The Cleanest Line

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    Ray Anderson 1934-2011

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    Patagonia’s friend Ray Anderson, the visionary founder and chairman of Interface, died last week at the age of 77. Ray was an intelligent, soft-spoken entrepreneur, engineer, and businessman who, on reading Paul Hawken's Ecology of Commerce in 1994 called it a “spear into my heart,” embraced environmentally conscious business practices, and became a tireless spokesman for better behavior on the part of business. We interviewed both Ray and Paul in our video “What Is Quality for Our Time?” (pictured) which you can find in our Footprint Chronicles and Video Gallery. Paul has graciously granted us permission to post his moving tribute to Ray.

    We, who were so fortunate to know Ray Anderson, were in awe. He was many people: a father, executive, colleague, brother, speaker, writer, leader, pioneer. But I am not sure any of us quite figured him out. On the outside, Ray was deceptively traditional, very quiet sometimes, an everyman, all-American, down-home. He was so normal that he could say just about anything and get away with it because people didn’t quite believe what they heard. He could walk into an audience and leave listeners transfixed by a tenderness and introspection they never expected or met. Business audiences in particular had no defenses because they had no framework for Ray.

    Was he really a businessman? Yes. Was he a conservative southern gentleman with that very refined Georgiadrawl. Yes. Was he successful? For sure.

    Continue reading "Ray Anderson 1934-2011" »

    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.

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    Hiking Boots with a Lighter Footprint

    Patagonia-Zero-Impact-sketch-plan Building an environmentally conscious hiking boot that’s also a top performer is no easy task. Design and construction are complex; so is the supply chain.

    As Backpacker magazine put it: “Boots are the most complex gear in our kit, with numerous components – fabrics, leathers, soles, shanks, glues, padding, laces, hardware – plus myriad sewing processes, fit intricacies and the hurdle of translating sophisticated blueprints to assembly lines a world away.”

    This complexity is reflected by the fact that only five footwear companies responded to Backpacker’s 2010 Zero Impact Challenge, which invited 60 companies to build a hiking boot with the least environmental impact and the highest quality. Only three companies have actually gone to market with a commercial product.

    Patagonia Footwear is one of those companies. We used our experience building environmentally conscious, high-quality products, and the experience of our footwear partner Wolverine World Wide in manufacturing top-performing shoes, to build the P26 Mid, featured in the latest round of The Footprint Chronicles.

    [Our decision to use leather in the construction of our P26 - Backpacker's decision that leather gave the P26 a higher environmental impact - sparked an online debate about the use of leather. Backpacker said that synthetic uppers could deliver the same performance and durability as all-leather ones, while drastically reducing environmental impact. We disagreed, believing that leather’s performance and durability are unsurpassed – and that leather and synthetic shoes should be in different categories. Links to the online discussions at Backpacker magazine and Treehugger.com can be found a few paragraphs after the jump.]

    Continue reading "Hiking Boots with a Lighter Footprint" »

    Patagonia Footwear Partners Team Up to Inspect Factories

    L1020481 Patagonia has been working with Wolverine World Wide (WWW) for four years to build a successful line of hiking boots, lifestyle and multi-sport shoes, sandals and more. We rely heavily on WWW’s experience making footwear – an extremely complicated process – but stay involved in every step of the process.

    That’s why members of Patagonia’s Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) team recently traveled to China to check out our shoe factories. Social and Environmental Responsibility Director Cara Chacon and Social and Environmental Responsibility Analyst Julie Netzky toured all five of our footwear factories to get to know WWW’s CSR team and learn about their program.

    “The week-long factory visits were really important for both brands to benchmark our CSR programs, share best practices and knowledge and move the factories forward on compliance,” said Cara, who has spent 11 years auditing over 1,000 factories and helping brands improve their CSR programs.

    They toured the factories and onsite dormitories, with WWW’s Corporate Responsibility Director Jim Musial and Human Rights Manager Allen Chen, to review remediation efforts from recent audits and observe labor, environmental health and safety conditions as part of their routine factory visits.

    [Auditors inspect one of Wolverine World Wide's factories to ensure proper storage of chemicals with secondary containment. Photo: Cara Chacon]

    Continue reading "Patagonia Footwear Partners Team Up to Inspect Factories" »

    Beyond Factory Audits with the FLA

    Cara Audit Photo No one likes to be audited – even those who spend their lives auditing other people. Our Social and Environmental Responsibility Director Cara Chacon was reminded of that fact when she was suddenly informed last June that the Fair Labor Association (FLA) would be paying Patagonia a visit the following week.

    Cara found out about the visit when she ran into some representatives of the FLA at a member meeting in Washington, D.C. The FLA is a nonprofit comprised of companies, universities and civil organizations dedicated to improving working conditions around the world and have established a reputation for the highest auditing standards. The reps didn’t say it was actually an audit, however, Cara was suspicious.

    [Patagonia Social and Environmental Responsibility Director, Cara Chacon, participates in a vendor audit. Photo: Julie Netzsky]

    Continue reading "Beyond Factory Audits with the FLA" »

    Conspiracy or Transparency?

    For the past nine weeks I’ve been taking a course in fiction writing. As part of the class, we write short stories and critique each other’s finished works.  The other night we critiqued a classmate’s story about a woman who worked for a corporation that took extreme measures – from forcing employees to sign far-reaching confidentiality agreements to installing cameras on campus – to protect its secrets.

