The Cleanest Line

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    Grown in Vermont - A Patagonia Environmental Internship with Post Oil Solutions

    by Cadence Reed

    Last summer, Cadence Reed embarked on a two-week-long environmental internship through Patagonia’s internship program. She was one of 18 individual employees, along with 11 stores that went on group internships, to volunteer for environmental work this year. Cadence repairs broken clothing at our Reno Service Center, thereby helping the company fulfill its commitment to our Common Threads Initiative.

    Cadence6

    I headed east from Reno to Vermont on August 15, 2011, for a two-week long environmental internship with Post Oil Solutions in southern Vermont. As I flew east over the arid Nevada landscape, I looked forward to the lush vegetation that awaited me in the Green Mountain State. I was quite familiar with Vermont, having grown up there. Once I hit the ground and was heading north on Highway 91 to Bellows Falls, a peaceful feeling came over me as the green landscape and warm, humid air rushed by the car windows.

    Vermont has historically been known for spearheading new and innovative social and environmental practices. Act 250 outlaws any big box stores from building in non-existing buildings in order to support small businesses, and billboards are illegal statewide. A group like Post Oil Solutions (POS) fits in well.

    [Above: Cadence Reed gleans a field for red leaf lettuce at Harlow Farm in Westminster, Vermont. All photos courtesy of Cadence Reed.]

    Continue reading "Grown in Vermont - A Patagonia Environmental Internship with Post Oil Solutions" »

    The Lowdown on Down: An Update

    Top2_footprint_F9

    In April 2011, we posted here a report on problems we’ve experienced sourcing down for our down clothing. As we mentioned, quality is not the problem. We’re proud of the down clothing we make. The designs are simple and beautiful, the fabrics are strong and lightweight, and the quality (fill-power or insulation value) of the down is excellent. The sales are important to us – and one percent of those sales contribute a significant chunk of change to environmental causes.

    Lesen Sie hier die deutsche Version dieses Artikels (Read the German version of this article).

    Down clothes are tricky to make in two ways: Special care has to be taken to safeguard workers who fill and sew the garments. Anyone who has worked with down knows that it is lighter than feathers and resistant to gravity. Down rooms have to be sealed off from other areas and workers have to wear masks to keep from inhaling the fiber. We have worked with our factories to ensure healthy conditions for people who work with down.

    The second area of concern is treatment of the geese. You have to go deep into the supply chain from sewing factory to down vendor to processor before you finally get to a farm. And a single goose can spend its life on four different farms. This complexity is also true of other products involving animals, including shoes and wool and sweaters.

    Continue reading "The Lowdown on Down: An Update" »

    Bean There: Tracking the Impacts of Coffee Growing

    ShimaharaEnviro_0029 One of the unique perks of working for Patagonia is the chance to leave, to participate in an environmental internship on work time. I chose to go to Guatemala to see how coffee is grown before it is exported for roasting. 

    I divided my time with two organizations involved with coffee farming in Latin America, Coffee Kids and the Smithsonian Migratory Bird Center. I documented their work through photography.

    My hope is that my work will serve as a tool to reinforce and foster positive change in the coffee industry.

    Smithsonian Migratory Bird Center
    (SMBC)

     To increase coffee production, coffee farms use synthetic fertilizers and convert from “shade grown” plantations, where shrubs are planted in the shade of trees, to “sun grown,” where coffee plants grow quickly, fully exposed to heat in fields. 

    [My work lead me to Finca Nueva Armenia, nestled in the Sierra Madre valley of Huehuetenango, one of only eight farms designated as bird friendly by the SMBC in Guatemala. All photos: Mark Shimahara]

    Continue reading "Bean There: Tracking the Impacts of Coffee Growing" »

    Lowdown on Down

    Patagonia_footprint_chronicles We’re proud of the down clothing we make. The quality (fill-power or insulation value) of the down is excellent and appropriate to end use, as are the shell fabrics. The designs are beautiful; down clothing of all kinds has become an important part of our business. Their popularity helps pay the bills (and 1% of their sales contributes a significant hunk of change to environmental causes).

    We also know the limits to our pride: that everything we do as a business results in some kind of environmental harm or waste. But one issue involved in down production has troubled us particularly for a while and, after deeper investigation, continues to do so.

    Down clothes are tricky to make in two ways: special care has to be taken to safeguard workers who fill and sew the garments. Anyone who has worked with down knows that it is lighter even than feathers and resistant to gravity. Down rooms have to be sealed off from other areas and workers have to wear masks to keep from inhaling the fiber.

