Like all business people, we know the importance of arithmetic: long-term income has to exceed long-term expense. To do otherwise is to go bankrupt, as Ernest Hemingway said: “Gradually, then suddenly.” Yet today we humans, through our many enterprises and activities, are using up the earth’s resources—clean water, clean air, arable land, healthy fisheries and a stable climate—nearly 1.5 times as fast as nature can replace them. Globally, every year, our “expenses” are exceeding our “income” by 140%.
We see a growing global dissatisfaction with the way the present economy relies on consumption in order to function, while delivering less social benefit than it promises. At the same time, we see trends toward meaningful change in both large corporate and industrial movements, and innovative, community-minded businesses.
Last year, we took a look at this complex and absorbing subject through our environmental campaign, The Responsible Economy.
“We, at Patagonia, are mandated by our mission statement to face the question of growth, both by bringing it up and by looking at our own situation as a business fully ensnared in the global industrial economy,” said Yvon Chouinard, Patagonia’s owner/founder. “I personally don’t have the answers, but in the back of my simple brain a few words come to the fore, words that have guided my life and Patagonia’s life as a company: quality, innovation, responsibility, simplicity.”
What is a responsible economy? It’s one that allows healthy communities, creates meaningful work, and takes from the earth only what it can replenish. It’s one where all the indicators currently going in the wrong direction—CO2 emissions, ocean acidification, deforestation, desertification, species extinction, water contamination, toxic chemical release—will even out, then reverse.
Essays for the campaign, on our website and in our catalogs, included the story of a frying pan that was born before its owner, and would outlive him, and why Wal-Mart’s sustainability captain moved to yerdle, an internet start-up whose members give away and get used goods. We gave a shout-out to small-scale localism.
One of the achievements of the campaign we are most proud of is how it wove its way into our business as a whole.
Many current Patagonia initiatives embody the ideas contained in The Responsible Economy:
- We are thinking hard about what it means to be a consumer. Worn Wear is a place for our customers to celebrate the stuff they already own—to repair it, hand it down, recycle it if necessary. The Common Threads Partnership gives other businesses an easy way to get on board. We’re committed to searching for, developing and using the highest-quality materials so our products get used as intended and last as long as possible.
- We make the best product with the least environmental impact and the most social value possible. We've placed an ultimate premium on eco-innovation. We developed high-quality wetsuits made out of plants and we’re actively trying to get our competitors to use the same material. We started tracing our down back to the parent farm to ensure no animal cruelty and we’re working with our competitors to do the same. We released this year the first Fair Trade Certified clothing lines produced by a major company and maintain high transparency around our supply chain through Footprint Chronicles. We are making clothes from reclaimed wool and reclaimed cotton, as well as recycled down, what the director of Patagonia sportswear called, “responsible manufacturing.” Our undyed cashmere and merino wool helps sustain grasslands in Mongolia and in Patagonia.
- We believe business can be successful in creating positive change, but not if done conventionally. $20 Million & Change gives us a chance to support like-minded businesses through investments (business relationships). Patagonia Provisions brings our radical approach to an entirely different industry as we attempt to transform the food supply chain.
- We’re environmental activists who fight to protect the places we play in. Our new feature length film, DamNation, helps anyone who has ever spent time on a river understand the need to join forces with us in taking down deadbeat dams. We give 1% of our revenue to grassroots groups working at the community level to implement solutions to the environmental crisis. We work hard each election cycle to inspire people to vote for candidates who care about the environment.
- As a B Corp, we've permanently enshrined these values in our business approach forever – and a big reason we do all of this stuff is to inspire other businesses by proving our unconventional approach can be successful.
“Business can be the most powerful agent for change, and if business doesn’t change, then I think we’re all doomed,” Rose Marcario, Patagonia’s CEO said. “Business that puts profit above people and the environment is not going to be a healthy and sustainable way for us to live and for the planet to survive.”