by Lisa Polley
As an employee of Patagonia for the past 12 years, I’ve had the opportunity to work on many projects. Some of these have been interesting, some just a necessary part of my job. Never have I experienced a project with such a direct impact on the company, on its employees and on myself as The Footprint Chronicles website.
It’s given me hope about the future for the first time in longer than I care to admit.
The epiphany that inspired this hope came during data entry. Sometimes the process of change starts in the mundane, and growth occurs at the oddest, unexpected moments. Anyone who’s filled a database knows that the task is not hard, but it requires headphones and very loud music. My task was to enter the data that would be used to geo-locate points on a Google map so we could show our supply chain online.
[Above: Seeing Patagonia suppliers pinned on a world map, one of the new additions to The Footprint Chronicles. Screengrab: Patagonia.com]
I was entering data for what felt like an eternity, watching the corresponding points as they appeared. Simple. Boring. Yet during this process, it suddenly dawned on me: I’m looking at a factory somewhere in the world.
For the first time, I realized that it was somewhere, as opposed to somewhere else. It was not someone else either. The factory was there (at least partially) because my company was doing business with them. That factory with “those people” working in it existed because they could create something that I wanted to buy. And I was willing to purchase that something without much thought about its origin. This was so surprising that I turned off the music and just stared at that spot on the map for the longest time.
[Clicking on a pin gives you information about the factory and what category of products they make for Patagonia. This information is also available in our online store. Just look for the Product Footprint tab on the left side of any product page and click to expand. Screengrab: Patagonia.com]
When we launched The Footprint Chronicles in 2007, the directive was simple and clear: Be completely honest about where our products came from and the resources required to create them. It sounds simple enough, but throughout the creative process of the first Footprint, the team working on the content was appalled by the lack of beauty in what we were publishing.
Most of what Patagonia creates is beautiful. We design products that achieve the best possible experience in the outdoors. Our images and videos are also beautiful, usually because the environments in which they are shot are beautiful.
However, the sourcing and production of our products are anything but beautiful. When you consider the human and environmental costs, you begin to realize that the way we make things may even, at times, be ugly. There is a cost to everything that Patagonia makes. There is a cost to everything that we, as consumers, buy. But that’s not why I found myself staring at the screen
I’d been learning about the cost of our products ever since Footprint’s inception. After the first iteration was published, the main critique from Patagonia’s upper management was to worry less about polishing what we were publishing, and to keep pushing the boundaries of transparency. At the time it was hard to understand, hard to take, but when I look back from the vantage of today, I applaud the vision and courage and wisdom that kept us going.
Over the years, we introspected, brainstormed, debated, worked with our suppliers, worked with our employees, dug up information, wrote, shot footage, created schedules and attended a never-ending barrage of meetings to figure out how to make a better, more transparent website – one that shows even more of the cost of what we make and buy every day. The redesigned website that we launched this week shows the fruits of those labors.
What I realized, sitting in front of the computer that day, was that I can take action to reduce those costs.
Taking action is not always the easiest thing in the world. It requires time and effort, and thoughtfulness. It is not always comfortable. We, as individuals don’t always feel that we are capable of action, or maybe that our action as individuals makes a difference. But one of the biggest powers that we, as individuals, yield is buying power. And this power is relatively easy to execute into action – and becoming easier with information like what I was seeing in front of me on the map.
It is hard to fully explain the feelings that overwhelmed me at the moment I realized a factory was actually somewhere, and not somewhere else. But what I now know is this. It is ultimately my decision as to what I buy, how much I buy and where I purchase my clothes. It is me, as part of a collective we, that is dictating how business takes place on this globe.
If I demand quality, I won’t have to buy as much and this keeps waste out of landfills for much longer, or indefinitely. If I demand information, I make a better buying choice as well as force companies to earn my dollar by letting me know where, how and why their items are made.
As I view the changes to The Footprint Chronicles through the lens of my newly found knowledge, I see many areas that Patagonia can and will improve as we too grow and learn. I am proud to be even a small part of the enormous effort that it takes to get an operation like this off of the ground.
I believe that a project like this is just the groundswell for what is to come. The Footprint Chronicles is simply a tool that allows companies and consumers to take a look at their reasons and choices.
What is being proposed by The Footprint Chronicles is the ability to create change in any factory or business in the world. I am responsible for the plight of a factory employee, or the amount of pollution that is caused within the apparel industry through my purchase choices. I know that what I do as a consumer, as well as what I do at work as a producer, makes a difference.
You and I have the power to change the habits of our world by changing our buying habits and doing what we can at work to reduce human and environmental cost. I am forever transformed by what I’ve learned and I hope that you can be too.
Knowledge leads to empowerment, empowerment brings change and with change, comes hope.
Lisa Polley is a Web producer for Patagonia. She loves punk rock music, traveling to her husband’s ultramarathon races and camping with her family. Our thanks go out to everyone who helped make the new Footprint Chronicles a reality. This post is dedicated to our late friend localcrew.