potentially invite other businesses to broaden their own ideas of success, beyond infinite growth and financial profits, and in turn make radical changes.
What is your view of success?
One view our founder Yvon Chouinard has built the business on, and of which our CEO Ryan Gellert is also really devoted to, is that we want to be in business for the long-term – the next 100 years. This means were not chasing short-term gains, unsustainable growth and the significant impacts intertwined with that.
Driven by our mission, we’re currently prioritising devising a new set of internal metrics that help us to more holistically look at monitoring success, profit and impact. I’m really excited to have that fine-tuned and put into action.
What do you hope to inspire in your customers? How can consumers be a force for good?
Our ‘Do Not Buy This Jacket’ campaign gathered a far bit of attention when it came out in 2011. It kind of turned the typical sales pitch on its head. And we’re still communicating that message to our customers – this season we’re encouraging people to “Buy Less, Demand More”.
There’s that adage that people vote with their dollars, and I think it’s relevant now more than ever.
What changes would you like to see in the apparel industry?
There’s definitely been momentum over the last decade, but also with everything that’s happened over the last year, I think more and more people are reimagining what the apparel industry could be. The time, effort and talent being invested in reducing the impact of the sector, particularly with regards to the full lifecycle of apparel and also through focusing on circularity is inspiring.
I also feel the industry and its relationship with consumers can benefit from greater transparency, especially when we talk about supply chains. There’s also some exciting technology emerging in this space that can be a huge asset.
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