By Maura Dilley
About six months ago, Patagonia, a global leader in sustainable apparel, dissolved its sustainability department. This is a development Rick Ridgeway, vice president of environmental affairs, is very proud of. Patagonia, the iconic outdoor apparel company founded by Yvon Chouinard in 1973, has lead the apparel industry’s exploration of sustainable design, production and end-of-life for textiles. The company's path is hard won, lit by metrics and guided by sages of social innovation.
When that tool was released, teams from about 30 companies gathered in a workshop to assess their operations. The assessment measured environmental impact throughout the supply chain, assessing the company from the design of a product, manufacturing, packaging, distribution, use and care and finally the end-of-life of the product.
The first time the aggregated results were posted side-by-side for each company, participants gasped. Everyone in the room could see each impact and how their brands measured the other cohorts. Rick saw teams become electrified; they were taking notes and conferring with each other about the results. Patagonia was not spared from a surprise behind the curtain; space for improvement was evident in packaging and transportation. For the first time in this industry, people could compare their successes on equal ground with competitors and the desire to improve was instant.
Taking the assessment results back home to Ventura, California, gave the sustainability team means to petition for greener work in packaging and transportation. Even with a sustainability leader like Patagonia, the act of benchmarking against the industry allows for the management of impacts in a way that was previously haphazard and non-strategic.
In a panel discussion at Social Innovation Summit 2014, Rick, paraphrasing Plato no less, said Patagonia aims to: “Lead and examine life, to keep asking more questions until Patagonia can understand the full footprint of the company through the entire supply chain. Every material and process has to be vetted and improved. That’s an enormous job, that’s why the work needs to be decentralized. The ultimate goal is to integrate innovative sustainability thinking, values and goals into every employee. This should be the same for any company.”
Like David Brower said, and is often repeated in the leafy corridors at Patagonia HQ,“There is no business on a dead planet.”
Image courtesy of Patagonia
We maintain a strong staff of reporters and guest authors in various locations with an interest in your subject matter. Get in touch with us if you would like to have one of our writers present at your event to cover it and write up big picture ideas that transpire or interview conference speakers and attendees on the air. If we don’t have a contributor in your area we’re happy to work with someone you know.