    The second area of concern is treatment of the geese. We visit the sewing factory work floor fairly often and have additional help from the Fair Labor Association, which independently audits working conditions for us. It is harder to monitor conditions on farms. We contract directly with sewing factories, but you have to go deep into the supply chain from sewing factory to down vendor to processor before you finally get to a farm. And a single goose can spend its life on four different farms. This complexity is also true of other products involving animals, including shoes and wool underwear and sweaters.

    Continue reading "Lowdown on Down" »

    Cows Without Borders

    There’s alotta milk in a latte.

    Milk_in_espresso_drinks_2

    Fact is, coffee bars in the U.S. serve more milk than they do coffee. So in my quest to understand what all goes into my coffee, I ended up taking in a fair amount about milk.

    If so much milk is going onto coffee, shouldn’t the quality of the milk matter?

    Intelligentsia thinks it does. My friend Matt referred me to Straus Family Creamery, the place where Intelligentsia’s LA coffee bars source their milk. I was familiar with Straus’ glass bottles from the dairy aisle of my grocer, but I never understood why it was more expensive than other brands. Until I hung out with their cows.

    ShimaharaStraus_0066

    [The dairy is located along the Northern California coast, at the juncture of winding roads dotted with cyclists, 30 miles west of Petaluma. The landscape is lush. All photos by Mark Shimahara]

    Continue reading "Cows Without Borders" »

    Meet an Unlikely Proponent of Dam Removal

    Salmon habitat Our earlier post about the need to protect wild salmon in the federal salmon plan - signed May 20th - focused on urging the Obama administration to stand up for salmon and the Endangered Species Act. In an unfortunate decision, Obama took his cue from an illegal administration plan carried over from the Bush administration. We're joining Save Our Wild Salmon in urging the Obama Administration to change course and remove the four lower Snake River dams. This has only strengthened collective resolve to protect salmon habitat. As Washington farmer Bryan Jones explains in a recent essay, protecting salmon habitat can be synonymous with protecting family farms and reducing their bottom-line.
    ______________________

    Bryan Jones is a fourth-generation wheat farmer near Colfax, Washington. He farms 640 acres. He and his fellow farmers rely on barges on the Snake River to move their wheat to market. This is primarily why the dams on the Snake were built.

    Jones remembers going down to the Snake before it was dammed.

    "I watched the currents and eddies with my grandparents and was told how treacherous that river was, yet its currents fascinated me. I picked fruit along the banks of the Snake. At times when picking with my grandparents, my brothers and I would eat as many peaches as we could, stuffing our mouths with big warm juicy peaches. (Afterwards, they never weighed us!)__"The dams were built when I was young; Little Goose in 1966, Lower Granite in 1974. After the four dams went in, we lost 140 miles of the river. Today, there are only a few places along its banks where people can recreate and enjoy our local river. As a young man, I remember coming back home from Los Angeles, and I looked at the slow water in its summer heat; there was no current, it was algae filled, and I knew it was not a place I wanted to play in or eat fish out of."

    Jones began working with Save Our Wild Salmon in 2006 after he was contacted by his local conservation district office and asked if he'd like to come to a meeting. Once there, he heard representatives of SOS and American Rivers talk about ways to take down the dams and help farmers.

    [The high cold mountains at the heart of the Columbia/Snake watershed provide a last redoubt for imperiled salmon. The path to reach these strongholds winds through land farmed by folks like Bryan Jones. Photo: © Matt Leidecker]

    Continue reading "Meet an Unlikely Proponent of Dam Removal" »

    From Seed to Shot

    Shimahara1 I never used to like coffee; it was too bitter. I could only drink it diluted (with milk) and sweetened (with sugar). But two years ago a couple of colleagues at Patagonia turned me into an aficionado. Betsy introduced me to the simple pleasures of the beverage. “Coffee should never be consumed with sugar,” she told me, insisting that it had a wonderful taste, alone.  Steve introduced me to the vast array of “specialty coffees”— premium coffees—which, like fine wines, naturally have hints of chocolate, fruit, nuts, and other botanical flavors.  One of his favorites was a blend from Intelligentsia, roasted in Los Angeles.  My interest in coffee was quickly percolating.  Before long, I enrolled in a home barista class at Intelligentsia and made space next to my rice cooker for an espresso machine.  I loved the challenge of pulling the perfect shot. I was an espresso devotee.  The more I practiced making it, the closer I got to perfecting the extraction of it, which, I learned is a kind of art.  Good espresso has a delicate sweetness and flavor worth savoring unadulterated.

    Editor's note: Patagonia's online advertising maestro, and Clif Bar cycling team member, Mark Shimahara shares some background on a beverage many of us rely on to kick-start dawn patrols and alpine starts. Our thanks go out to Intelligentsia for offering a discount code to Cleanest Line readers. Read on to get the code and get brewing yourself. 

