Case Studies in CSR: Patagonia

Founded in 1973 by entrepreneur and outdoor enthusiast, Yvon Chouinard, Patagonia is a privately held outdoor clothing company based in Ventura, CA. The company's CSR vision consists of two main components: environmental conservation and restoration. As stated in its website, Patagonia's mission is to "build the best product, cause no unnecessary harm, use business to inspire and implement solutions to the environmental crisis." Upon further investigation, however, it is clear that this mission statement does not fully capture the intense breadth and depth at which these core environmental values are integrated into everything Patagonia does. The company's commitment to the environment goes above and beyond what is required by law, despite the fact that this imposes extra cost on its customers and puts the company at a competitive economic disadvantage. Here are some highlights of the company's efforts to steer the clothing industry in a more sustainable and responsible direction.


Investment in Environmental Solutions

For over 30 years, Patagonia has donated 1% of its annual sales to environmental charities and grassroots organizations. In 2013, Patagonia announced the $20 Million and Change fund—a new initiative to assist start-ups in developing solutions to major sustainability issues. Not too long ago in April 2015, Patagonia invested more than $1 million of this fund in a Swiss company, Beyond Surface Technologies (BST), which works to reduce the impact of textile chemicals on the environment.

Sustainable Apparel Coalition

In 2010, the company helped found the Sustainable Apparel Coalition, an alliance of 30 companies from the clothing and footwear industries. The aim of the coalition is to transform the apparel industry into one that "produces no unnecessary environmental harm and has a positive impact on the people and communities associated with its activities" by evaluating all members with a rigorous index of performance, called the Higg Index.

Common Threads Initiative

When a customer becomes a part of the Common Threads Initiative, Patagonia makes a promise that it will "make great stuff, fix it when it breaks, and recycle it when you're done with it" all free of charge. In return, the company asks that the customer pledge to "buy only what you need, repair it when it breaks, and recycle it when you're through."

"Don't Buy This Jacket" Campaign

On Black Friday of 2011, Patagonia released a series of anti-consumerist advertisements in the New York Times that read "Don't Buy This Jacket." The goal of these seemingly confusing ads, especially during the holiday season, was to encourage consumers to not buy more products than were absolutely necessary for their lifestyle—or for the environment. Rather than proving to be commercially disastrous, the advertisements echoed Patagonia's commitment to the environment and strengthened consumer loyalty to the brand's CSR mission.

Dissolution of Sustainability Department

In spring 2014, much to everyone's surprise, Patagonia dissolved its sustainability department. Rather than this being sign of regression, it actually indicated a deepening of Patagonia's core commitment to CSR and environmental sustainability. As stated by the company's CEO, Rick Ridgeway, the intention was to "integrate innovative sustainability thinking, values and goals into every employee" by making sustainability the responsibility of every member of staff in every department of the business.