Impact and Adoption
As our company grows, we are faced with this challenge: the more we produce, the greater our impact is on the environment. If we are going to inspire and implement solutions to the environmental crisis, as our mission states, we have to reduce our overall impact, regardless of the number of products we sell.
We have made good strides over the years, like switching to organic cotton, pioneering recycled synthetic fabrics and introducing denim with less impactful dyeing. But sometimes these product-specific improvements don’t feel like enough. We often struggle to have a positive impact that is broader, one that moves beyond a product or two in our line and affects an entire industry. For example, one of our goals when we switched to organic cotton was to influence clothing manufacturers to use more organic cotton and move away from conventionally grown cotton, but others have not followed our lead as we’d hoped. We consider this a failure.
Conversely, our journey to introduce recycled polyester into Patagonia products has led to a different outcome with that broader adoption we seek.
We sold our first recycled polyester garment in 1993, and it was an enormous breakthrough. To divert plastic bottles from the waste stream and turn them into fabric was unheard of at the time. It wasn’t an overnight success; the first fabric we saw wasn’t even worthy of a tote bag, let alone something you’d want to put next to your skin. However, with diligence and valuable partnerships, we were able to introduce recycled polyester into our soft Synchilla® fleece pullover. This was the beginning of a journey to reduce our dependency on fossil fuels and reduce our carbon footprint, though the term “carbon footprint” didn’t come into our lexicon until the mid-1990s.
We made steady progress after 1993, introducing more recycled polyester from bottles. Then, in 2005, a new technology that chemically recycled polyester allowed us to diversify the types of recycled products we could make. In addition to being able to recycle a wider variety of discarded polyester products, chemical recycling allowed us to recycle our own old, worn-out polyester garments into new, recycled polyester clothing. This was our first foray into the Circular Economy and the first time we were able to contribute to the making of raw material for our own products. It was a good idea, but it didn’t scale in the industry and eventually became less of an option for us. One lasting advantage of chemical recycling technology was that it allowed us to use recycled content in not just our fleece knits like Synchilla, but also in our lighter weight woven fabrics.
In 2009, we introduced Nano Puff® styles with recycled fabrics, both inside and out. Using recycled content in such a lightweight fabric was a major advancement for us and the industry. But we were disappointed that recycled content was limited to the fabric. We couldn’t include it in components like the insulation, zippers and labels. For years we struggled to convert the other parts of the jacket to recycled materials, especially the insulation where we couldn’t get the same loft, warmth and lightness without using virgin polyester.
Unwilling to sacrifice performance in such an important product, we approached our partners at PrimaLoft and encouraged them to tackle the problem. They have succeeded and are ready to make waves in 2016 with the introduction of PrimaLoft® Gold Insulation Eco. PrimaLoft was able to achieve a 55% recycled polyester content in their highest performing insulation on the market, and we are happy to introduce PrimaLoft® Gold Insulation Eco in all of our Nano Puff products for the 2016 fall season. It is a big milestone for a product that is so widely sold and loved.
By using PrimaLoft Gold Insulation Eco in our Nano Puff styles, Patagonia will save more than 2 million plastic bottles from the landfill in the first year alone. Then, beginning in 2017, PrimaLoft will replace all of its Gold Insulation, anywhere it’s used, with the new 55% recycled Gold Eco. We consider that a huge, responsible leap forward not just for the outdoor community, but for any industry that uses synthetic insulation.