The Cleanest Line

Weblog for the employees, friends and customers of the outdoor clothing company Patagonia. Visit to see what we do.

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    Being Thankful

    by Annie Leonard

    Annie_leonardIf you ask people what they’re most thankful for in life, three things nearly always come out on top. Not their car (even if it’s a hybrid), their shiny new ultrathin laptop or a 700-fill-power goose down ski jacket. Surveys consistently find we’re most thankful for friends and loved ones, good health and the wonders of nature. What’s more, clinical studies show that gratitude is good for us. Grateful people are happier, less depressed, less stressed, more satisfied with their lives and better able to cope with problems. Being thankful even helps us sleep better.

    It’s a good time, then, to ask: Why don’t we walk the talk?

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    Getting to Zero

    by Annie Leonard

    Annie_leonardRecycling has come a long way, but has a long way to go. Sorting our paper, cans and bottles has become second nature for good green-leaning citizens, and many communities have expanded curbside recycling programs to include food and other compostables. But nationwide, Americans only recycle about a third of the 250 million tons of municipal solid waste we produce every year.

    That’s right: even though “recycling” has been a household word for decades now, two-thirds of our waste still goes to the dump or incinerator. Obviously we have to do better, but how much better can we do? Can we cut it to 50 percent? Twenty percent? How about aiming for zero?

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    Choose to Reuse

    by Annie Leonard

    Annie_leonardWhen I moved into the house in Dhaka where I lived in 1993, I noticed there was no wastebasket in my room. On my first trip to the market, I bought one – and soon discovered that throwing things “away” meant something different in the capital of Bangladesh than back home. What I threw into the trash quickly resurfaced in the community, put to another use. My blue flowered deodorant container turned up on a neighbor’s living room shelf as a vase for real flowers. A small boy stuck rods through my empty hair conditioner bottle and attached wheels, making a toy car he pulled around on a string.

    The potential for reuse is everywhere. It’s like that folk tale many of us were read as kids. Joseph’s grandfather turns his favorite blanket into a jacket. Joseph wears it out, so Grandpa turns the jacket into a vest. The vest becomes a handkerchief. The handkerchief becomes a tie. The tie becomes a button. Finally the button is lost. Even Grandpa can’t make something from nothing – but the lesson about how Stuff can be repurposed and reused again and again is clear.

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    Let’s Bring Back Repair

    by Annie Leonard

    Annie_leonardA few years ago I bought a cheap portable radio for $4.99 to listen to the news while I walk to work. Soon after, one of the earphone buds broke. No problem, I thought – I’ll just fix it using parts from my drawer of other broken electronics. No such luck: the whole radio, including the earphones, was in one piece, connected without screws or snaps, so that if any one part broke it couldn’t be repaired. For less than 5 dollars, Radio Shack knew, I’d find it easier to buy a new one.

    I call making a radio – or any other product – that can’t be repaired ‘design for the dump.’ Designers call it planned obsolescence and it’s at the heart of the take-make-waste system that’s trashing the planet, our communities and our health.

    You see, while we’re all pretty familiar with the three ‘R’s’ – reduce, reuse,  recycle – many of us, including many product  designers and manufacturers, give short shrift to the fourth ‘R’:  repair. Before recycling comes repair.

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    Stuffing Ourselves on Black Friday

    by Annie Leonard and Rick Ridgeway

    The following Op-Ed first appeared in the Friday, November 25, 2011 edition of the Los Angeles Times. Annie Leonard is founder of The Story of Stuff Project. Rick Ridgeway is Vice President of Environmental Initiatives at Patagonia, Inc.

    Annie_leonard_tools_2 Rick_ridgeway_copenhagen

    [Annie Leonard (left) speaking at Patagonia's 2011 Tools for Grassroots Activists Conference. Photo: Tim Davis. Rick Ridgeway (right) speaking at the 2009 United Nations' Framework Convention on Climate Change. Photo: Kodiak Greenwood]


    Today is Black Friday, when holiday shopping hoards descend on malls across the country, and retailers hope to turn a profit as their accounting books transition from red ink to black. This year, Black Friday comes two months after Earth Overshoot Day, when our planet’s accounts – the ones that measure human demand on the planet’s services that support our economies – transitioned the other direction, from black to red.

    Each year our planet can produce a certain amount of resources and absorb a certain amount of use – nature’s budget for the year. One group of scientists that keep an eye on this is the Global Footprint Network, and by its calculations, in 2011 we exhausted the annual budget on September 27th, less than 10 months into the year. That means we are currently 135% above the capacity of our planet to replace essential “services” like clean water, clean air, arable land, healthy fisheries and stable climate. Our over-consumption is eating into the very ecological systems that all the world’s economies – and indeed, all life – depend on. If that is troublesome, consider that by 2050, we'll be 500% above capacity unless we change how we make, use and throw away stuff.

    Continue reading "Stuffing Ourselves on Black Friday" »

    Don't Buy This Jacket, Black Friday and the New York Times

    NYT_11-25-11_2Photo: Patagonia advertisement from the Friday, November, 25, 2011 edition of The New York Times (click image to read as a PDF, 1.5MB).


    Why run an ad in The New York Times on Black Friday telling people, “Don’t Buy This Jacket”?

    It’s time for us as a company to address the issue of consumerism and do it head on.

    The most challenging, and important, element of the Common Threads Initiative is this: to lighten our environmental footprint, everyone needs to consume less. Businesses need to make fewer things but of higher quality. Customers need to think twice before they buy.

