Inside the #1 most radically environmentally aware company of the world
Rick began his presentation with seven reasons for us all to become aware of the environmental crisis in our hands at this time. In the audience is the crème de la crème of world’s business tycoons: Bill Gates, Mark Zuckerberg, Tim Cook and others of this caliber. They are gathered for their annual highly secretive meeting in Idaho. When Rick finishes his story, the audience sits in silence. They don’t seem to be ready for the message they just heard.
Rick is Rick Ridgewater, the vice president of Public Engagement at Patagonia. The company produces outdoor clothing and gear. My colleague Sofi Kurki and I had a lengthy chat with Rick at their headquarters in Ventura, California. This man, known as “the real-life Indiana Jones”, has climbed to the top of Mount Everest and K2, has walked through the deserts in the Chinese hinterlands, and gone on other similar adventures. He developed a friendship with Yvon Chouinard, the founder of Patagonia, another fierce environmental activist.
So Rick is exactly the right man to represent the company that has risen to a cult position of sorts. Patagonia strives to help people, companies and governments understand why they all should become environmentalists in this hour of human history. If you simply peruse the company website, learn about the extent of its public outreach and also observe its phenomenal success story, you realize that the time for Patagonia’s ideals has come. However, this realization has not quite reached the minds of the business elite sitting in the audience.
In fact, there is much more to Patagonia than it being a proponent of global environmentalism.
It begins with the feeling you get when you enter its premises. By the highly informal reception desk, you first meet Chipper Bro, a guy with a habitus of a true outdoor aficionado who greets you with eagerness and warmth as you enter. He gives give you a strong feeling that you immediately belong to the family. He showed us around and explained how the company actually operates. He also invited us to go surfing with him afterward!
Patagonia has been a frontrunner in environmental awareness. It has invested enormous amounts of time, energy and money in order to minimize their harmful impact on the environment in everything they do. Patagonia donates a substantial amount of its profits to environmental organizations. It stands up for durable products, reuses its materials and resells used Patagonia garments. Patagonia is also the forerunner in controlling the sustainability of its supply chain. Patagonia advertises its products by stating “don't buy our products” (unless you really need them, that is). Patagonia’s life-time product guarantee is such that you can ship back a garment with a ripped seam or broken zipper no matter how old the garment is. They will repair it, or worst case, replace it free of charge.
How does all of this benefit the company? For example, Patagonia receives thousands of applications for any new job opening. The longevity of its employees is phenomenal. Customer loyalty is exceptionally high. They make good money. The founder Yvon Chouinard has said: “Every time I make an environmentally radical business decision, I make more money”. Even the star journalist and citizen activist Naomi Klein, known for her disgust for the corporate world says: “Patagonia challenges the culture of consumption that is at the heart of global environmental crisis”.
Moreover, the company empowers its employees to exercise environmental activism in the daily life of the company. This is perhaps best expressed by the title of the book by Yvon Chouinard: “Let My People Go Surfing”. So they tend to employ people who love exploring the nature while respecting it. The small headquarter city of Ventura, north of Los Angeles, offers the sea as its front yard and the wilderness as its backyard.
Mission-orientated companies like Patagonia represent the new wave of organizations central to the emerging sixth wave of global development. These kinds of companies are the ones to take us to the next level of awareness, where it is not enough to say “we serve our clients well”, let alone “we serve our shareholders well”. Patagonia, for its part, gives preference to its true stakeholders: planet Earth and all its inhabitants. The Earth is the only planet that is ours.