Outdoor apparel icon Patagonia is becoming more vocal and more politically active to help promote environmental conservation. Hopefully, more companies will follow its example.
“We’re in business to save our home planet,” said CEO Rose Marcario. “That’s Patagonia’s new mission statement. We don’t just seek now to do less harm, we need to do more good.”
Patagonia has several ways in which it works to have a positive impact on the environment, but within the past few years, it has embraced politics. Most recently, it endorsed senators that align with its values and openly criticized the presidential administration on tax cuts and public land policies. Many retailers shy away from public political stands.
“For us, it hasn’t been a big risk,” she said. “We know our customers. We’ve never been a mass advertiser; we don’t do commercials. Customers come to us with some connection to the outdoors.”
In December 2017, President Trump signed a proclamation to dramatically reduce the boundaries and management of Utah’s Bears Ears National Monument and Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument. Patagonia.com responded on its homepage displaying an all-black screen with white lettering declaring, “The President Stole Your Land.” Shoppers had to X out of the page to access the site, which still had that message as one of its hero images. Patagonia is one of the companies that is currently challenging the proclamation in court, Marcario said.
Patagonia has a distribution center in Nevada and a store in Montana and endorsed Jacky Rosen (D-Nevada) and Jon Tester (D-Montana), who both support protecting public lands and water. Patagonia featured its endorsements on its website, social media accounts and in customer emails.
“The company is endorsing candidates for the first time this year because of the urgent and unprecedented threats to our public lands and waters,” Patagonia wrote in a statement on the endorsement. “Nevada and Montana are two states where Patagonia has significant company history and a long record of conservation accomplishments, and where the stakes are too high to stay silent.”
The races were close, but those candidates won. “We felt like we had influence there, and I feel good about that,” Marcario said at NRF. It also closed its stores to give its employees time off to vote.
In November, Patagonia announced that because of changes to the tax law, the retailer owed $10 million less in taxes. Patagonia said that the tax cut was “irresponsible” and donated its $10 million refund in the form of 20,000 grants to philanthropic environmental organizations that are committed to protecting air, land and water and looking for solutions to climate change. This was on top of the 1% of total sales it already donates.
Protecting the environment has always been central to Patagonia’s mission. While it may feel like Patagonia has taken a more political stand, Marcario said Patagonia’s actions are proportional and appropriate relative to the amount of changes that need responding to, Marcario said. Plus, changes to the environment personally affect Patagonia employees, as 75% of its employees had to be evacuated last year due to the wildfires.
“Our planet is facing its greatest crisis because of human-caused climate disruption,” Marcario said. “All the extra heat that we’ve trapped in the earth’s atmosphere is not only melting the poles and raising sea levels, it’s intensifying drought and accelerating the extinction of species. The most recent Climate Assessment report puts it in stark terms: the U.S. economy could lose hundreds of billions of dollars, and the climate crisis is already affecting all of us. Mega-fires. Toxic algae blooms. Deadly heat waves and deadly hurricanes. Far too many have suffered the consequences of global warming in recent months, and the political response has so far been woefully inadequate—and the denial is just evil.”
For almost 40 years, Patagonia has supported grassroots activists working to find solutions to the environmental crisis. But in this time of unprecedented threats, it’s often hard to know the best way to get involved. That’s why we’re connecting individuals with our grantees, in order to take action on the most pressing issues facing the world today.
Since 1985, Patagonia has pledged 1% of sales to the preservation and restoration of the natural environment. We’ve awarded over $89 million in cash and in-kind donations to domestic and international grassroots environmental groups making a difference in their local communities. In 2002, founder of Patagonia, Yvon Chouinard, and Craig Mathews, owner of Blue Ribbon Flies, created a non-profit corporation to encourage other businesses to do the same.
If you’re a business owner (or have any influence over your boss), please consider becoming a member of this socially and environmentally progressive group. By contributing one percent of total annual sales to grassroots environmental groups, members of 1% for the Planet affect real change. And members receive other benefits: The satisfaction of paving the way for more corporate responsibility in the business community and the recognition, support and patronage of conscientious consumers who value serious commitment to the environment.
Patagonia also helped gather the top leaders in the apparel industry, non-governmental organizations, academia and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency for an inaugural meeting in 2010 to determine the feasibility of working together to create an index of social and environmental performance. We are happy to report that today there are 49 members of the Sustainable Apparel Coalition, which represent nearly a third of all clothing and footwear sold on the planet. The entire apparel supply chain is coming together to create one measuring stick of where we are, and one road map to show us where we need to go.