    My interest in coffee and photography lead to shooting opportunities with Intelligentsia’s California locations. The assignments gave me an insider’s perspective of what it takes—from seed to shot—to serve up a cup of coffee worth writing home about.

    [Unroasted “green beans” arrive from origin and are roasted to match an exacting flavor profile. Some batches of beans are roasted longer than others. Generally speaking the darker they are roasted, the bitterer and less acidic the espresso. Photo: Mark Shimahara]

    Continue reading "From Seed to Shot" »

    Struggling Economy Means a Threat to Organics

    NV grown We discussed the elimination of Nevada’s state-supported Organics Program just over one year ago. At the time, the state was facing severe budget shortfalls and the budgetary scythe cut a wide swath. The situation has gotten worse, and despite a successful defense in early 2009, the program is once again facing elimination. Organic consumers take note: With its record-setting foreclosure rate, Nevada has been a canary for many who are trying to gauge the extent of the recession’s fallout. While few states envy Nevada’s financial position, most will be watching to see how it responds to its budget crisis. Elimination of a growth industry would be an example few organic consumers would want to see repeated in their own state.

    Folks by now are pretty familiar with cost-cutting and drastic savings measures. As one of the states hit hardest by the collapse of the housing market, Nevada has been scrambling to make up for a budget shortfall nearing $1 billion. With a deficit of this magnitude, no state program is safe. High-profile suggestions such as closing of colleges and cutting university athletic programs have been grabbing headlines and spurring protests while a vast array of more modest cuts are set to go through unchallenged. Such is the case with the state’s Organic Certification Program, a measure that – if approved – would wipe out one of the few growth areas in the state’s faltering economy.

    Continue reading "Struggling Economy Means a Threat to Organics" »

    Freedom To Roam and Oceans As Wilderness: Eye On Aquaculture

    Salmon_farming-BC Today's post is by Patagonia Fly Fishing Ambassador, Topher Browne, who has dedicated his energies to the protection of salmon for two decades. Says Topher, "A species that requires not one but two entirely separate ecosystems would seem a dubious proposition. The transition from fresh water to salt water and back again . . . requires some fairly elaborate plumbing within the salmon or steelhead. This adaptation is unnecessary in species of fish that do not migrate to the sea. Activism on behalf of anadromous species is a real bang for the environmental buck. As salmon and steelhead lead a bipolar life, you can focus your efforts in both fresh and salt waters. If something is wrong at any stage of their life cycle, the fish will let you know." Today, Topher's letting us know a few things about Atlantic Salmon, and why it makes sense to choose wild:

    They lie glistening on beds of frozen crystals in the great food halls of North America and Europe. Bland and lifeless eyes regard busy shoppers as they push their carts in front of polished displays. Their silver-scaled bodies—plump yet strangely devoid of muscle—advertise the healthful benefits of omega-3 fatty acids and the singular bounty of the sea. Atlantic salmon, the king of fish and the food of kings, is on sale for three dollars a pound.

    Although reared in the ocean, these salmon live a life behind bars. They are raised in cages along the coasts of the United States, Canada, Chile, Scotland and Norway. They are genetically modified to accelerate their growth and liberally dosed with antibiotics and pesticides to mitigate the spread of rampant disease and parasites. They are fed a diet of ground-up fish containing chemical dyes to give their flesh a rosy hue. Some of their tribe escape through holes in their cages and enter rivers where they compete with wild salmon. It’s an old story—greed, disinformation, a willful disregard for the health of our most sensitive and bounteous ecosystems—and one that is unlikely to be told as the butcher hands you a carefully wrapped filet.

    [A British Columbia Salmon Farm, photo courtesy of the BC Salmon Farmers Association. ]

    Continue reading "Freedom To Roam and Oceans As Wilderness: Eye On Aquaculture" »

    Growing Organic Fibers

    Davis_t_0169 As a founding member of Organic Exchange (OE), a nonprofit dedicated to expanding the production and use of organically grown fibers, Patagonia recently attended their annual conference and board meeting in Seattle. At the meeting, OE members - which include companies like Nike, GAP, Nordstrom, REI, Walmart and Target - decided to broaden their traditional focus on organic cotton “to the emerging field of sustainable textiles, in order to better support both their needs in organic cotton and to help identify other sustainable textile solutions.”

    Given the collective influence of OE members, which represent some 750 billion dollars in retail sales demand, and their ambitious goals (like increasing the amount of land used for farming organic fiber by 50 percent per year), this seemed like a significant change. I wondered if it reflected a greater willingness among businesses to take a more comprehensive look at their footprints, a frustration among businesses with existing solutions to their environmental problems, or something else. So I caught up with Jill Dumain, our Environmental Analysis Director, to find out what she thought.

    Hit the jump to read the full interview.

    Continue reading "Growing Organic Fibers" »

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