For those of us that received or read The New York Times on Black Friday, or saw the earlier post on our site, outdoor apparel giant Patagonia’s ad most likely caught our attention. Prompting Americans to not buy their most popular winter item, the R2 jacket, on the craziest shopping day of the year, might seem like corporate suicide, but definitely receives reactions. This type of ‘badvertising’ demonstrates the ability of a large corporation to think in the long term, and consider the media as more than just an outlet for creating more consumption. As the company states in the ad: “We’re running short on fresh water, topsoil, fisheries, wetlands – all our planet’s natural systems and resources that support business, and life, including our own.”
All of this is very true, and Patagonia is taking a stance opposite to most large companies, but does promoting the reduction of one’s consumption to preserve resources for the benefit of business foster an understanding of true sustainability? Can a corporation, which functions of the basis of profit, continue to manufacture and sell items that produce “20 pounds of carbon dioxide, 24 times the weight of the finished product” in a sustainable way? Patagonia is considered a pioneer in corporate responsibility and more sustainable apparel products, but by asking consumers to buy less are they slyly steering them towards Patagonia products only? Not to mention, many people are daunted by the idea of having ‘less’, thinking that sustainability and preserving our planet involves becoming a loin-cloth donning hunter gatherer.
It seems that for members of this society to become responsible consumers, because in truth we cannot survive without consuming in some form, we must begin to understand natural systems and the processes by which all we consume is produced. When we see how our actions and ways of using are affecting this earth, we begin to care for its well-being. Patagonia seems to understand this to a degree: “as is true of all the things we can make and you can buy, this jacket comes with an environmental cost higher than its price.” To a reader intrigued by the sustainability values of the company, what comes across from the ad is the request to take their Common Threads Initiative. Boiled down to the well-known R’s of reduce, repair, reuse and recycle, the final one sums up the desire for change: “TOGETHER we reimagine a world where we take only what nature can replace”.
Essentially, it seems that Patagonia is geared towards creating more information exchange with consumers, allowing us to understand their production processes. As is evident from information publicly available, their methods of production, material usage and recycling capability convey a commitment to less wasteful activity. However, it will only be once we all can cultivate the ability to produce and consume in a way that is part of the natural cycle, feeding back what we take, that sustainability can ensue. The paradigms of business will have to shift alongside this understanding, to where its activity is not directly connected to the destruction of resources. Hopefully companies like Patagonia can inspire action and show how protecting “the land and waters we love adds to our knowledge and confidence that we can reimagine, then help bring about, a sustainable world for those who come after us.”
Read about Patagonia’s Common Threads Initiative and decide to Take the Pledge. The company provides you with information on how to care for their products so they last for a long time, and if your Patagonia gear is wounded or meeting the end of its life in your closet, find out how to have it repaired, recycled, or sold on eBay.
On another note, check out the The Story of Stuff website linked from Patagonia’s Common Threads Initiative. A fantastic and concise summary of how and why our economic structures are falling apart. More on this soon!
Images courtesy of Patagonia.