    Why? Everything we make takes something from the planet we can’t give back. Each piece of Patagonia clothing, whether or not it’s organic or uses recycled materials, emits several times its weight in greenhouse gases, generates at least another half garment’s worth of scrap, and draws down copious amounts of freshwater now growing scarce everywhere on the planet.

    We’re placing the ad in the Times because it’s the most important national newspaper and considered the “paper of record.” We’re running the ad on Black Friday, which launches the retail holiday season. We should be the only retailer in the country asking people to buy less on Black Friday.

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    Introducing the Common Threads Initiative - Reduce, Repair, Reuse, Recycle, Reimagine


    “Recycling is what we do when we're out of options to avoid, repair, or reuse the product first. That's why I am so impressed with Patagonia for starting its Common Threads Initiative with the real solution: Reduce. Don't buy what we don't need. Repair: Fix stuff that still has life in it. Reuse: Share. Then, only when you've exhausted those options, recycle.” –Annie Leonard, author of The Story of Stuff

    In the 18th century Lancashire's cotton mills and the budding clothing trade helped fuel the Industrial Revolution and create the modern economy. Now it's time to reverse the engines – to help create the next, more sustainable economy. Today, we are pleased to announce the launch of our Common Threads Initiative: a partnership between our customers, eBay and Patagonia to make, buy and use clothes more sustainably, with the ultimate aim of keeping the clothes we sell from ever reaching the landfill.

    Continue reading "Introducing the Common Threads Initiative - Reduce, Repair, Reuse, Recycle, Reimagine" »

    By the Numbers: Quantifying Some of Patagonia’s Environmental Initiatives

    Enviro Book 2009_p1 Today we repurpose an easy to digest, numbers-based summary of Patagonia’s environmental work in fiscal year 2009. First published in July in our Environmental Initiatives booklet, we’ve updated it slightly and present it Harper’s Index style. Perfect grist for a blog post, we think you’ll find it chewy but not filling.

    By the Numbers
    Quantifying Some of Patagonia’s Environmental Initiatives

    • Dollars in grants and in-kind donations given by Patagonia to environmental causes since 1985: 35 million
    • Dollars in grants and in-kind donations given by Patagonia in fiscal year 2009: 3,816,750
    • Number of environmental groups that received a grant this year from Patagonia: 398
    • Dollar amount (retail) of clothing Patagonia donated to nonprofit groups this year: 357,000

    Continue reading "By the Numbers: Quantifying Some of Patagonia’s Environmental Initiatives" »

    Fishing Waders Trigger Deep Thoughts About Gear Manufacturing

    Copy (2) of logo_RW_creelhawaiicls Our friends over at Recycled Waders have been hard at work finding new uses for some of Patagonia's most hard-to-recycle items. Fishing waders are complex pieces of gear - neoprene feet, water-proof fabrics treated with water-repellent finishes, stretchy shoulder straps, metal snaps and zippers, each of these items adds a layer of complexity to a process we developed originally to recycle simple base-layer garments. Patagonia's front man for all things pertaining the the environmental impact of our raw materials is Todd Copeland. He's been steering our Common Threads program for a while, and was stoked to share this story with us. It comes via Patrick Jenkins, founder of Recycled Waders, a small family operation that's busy building a successful business on three important pillars: Recycled Materials, Repurposed Products, and Responsible Consumers.  


    Original Action Who would have guessed an errant back cast lodging a 1-0 lead-eye bunny leech in a scraggly black spruce tree on the high bankside of a river mouth full of Alaskan king salmon would have been responsible for the development of a small business? But as luck would have it I scampered  up the bank to retrieve my fly from the black spruce, stepped up on a downed tree to reach my fly, lost my footing and a branch on the tree gauged an enormous hole in my first pair of breathable waders. Hmmmm…..

    [Recycled Waders provides a flat-out better alternative for retired waders: up-cycling them to new hand-sewn gear full of life and character. Photos: Patrick Jenkins, Recycled Waders]

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    Closing the Loop - A Report on Patagonia's Common Threads Garment Recycling Program

    Common_threads_1 In Fall 2005, when we launched our new line of recyclable Capilene® Performance Base Layer garments, we also announced a five-year goal to make all Patagonia products recyclable through our new Common Threads Garment Recycling Program. This program invites customers to return used-up clothing and delivers the retired garments to a fiber manufacturer that uses those items to make new products. As we near 2010, the five-year window for our goal has shrunk to one and a half years. Will we meet the goal? This report discusses the progress we've made - and steps we have yet to take. 

    Closed-Loop Recycling in Context

    It is important to remember that Common Threads is a key - but single - component of Patagonia's efforts to reduce our environmental footprint. In addition to garment recycling, we choose — where possible — raw materials (aka "e-Fibers”) that cause less environmental harm than do their conventional or non-recycled counterparts. We became a bluesign® brand member to encourage our fabric suppliers to reduce their resource consumption and better manage toxic chemicals. Through our Web mini-site, The Footprint Chronicles, we track, measure and report the environmental impacts of the many products we make. We build everything to high quality standards, with the idea that the best products simply last longer and require less-frequent replacement. We design clothing that retains its appeal for many years, not in-and-out fashion trends that end up abandoned in a closet. Also, we encourage consumers to wear out our products - or give them to someone who can. Even our retail stores will sometimes repatriate clothing donated to the Common Threads Recycling Program to local nonprofits, if the stuff still has wear and life in it. If, after a lifetime of use, a garment can be reused or handed-down no more, we provide Common Threads as a final destination, so that worn, used, and abused products can be recycled and made into new garments.      

    Continue reading "Closing the Loop - A Report on Patagonia's Common Threads Garment Recycling Program" »

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