Behind Patagonia’s Growing Aspirations

These days the outdoor apparel company Patagonia is known for its environmental "aspirations." But when it was founded in the early 1970s, the company's only real aspiration was to command the market for mountain climbing equipment and clothing. 
 
By the 1980s, the company began forging its well-known connection with green causes. It took much longer for the company to start thinking about the environmental costs of its own supply lines and how those practices could be improved, according to Vincent Stanley, Patagonia's vice president of marketing and communications.
 
Over the last two decades, however, this eco-consciousness has become synonymous with the Patagonia brand. And with each success, Stanley said, there has been increased pressure for the company to pursue even greener goals — and to communicate them to its customers, suppliers, and employees.
 
"So the aspiration has grown rather than diminish," said Stanley, who along with Jill Dumain, Patagonia’s director of environmental strategy, spoke as part of the Colloquium on Sustainable Marketing series.
 
They explained the motivations and challenges associated with some of the company’s major sustainability initiatives, including its shift to organic cotton and the creation of a website that details the environmental footprint of its products.
 
One pledge in the Patagonia's mission statement is that the company will "cause no unnecessary harm," Dumain told the audience. It's a goal the company takes seriously when developing products, she said. And sometimes products don't make the cut.
 
In one case, she said, a Patagonia designer developed a line of coating that kept ski jackets warmer but contained a metallic component in the lining. So Dumain asked the employee, “Just how much warmer?”
 
"Are we really gaining something by that?" she recalled asking. "Is it a gimmick or is it real? And is it necessary harm for the increased performance? In that case we decided it wasn't, that the mining of the metals and the implications that followed that in the processes, it couldn’t fulfill our mission statement. And so we did say 'no.'" 
 
The event was coordinated by the Yale Center for Business and the Environment (CBEY) and the Yale Center for Customer Insights, and was sponsored by DEKRA.
– Kevin Dennehy    kevin.dennehy@yale.edu    203 436-4842
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© Danielle Lehle
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© Danielle Lehle
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PUBLISHED: September 24, 2013
 

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