Patagonia: Sustainability from a Shed

For years, Patagonia has established itself as one of the strongest leaders of sustainability within the business community. Although it’s a well-deserved reputation, there are a number of innovative strategies behind why Patagonia’s industry leading reputation is so widespread. From their product catalogs, which serve as environmental education materials to their product labeling strategy that touts organic and reused materials, Patagonia clearly knows the value in communicating their message through innovative and effective channels.
The Tin Shed, Patagonia’s latest sustainability communication tool is no exception. The Tin Shed is an interactive web application that combines the stories and dispatches of Patagonia’s sustainability ambassadors from around the world. The “tin shed” is a reference to Patagonia’s origins which was an old shed that Yvon Chouinard began forging his pitons in. Today, Patagonia’s virtual tin shed serves as the platform from which the company integrates the breadth and depth of their environmental and human sustainability initiatives.

The Tin Shed provides site visitors with easy access to exploring the wide variety of Patagonia’s environmental efforts ranging from community relief in regions affected by natural disasters and political struggle to the journeys of surf mavericks fueled by waste vegetable oil. Additional highlights include Patagonia’s work to establish wildlife corridors for threatened species as well as their advocacy for the protection of endangered marine mammals. When it comes to providing access to a company’s philanthropic work and building a passionate and loyal customer base around their values, we can all take a page from Patagonia’s sustainability playbook.
Patagonia has built an outstanding and justified reputation founded on the company’s guiding principles that inform their business practices. They have taken the core values of their mission and has applied them to product design and manufacturing, employee programs as well as customer service. Additionally, they demonstrate their environmental and social commitment through a high impact outreach effort that supports an elaborate network of company ambassadors.
Patagonia’s history is rooted in the 1960’s California counterculture that embraced environmentalism and today, the company has been able to retain these core values while also maintaining a dedication to running a profitable company. At Patagonia, there’s no question whether or not the company is about affecting social change or making profit; it’s clear that company is about both. Fortunately for Chouinard, the two go hand in hand. The full story of Patagonia and Chouinard’s approach to business management are detailed in Chouinard’s biographical book, “Let My People Go Surfing” which has become a cult favorite among aspiring and established sustainable business leaders.
Patagonia has an impressive list of environmental and social sustainability programs. After reviewing the list, I’m not sure what’s most impressive; the breadth of their activities, their ability to adhere to a strong environmental commitment while maintaining profits or, their ability to communicate and leverage the company values towards growing and ensuring a loyal customer base. The question I am left is, “Is Patagonia’s success founded in their ability to connect with an audience that shares their values or, is it found in their ability to shape and inform the values and interests of their expanding customer base through their innovative approaches to product marketing?”
A full listing of Patagonia’s sustainability programs can be found here.

David received his undergraduate degree in Geographic Information Sciences from James Madison University and completed an M.A. in International Development at Clark University. With over 10 years of experience in the field of environmental sustainability, David has worked for organizations such as Environmental Defense Fund, USDA, USGS and the Smithsonian Institute.Currently, David is a NetImpact member and an MBA candidate at the Presidio School of Management where his research focus is on developing market incentives for investment in environmental sustainability.

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