Patagonia, Inc

By Ottman, Jacquelyn A. | Journal of Business Administration and Policy Analysis, Annual 1999 | Go to article overview

Patagonia, Inc

Ottman, Jacquelyn A., Journal of Business Administration and Policy Analysis

At Patagonia, Inc., headquartered in Ventura, California, catering to Alpine and other outdoor enthusiasts means much more than just designing and selling the highest-quality outerwear. It means making a deep commitment to pressing environmental and social concerns as well. By developing an environmentally conscious corporate culture and supporting the environmental causes and groups its customers care most about, Patagonia has hit upon a winning business formula that sets it apart from all other outerwear marketers, and stands as a shining example for all environmentally minded businesses. Their "doing well by doing good" strategy is paying off in stellar sales and fiercely loyal customers.

Patagonia's reputation for innovative social and environmental responsibility extends back to the company's roots. Founder Yvon Chouinard started Patagonia in the late 1960s as a sister to the Chouinard Equipment Company, purveyors of hardware for Alpine climbing and other outdoor activities. When Chouinard realized that climbing equipment adversely affected the pristine wilderness setting in which it was used, he decided to make his equipment environmentally responsible, offering an innovative alternative to the bolts that were traditionally used.

Although Chouinard Equipment Company has since been sold, the environmentally responsible tradition lives on at Patagonia. The company takes environmental issues into consideration in all aspects of its business, from the materials in its clothing and the construction details in its retail stores to supporting various environmental causes of concern to its customers.

Edible Landscaping

Patagonia's commitment starts with an internal assessment that helps the company understand and prioritize opportunities to minimize environmental impact. Everything from the wood and lighting in Patagonia's retail stores to the food in the corporate cafeteria has been scrutinized for possible environmental harm. The company now maintains an extensive recycling program, composts its food waste, uses low-flow toilets, and participates in the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's voluntary Green Lights energy-efficient lighting program. Even the grounds around company headquarters feature edible landscaping -- banana trees.

Outerwearwith Minimal Environmental Impact

Patagonia works closely with suppliers to minimize the environmental impact of its clothes. In 1993, Patagonia was one of the first customers for Wellman's EcoSpun fiber, which they incorporated into fleece jackets and pants redubbed Synchilla PCR (for post-consumer recycled). Anxious to help build the market for this innovative material, Patagonia spread the word on "PCR Synchilla" within the industry and, today, the use of recycled materials in various types of fabrics is widespread, helping to keep costs low for all.

To help cut down on the pollution of soil, air, and water associated with cotton farming, which is chemically intensive despite its benign image, Patagonia uses only organically grown cotton, effective with the spring 1996 line. To avoid letting the relative expense of organic cotton stand in its way, Patagonia chose to "split the difference" with consumers, reducing its margin while asking them to accept a $2-s 10 price increase on each garment. To help enlist their support for the more sustainable alternative, Patagonia educated their consumers about the environmental imperative of growing cotton organically. Educational efforts included extensive customer communications including an essay in the Spring 1996 catalog by Yvon Chouinard, and an interactive display in its Ventura headquarters.

As part of its attempts to reduce the environmental impact of its products, Patagonia simply makes fewer of them. Supporting the company's corporate goal to be a model sustainable enterprise, in 1993 the company decided to limit its product line to 280 styles. …

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