PATAGONIA’s Efforts on Behalf of Nature and People

The Project has met the Social and Environmental Responsibility (SER) Team of Patagonia in Ventura, California, on August 19th, 2013. We visited the “living” place of the company’s headquarters with Ms. Diana Trigo, SER Analyst.

What is Patagonia?

In 1973, Yvon Chouinard founded the PATAGONIA company, using his skills and experience from Chouinard’s Equipment. It focused mainly on high-end outdoor clothing. It designs, develops and markets clothing and gear for a wide range of outdoor sports, travel and every day wear, and are best known for our innovative designs, quality products and environmental conscience.

Why Be a Responsible Company?

Too much has been said about the eco and human rights-friendly Patagonia. Patagonia is recognized as the highest social and environmental company, and that’s not for nothing. There is still quite a lot to say and the road is still long to become the perfect Responsible Company (read this). It is when we’ve visited their headquarters in Ventura, that we realized how serious Patagonia considers its social and environmental responsibility. Lucky employees there! We really felt comfortable in the different areas designed for employee’s happiness…

Since the beginning, the company is used by its promoters as a tool for environmental and social change. Their Mission Statement? “Build the best product, cause no unnecessary harm, use business to inspire and implement solutions to the environmental crisis”.

“The most important right we have is the right to be responsible.” (Gerald Amos)

In 1988, Patagonia opened a store in Boston. Within days, the people who worked in the store were sick: mainly headaches. Specialists said the problem was the ventilation system, probably with formaldehyde from the finish on the cotton clothes stored in the basement. This led Patagonia to commission a study of conventional cotton, and the discovery that cotton grown with pesticides is one of the most destructive crops in the agricultural world. Knowing what they knew, they could not continue to use conventional cotton for thier sportswear. Patagonia went organic in 1996. Since 1992, Patagonia has been beginning an in-house environmental assessment program. This is the beginning of an era for investments for social and environmental projects, in-house and outside with its partners.

Brands began monitoring their factories in the early 1990’s due to some negative press about the labor conditions in the factories. Companies like Levi’s and Guess in 1992, or Nike in 1996, were being targeted in the media. It became apparent that brands needed to take more responsibility to monitor their factories in order to reduce their risk in their supply chains. Brands developed codes of conduct to educate the factories of the level of standards they were required to meet. These standard created the basis for the beginning of the creation of Corporate Social Responsibility Programs.

Patagonia’s Social and Environmental Responsibility Department

The Department in charge of the Social Responsibility (SER) has an important place in the hierarchy of the company, which is quite unusual and demonstrates that this matter is not only a side minor subject but a core stake in the company’s business decision making. (NDLR: the SER Director reports directly to the Chief Operating Officer of the company). The SER Department is responsible for monitoring their supply by using experienced experts who work on the ground hand in hand with their factories. The SER team also conducts internal and external trainings of CSR and their program guidelines.

At the entrance of the Headquarters in Ventura

At the entrance of the Headquarters in Ventura

Patagonia established a Code of Conduct that sets and communicates core human rights, environmental standards and other things that a brand expects of its suppliers and/or staff. It includes 18 criteria that all the factories and subcontractors must sign an agreement and have to follow. Patagonia provides training to support the local teams. Also, if one of the supplier cannot realize the standards, Patagonia provides help, consulting, training, workshops to their factories. They also exchange good practices from other factories in order to help other factories improve. There is a grievance hotline phone number posted in every factory for the factory workers to call if they have issues the factory management has not addressed.

The Fair Labor Association (FLA) works with multiple stakeholders, including brands and factories to protect workers’ rights and improve working conditions worldwide. Patagonia is a member of the FLA and must adhere to the 10 FLA principles. The FLA conducts an audit at Patagonia’s headquarters every 3 years. In order to remain as an accredited member, Patagonia must pass the audit. Patagonia’s Code of Conduct  meets and in some areas exceeds that of the Fair Labor Association’s (FLA) code.

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Patagonia aims to build trusts by creating long-term partnerships and also intimate relationships with our factories”, stated Diana. “To improve your social and environmental practices you have to know fully what they are and, for us as well, as many other companies, much of what we do is actually done by others in our name, deep in the supply chain“. That’s why it is consistent to be as responsible in the headquarter as in the supply chain. They are now working with 86 factories for finished goods + subcontractors (mostly in South-East Asia and Central America), 238 raw materials suppliers and a quantity of farms. To get an overall figure on the traceability of quality and responsible processes, Patagonia has to continue its inventory on raw materials and agricultural product suppliers (farmers for wool and other products).

