who: inspired by time spent climbing in Yosemite, California and the Patagonian Fitz Roy region, and founded in Ventura on the California coast, Patagonia began making durable and functional outdoor clothing in the early seventies.
committed to quality: quality means more than how a garment looks or functions. It also includes the way it affects the environment and quality of life. This means working to source materials and develop processes that minimise damage to the environment. At Patagonia, they define the quality of the company by the degree to which it reduces its impact on the environment. However, this means more than auditing the materials and methods they use in producing goods. It means taking a holistic approach to all aspects of their business and applying the lessons learned, from sourcing lower impact dyes and organic cotton to maintaining their physical plant and powering their computers. They also believe in celebrating the cultural histories of related communities by recycling and restoring existing structures whenever possible.
PCR® clothing: in 1993, Patagonia adopted fleece made from post consumer recycled plastic soda bottles into its product line. It was the first outdoor clothing manufacturer to do so. PCR® clothing was a positive step towards a more sustainable system – one that uses fewer resources, discards less and better protects people’s health. Today, at Patagonia they use PCR fleece in about 31 products, and they have saved some 86 million soda bottles from the trash heap. That’s enough oil to fill the 40-gallon gas tank of the diminutive Chevy Suburban 20,000 times.
This year they are also pleased to report the addition of PCR® filament yarn to some of the products in their line. PCR filament yarn contains 30-50% post-consumer feedstock - soda bottles, polyester uniforms, tents and garments. The remainder is post-industrial feedstock, which comes mostly from yarn and polymer factory waste products. With the addition of this new yarn, they can now make both lining and shell out of recyclable materials. It offers the same performance characteristics as virgin yarn at a competitive price with less environmental harm. It’s available through Teijin Fiber Limited.
Despite all these efforts, Patagonia admits that they still have not reached the goal of creating a fully recyclable garment: “We're getting there. But until then, we will make clothes out of recyclables. And make them so they won't soon be thrown away. We encourage you to do your part to help the environment by buying only what is needed, wearing it out or passing it on to charities for redistribution.”
organic cotton: as it happens, very little is pure or natural about cotton when it is raised conventionally. Fully 10% of all agricultural chemicals in the United States are used to produce cotton, grown on just 1% of major agricultural land. Conventional cotton crops in six California counties alone are dusted every year with 57 million pounds of chemicals. And research shows that extensive and intensive use of synthetic fertilisers, soil additives, defoliants and other substances wreak terrible havoc on soil, water, air and many, many living things.
There is, of course, an alternative: organic cotton. There are farmers who have been growing cotton without harmful chemicals for years. Their yield is high and the quality of the cotton they grow is equal to or better than conventionally grown cotton. Their methods support biodiversity and healthy ecosystems, improve the quality of soil and often use less water. Growing organically takes more time, requires more knowledge and skill, and, for now, costs more. But it's worth it.
”Once we had this knowledge, and the counsel of good friends in the environmental community, we believed we had no choice. In 1996, we converted our entire sportswear line to 100% organically grown cotton. We decided never to go back to conventional cotton, regardless of the outcome.”
more sustainable: in 1998 Patagonia became the first California company to buy all its electricity from newly constructed renewable energy plants. They currently have 13 buildings in the state, including their headquarters and four stores, and use almost a million kilowatt-hours annually. Their Denver store is wind powered. They installed photovoltaic panels that convert sunlight directly into electricity in their outlet store in Reno. At Patagonia they recognise that everything they do pollutes. They work tirelessly to reduce this pollution in their products, processes and facilities. Their mission – they underline – is to demonstrate that alternatives to conventional, waste-intensive construction practices and energy generation not only exist, but yield products, structures and ultimately, lifestyles that are more sustainable and in harmony with our environment.
an evolving mission: “We have seen popular rock routes become irrevocably scarred by pitons; the filthy trickle of brown water near our offices known as the Ventura River had nearly lost its native steelhead population; we saw the places we loved best being destroyed. We realised that we had a responsibility to protect the environment that had given us so much”. In 1984 Patagonia began pledging at least 1% of their sales or 10% of pre-tax profits, whichever is greater, to the protection and restoration of the natural environment. Last year they gave away 2.1 million dollars; to date they have donated over 19 million dollars.
employee internship: through this program (created in 1993), employees can leave their jobs at Patagonia for up to two months to work full-time for the environmental group of their choice. Patagonia continues to pay the employees’ salaries and benefits while they’re gone, and the environmental group gets them for free. More than 350 employees have interned for groups world-wide since the program began.
the Conservation Alliance: “Working with other businesses toward a common goal is among the most rewarding of our environmental initiatives.” In 1989, Patagonia co-founded The Conservation Alliance to encourage other companies in the outdoor industry to give money to environmental organisations and to become more involved in environmental work. The Alliance now boasts 70 member companies, each of which contributes annual dues to a central fund. For more information on The Conservation Alliance and how to join its efforts, check out www.conservationalliance.com.