As climate change becomes real, Patagonia is striving to do more good, rather than just less harm, said its CEO, Rose Marcario, at NRF’s Big Show in New York yesterday.
“Patagonia is in the business to save our home planet,” reads the outerwear brand’s updated mission statement.
In the 90s the company’s strategy around sustainability was considered groundbreaking because supply chain wasn’t so much in the consumer’s mind, she adds. But with consumers being more informed than ever and climate change becoming increasingly tangible – as the recent fires in California have shown – brands should strive to be much more proactive.
The California-based company has been working on its activism for the past 35 years, but recently it has upped its efforts in speaking up for environmental issues, and supporting its consumers to do the same.
“The reality is we have been proportionally responding to what’s happening,” explains Marcario, rather than making a conscious effort to be louder. For example, it recently donated $10m from tax cuts it received from the Trump administration to environmental causes. It also openly backed two political candidates in Nevada and Montana who had sustainability at the core of their campaigns, and launched the Patagonia Action Works platform, enabling its community to give back locally.
One could argue that being sustainable is a risky move. Marcario however believes the brand’s success has been a natural evolution, as it started as a catalog company in the 70s and therefore has always had a close relationship with the consumer. “For us it hasn’t been a big risk. We’ve been funding activism for three decades,” she adds, saying that so far the company has given over $100m dollars to grassroots environmental programs, partly because it knows how little funding goes towards environmental NGOs.
The future of the planet is not entirely bleak, however. Although some brands are still nervous to step out of their comfort zones, Marcario believes a lot of them recognize the importance of working together in order to address more transparent supply chains as well as wider activism. For example, Patagonia and 400 other companies recently participated in the Time to Vote campaign, which gave employees time off to vote on the midterm elections in the US. As for climate change, when President Trump pulled the country out of the Paris Climate Agreement, a lot of US companies vouched to remain in.
“Anybody who is running a business recognizes it is important to keep going, and the cautionary tale is: don’t just stop on the first level,” Marcario says. “Keep asking questions and go deeper.”
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