Patagonia’s 6 Environmentally Friendly Business Practices

Do you want your business to be environmentally friendly? What can businesses learn from Patagonia?

Patagonia’s mission is to make the best product, to cause no unnecessary environmental harm, and to use business as a force for solving the environmental crisis. If you want your business to do the same, you can follow Patagonia’s business principles.

Continue reading for six environmentally friendly business practices to build a sustainable company.

Principle #1: Design High-Quality Products

One of Patagonia’s environmentally friendly business practices is to design high-quality products that are built to last. Patagonia’s founder Yvon Chouinard argues that one of the major reasons for the environmental crisis is that people buy too many products and consume too many resources. Quality products lead to less waste and less consumption compared with cheap products that are quickly discarded, so by creating products that last longer, Patagonia hopes to combat this wasteful consumption. 

According to Chouinard, a high-quality product is:

1. Functional. Patagonia designs its products to be as simple, practical, and multifunctional as possible. Each product begins with a function in mind—such as clothing to keep wearers warm and dry. This way, the company avoids adding unnecessary features that would complicate the products and waste resources.

2. Durable. Chouinard explains that the weakest component of a product determines its lifespan. For example, a jacket may have a sturdy fabric, but if the zipper is of poor quality, the jacket won’t be usable for long. With this in mind, Patagonia conducts rigorous tests on every part of a product to make sure that they all have the same durability. Their products last longer as a whole and make the most of the resources required to produce them.

3. Repairable. To minimize waste, Patagonia encourages its customers to repair worn products instead of throwing them away. They support this initiative through programs like Worn Wear, which allow customers to trade in used Patagonia clothing, and they also provide resources for people to repair their gear.

Principle #2: Manufacture Products Sustainably

Another guiding principle of Patagonia is sustainable production. According to Chouinard, it’s as important to monitor a product’s production process as it is to design a high-quality product. Thus, Patagonia cares about the full life cycle of their products—from the moment they’re manufactured to the moment they fall into disuse.

Chouinard explains some ways Patagonia takes responsibility during its product production process:

First, the company focuses on forming strong relationships with the people and companies who manufacture its products. It does this by involving producers in the design process, choosing producers based on the quality of their work, and setting up the manufacturing process correctly the first time. It also requires all contributors to the process to abide by fair labor practices. This ensures that, even with the company’s large size, they create products that come as close to handmade quality as possible.

Second, Patagonia regularly investigates how its products are made. Chouinard argues that to be environmentally responsible, you must actively educate yourself about your business processes and seek more eco-friendly ways of creating products. For example, after researching how different clothing fibers are grown and what chemicals are commonly found in dyes, Patagonia was able to identify more eco-friendly alternatives and transition to organic cotton and less toxic dyes. By asking questions rather than turning a blind eye, the company continually seeks new ways to reduce its environmental cost.

Principle #3: Be Authentic

Rather than crafting an artificial or exaggerated public image, Patagonia focuses on authentically operating according to its core values and its mission to protect the environment. For instance, the company’s guiding principles stem from a love for nature, a sense of freedom, and a refusal to conform to corporate norms.

Instead of relying on typical advertising tactics, Patagonia adopts several methods to introduce people to their products:

1. Hire product enthusiasts. Chouinard writes that great products are best created by the people who would use them because they’ll have a first-hand understanding of what users need and desire. Patagonia, therefore, hires people who share its passion for the rugged outdoor life.

2. Share authentic stories. Patagonia produces a catalog that shares photos and stories of customers using their products in action. Instead of pushing sales, this catalog builds trust in the products based on people’s real-life experiences.

3. Focus on educating over advertising. Patagonia educates its customers in two ways: First, by providing thorough and accurate product descriptions and details, and second, by sharing stories that promote environmental sustainability.

Principle #4: Grow the Company Naturally

Another principle of Patagonia’s is that it prioritizes the health of the environment over profit. Chouinard argues that pushing rapid business growth is harmful for the environment because the bigger a business grows, the more natural resources it uses and the more consumerism it promotes. Thus, instead of trying to maximize growth and profits through advertising and other marketing efforts, Chouinard focuses on growing the company at a natural rate—one that’s determined by customer demand. He sees profits not as a goal just for their own sake but as a means to stay in business and to support the environment, and he argues that profits come naturally if you’re doing a good job.

One way Patagonia maintains its natural growth is by remaining a privately owned company not beholden to the expectations of external investors or shareholders. This allows the company to operate according to its core values and its environmental mission.

Principle #5: Nurture Employees by Giving Them Freedom, Trust, and Benefits

Another core tenet of Patagonia’s business philosophy is prioritizing the well-being of its employees. Chouinard writes that he wants Patagonia to be an enjoyable place to work—a place that feels familial rather than corporate and appeals to the independent and free-spirited “dirtbags” who represent what the company is all about. He traces these values back to the company’s early days when he forged climbing hardware with friends.

He contends that Patagonia spearheaded the trend of more casual workplaces by nurturing its employees in several ways:

1. Encouraging work-life balance. Patagonia promotes a rich and adventurous lifestyle among its employees with its “Let My People Go Surfing” flextime policy, which allows employees to work flexible hours as long as they get their work done without impacting the work of others. Patagonia employees can take time off for anything from catching an afternoon surf to furthering their education to caring for their children.

2. Eliminating hierarchies. Patagonia values open communication and collaboration over corporate bureaucracy, and as such, offers an egalitarian workspace with no private offices or special parking spaces. Chouinard argues that effective communication and a sense of equality encourage employees to feel accountable and motivate them to work efficiently and productively.

3. Offering on-site child care. Recognizing that it can be hard for working parents to find quality and affordable childcare, Patagonia manages several on-site child development centers that provide stimulating learning environments for children. The company also encourages parents to spend time with their children during the day. According to Chouinard, having employees’ children on-site creates a more comfortable, family-like atmosphere and increases employee happiness and productivity.

Principle #6: Implement Environmentally Friendly Practices

Lastly, Patagonia strives to use its influence and resources to fight the environmental crisis. Chouinard argues that businesses (like Patagonia) that use natural resources must take responsibility for the effects they have on the environment. He writes that many turn a blind eye to their environmental impact, engaging in wasteful practices to maximize profit and grow rapidly. He argues that to run a business while being environmentally conscious, businesses have to be willing to sacrifice short-term rewards for long-term gains.

Chouinard details a few ways Patagonia works to be more environment-friendly:

1. Reducing waste and energy consumption. Patagonia uses organic and recycled materials, such as organic cotton, hemp, recycled polyester, and recycled nylon. The company also reuses cardboard boxes and paper and has renovated its facilities to have energy-efficient lighting.

2. Donating to fight the environmental crisis. Chouinard recognizes that despite their best efforts, as a clothing company that uses up natural resources and produces products for people to consume, Patagonia will always exact some toll on the environment. Because of this, the company donates 1% of its sales to nonprofit environmental groups as a form of redress for staying in business. Since 1985, the company has given over $79 million to environmental organizations.

3. Encouraging other businesses to reduce their environmental footprint. Patagonia is not only a leader in sustainable business, but a catalyst for change in the industry. The company invests in environmentally responsible start-ups and openly shares its principles and workplace innovations so other businesses can become more sustainable.

Patagonia’s 6 Environmentally Friendly Business Practices

Katie Doll

Somehow, Katie was able to pull off her childhood dream of creating a career around books after graduating with a degree in English and a concentration in Creative Writing. Her preferred genre of books has changed drastically over the years, from fantasy/dystopian young-adult to moving novels and non-fiction books on the human experience. Katie especially enjoys reading and writing about all things television, good and bad.

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