    As with other stories, we eventually got around to discussing the believability of this one. I thought the level of secrecy at the company was a bit overdone (and not intended to be), but my classmates reached an unusual consensus on this point: it was a very realistic portrayal. They agreed that regardless of the size of the corporation or the type of industry, executives spared no expense to keep information from the public, and even from employees.

    The discussion reminded me of this widely held perception. It also reminded me of the purpose of a project I’ve been working on for Patagonia – to increase the transparency of our work.

    Footprint That project – The Footprint Chronicles – puts this notion about corporations and transparency to the test more than any other I’ve worked on. It originated from the belief, citing Socrates’ philosophy on leading an examined life, that we need to continuously learn about ourselves in order to lessen our own footoprint. It also grew from the belief that by sharing what we learned with the public, we would earn customer confidence and inspire other businesses to be more transparent, too.

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    Patagonia Environmental Initiatives 2010 E-Book - Flip Through Our Year-in-Review

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    Working to protect and restore the natural world can be a dynamic endeavor. To capture the energy that goes into this work, we bring you an enhanced electronic version of our Patagonia Environmental Initiatives 2010 booklet.

    View a fireside chat with Patagonia founder and environmentalist-in-chief Yvon Chouinard, accompany world-renowned photographer Florian Schulz as he sheds light on the beauty and struggles of the Arctic, and connect with other activists’ stories through powerful videos and images. Our new e-booklet does all this without sacrificing a forest full of trees.

    Come get inspired and learn how you can join the fight.

    Launch Patagonia Environmental Initiatives 2010 E-Book

    (Please be patient, the initial load time can be slow)

    [A wolf carries one of the dozen salmon she caught in less than an hour during the July salmon run. Brooks Falls, Katmai National Park, Alaska. Photo: Paul Stinsa]

    Continue reading "Patagonia Environmental Initiatives 2010 E-Book - Flip Through Our Year-in-Review" »

    What is Quality for Our Time? - Watch part 3 of our Footprint Chronicles video series

    Writing about Patagonia’s Footprint Chronicles for the blog Greenovate, Michael Hurwitz states, “While many companies are, of course, implementing transparency initiatives, Patagonia’s project is more or less unprecedented, because of the size of the company as well as the fact that it originated from customer demand.” After over three years of steady work on our Footprint Chronicles video series, Mr. Hurwitz's comment was a good reminder to look up from our work, take a breather, and scan the horizon. 

    A lot has changed since we launched the Footprint Chronicles in 2007. The business landscape has taken on a greener cast, but our digging and research has shown us that reforming and refining business practices to be less environmentally harmful is difficult and incredibly lengthy process with a fantastically complicated web of interconnections, akin to John Muir's observation that "[w]hen we try to pick out anything by itself, we find it hitched to everything else in the Universe."

    Can a good product be made in a bad factory? We talk to business people and teachers about a contemporary definition of quality that includes social and environmental responsibility ­ and every process involved in the creation of a product.

    Watch all three installments of our video series in the "Digging Deeper" section of the Footprint Chronicles.

    Competitors Working Together Toward A Common Environmental Good

    Bluesign Logo It’s rare when industry competitors get together to collaborate. It’s even more unusual when they get together to discuss ways they can lessen their environmental impact. Yet that’s what happened as a result of our relationship with bluesign® technologies, an independent third party that screens the dyeing and finishing of textiles.

    We recently met with other outdoor companies, including brands like MEC, REI and The North Face, at REI's Seattle offices to find ways to spread the benefits of bluesign membership. We discussed ways to educate other brands, encourage manufacturers and demonstrate how environmental progress can be rewarding and beneficial for all parties involved. Since we were all working toward the same environmental goals in our supply chains, working together was helpful for everyone. “By 5pm my brain was fried, but I was happy that we had accomplished a lot,” said participant Todd Copeland, Patagonia’s Strategic Environmental Materials Developer. “I realized other brands struggle as we do to do the right thing in a competitive industry and an uncertain economy.”

    When Patagonia started our relationship with bluesign technologies, we knew we had found something good to help our understanding of environmental chemistry. I first met its founder, Peter Waeber, in 2000...

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    From the Trenches series - Why don't you use...?

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    Our Customer Service Representatives (CSRs) are our front line of communication with Patagonia fanatics far and wide. The crew here at our Call Center in Reno, NV are at it seven days a week, taking orders, helping with returns, and most importantly, answering the astonishing range of questions our customers fire at us. Like flocks of swirling swallows or shimmering schools of tropical fish, our customers swoop in with mysteriously synchronized concerns and questions on a regular basis, prompting the need for ready answers. Times like these, nothing would be more handy than magically beaming knowledge out into the ether. Our very own Old School is here to do just that. He's stepped back from the front lines to answer some of these popular questions, straight from the trenches.
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    In my last post, I tackled a couple of "Why do you use . . .?” questions. In this post, I'll answer a couple of "Why don't you use . . .?" questions. Being a company known for environmentalism, we often get questions about why we don't use certain fabrics, especially when other companies tout them as being the latest and greatest, or at least the ‘greenest.’ In the cases of bamboo and PLA (polylactic acid), both sound pretty green at first glance but in the end aren't all that they seem.

    Continue reading "From the Trenches series - Why don't you use...?" »

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