Patagonia gives employees throughout our worldwide operations a number of interesting opportunities to support environmental work and employee activism.

We just want to do what’s right

Patagonia defines the quality of their business, in part, by the degree to which they can reduce their impact on the environment. This means more than auditing the materials and methods they use for the products they make. It means taking a holistic approach to all aspects of their business, which includes how they use resources at their buildings and facilities. For example, in their global headquarter in Ventura, they use various renewable energy sources (solar panels, LED lighting, reuse of water…), support green transportation for employees, recycle and compost materials, etc.

Share the Responsibility with Competitors

There were times that Patagonia realized that its voice alone wasn’t enough to make lasting change – that they need friends to join their efforts. The time has come for business people to understand our companies as a part of, not apart from, the natural world; as reliant on, and owing something back to, the human communities our businesses so crucially affect. In a time of economic sea change and ecological crisis, we need to work together around the table to reduce the astonishing environmental cost of everything we make, and to create a more sustainable economy, throughout the supply chain, wherever we do business. No company is an island; the more we work together, the quicker we can put a stop to long-term environmental damage, so that those who come after us inherit a world we would want to live in. Much of what needs to be done to improve business practices relies on the co-operation of enterprises that compete with one another. Patagonia relies on the brains and resources of several key partners who work to improve labor conditions worldwide, restrict the use of dangerous chemicals, increase transparency of social and environmental practices throughout the supply chain, and help redefine business health to include the safeguarding of natural systems and thriving human communities.

Patagonia, then, developed or led the development of various partnership to improve the business in its sector:

  • 1% for the plane: 1% for the Planet is a growing global movement of more than 1000 companies that understand the necessity of protecting the natural environment and that donate 1% of their sales to a network of more than 3000 approved environmental organizations worldwide. Since 1985, Patagonia has pledged 1% of sales to the preservation and restoration of the natural environment. They’ve awarded over $46 million in cash and in-kind donations to domestic and international grassroots environmental groups making a difference in their local communities. In 2002, founder of Patagonia, Yvon Chouinard, and Craig Mathews, owner of Blue Ribbon Flies, created this non-profit corporation to encourage other businesses to do the same.
  • B-Corp: B Corps are certified by the nonprofit B Lab to meet rigorous standards of social and environmental performance, accountability, and transparency.
  • bluesign® Standard: bluesign® audits the water, energy and chemical usage of Patagonia’s supply-chain partners and helps them achieve continuous, long-term environmental improvement.
  • Conservation Alliance: The Conservation Alliance is a group of outdoor industry companies that disburses its collective annual membership dues to grassroots environmental organizations.
  • Fair Factories Clearinghouse: FFC provides collaborative software for brands to secure compliance with humane labor standards, while reducing audit costs and overlaps.
  • Fair Labor Association: The FLA works with multiple stakeholders, including brands and factories to protect workers’ rights and improve working conditions worldwide.
  • OIA Eco Working Group: The Eco Working Group consists of more than 100 outdoor businesses working to develop the outdoor industry’s first environmental assessment tool: the Eco Index.
  • Sustainable Apparel Coalition: Sustainable Apparel Coalition is an industry-wide group of over 100 leading apparel and footwear brands (like Nike, Puma, Adidas), retailers, suppliers, nonprofits, and NGOs working to reduce the environmental and social impacts of apparel and footwear products around the world, working to develop an industry wide index of social and environmental impact. The Sustainable Apparel Coalition’s first project was the development of the Higg Index – that ranges from 1 to 100 – that measures the environmental performance of apparel products. Assessment of each product can be done at the facilities (factories) scale, brand scale and product scale. Patagonia is one of the SAC member companies leading this initiative. The 2.0 Version of the Higg Index willbe launched in  November 2013 during their membership meeting in Spain. The 2.0 Version will include  footwear products and key performance indicators for measuring social performance.
  • Textile Exchange: A nonprofit, membership-based organization that shares best practices across the entire value chain – from farmers and raw material providers to brands, retailers, and consumers.

2 réflexions sur “PATAGONIA’s Efforts on Behalf of Nature and People

  1. Paige dit :

    Its hard to come by educated people about this subject, however, you sound like you know what youre talking about! Thanks

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