Industry trade

Patagonia’s Chouinard and his long history of environmental activism

While Patagonia founder Yvon Chouinard’s decision on Wednesday to donate the outdoor apparel company to help tackle climate change and other environmental issues shocked some in the industry, many familiar with Chouinard were not surprised.

“It felt very Yvon to me,” said John Sterling, who served as director of environmental programs at Patagonia from 1996 to 2002. “When I worked there, it was a challenge for the activist Yvon.”

Chouinard, a nature-loving climber turned businessman and reluctant billionaire, founded Patagonia in 1973 and has since grown the company into a leader in responsible business. Giving Patagonia marks the boldest act of environmental activism to date, following years of unconventional crusades ranging from campaigning against genetic engineering to suing a sitting president for land protection public.

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Patagonia’s reputation is not “a strategy designed for the brand,” Sterling said, but rather reflects Chouinard’s values. “He has a pretty clear idea of ​​where he’s headed.”

In a 2012 interview, Chouinard, now 83, explained that the resources he has to “do good” come from his business.

Despite being “a relatively small company in the scheme of things”, Patagonia, he said, “has this enormous power to change – well, I mean, I hate to brag, but to change the society and change big business and lead by example.”

Here are some of the radical activities Patagonia has undertaken over its nearly 50-year history.

Civil disobedience training and bail policy

For years, the company offered its employees optional nonviolent civil disobedience training. The sessions, Sterling said, stemmed from a group of employees arrested in 1996 during a protest against the logging of ancient redwood trees in a northern California forest.

Patagonia also has a bail policy in place to assist any employee caught peacefully protesting, provided they have completed a civil disobedience course first.

This policy of inciting dissent is not limited to environmental issues. This summer, amid the national abortion debate, the company announced in a LinkedIn post that all part-time and full-time employees receive “training and bail for those peacefully protesting for reproductive justice.” “.

“We don’t have a just society, and that’s where you need civil disobedience, absolutely,” Chouinard said in the 2012 interview.

Environmental Internship Program

Patagonia’s Environmental Internship Program offers employees the opportunity to take time off for up to two months from their regular job to work for an environmental group of their choice while continuing to earn their pay and benefits.

John Wallin, who worked at Patagonia from 1993 to 1999, completed two internships through the program – an experience he says inspired him to leave the company and start his own environmental nonprofit. .

“I did it because the internships gave me both a mastery of the issues and a desire to make a bigger difference,” said Wallin, who founded the Nevada Wilderness Project. “Patagonia’s response, when I said, ‘I think I’m going to quit my middle management job in mail order and start this nonprofit because I think we can protect a lot of Nevada ‘, was ‘It’s so fantastic. Here’s a phone line and an office in our service center in Reno.’

According to Patagonia, 34 employees, 12 stores and one department took advantage of the program this year, which represented “nearly 10,000 volunteer hours for 43 organizations”.

Patagonia has long supported the removal of dams, especially those that are “abandoned and particularly harmful,” according to a 2014 statement from the company.

In the press release, Chouinard called himself “a lover of wild rivers”. “That’s why our company has been committed since 1993 to trying to remove obsolete and damaging dams,” he said.

The society advocated for the removal of four lower dams on the Snake River, placing four full-page advertisements in The New York Times in 1999 that drew attention to the impacts of these dams on northern salmon populations. -western Pacific, said Sterling, who led the company’s environmental programs at the time.

More recently, Patagonia funded a 2014 documentary film titled “DamNation,” which aimed to mobilize support for the demolition of dams to revive wild fish populations.

Patagonia has donated money to causes it has supported since the 1970s. But beginning in 1985, the company pledged to dedicate 1% of its sales to “preserving and restoring the natural environment.” .

In 2002, Chouinard co-founded a non-profit company called “1% for the Planet” with the goal of getting other companies to do the same.

“1% of sales is a tough number,” Chouinard said in the 2012 interview. “And I don’t consider that charity. It is our cost of doing business.

The 1% for the Planet alliance now has more than 5,000 members, according to its website – a list that includes brands such as Kleen Kanteen, Boxed Water and Caudalie.

A staunch defender of public lands, Patagonia made headlines when Chouinard and the company became embroiled in a high-profile fight with the Trump administration over Utah’s national monuments.

After President Donald Trump decided to drastically reduce the size of the Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monuments in December 2017, Patagonia posted a clear message on its website: “The President Stole Your Land.”

“In an unlawful decision, the President has just reduced the size of Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monuments,” reads the rest of the post. “This is the largest removal of conservation lands in American history.”

Before December and after, Patagonia led a multi-pronged effort to support the protection of public lands that went beyond helping local environmental organizations.

The company orchestrated a publicity effort that included its first-ever TV commercial – a one-minute spot featuring Chouinard, who is known to be a bit reclusive, talking about the importance of public lands and “wild places” . Patagonia and other outdoor recreation companies also managed to move a major trade show from Salt Lake City to Denver.

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Patagonia has joined a coalition of Native American and local groups in a lawsuit seeking to force Trump to restore Bears Ears’ original borders.

The decision to sue a sitting president was “pretty unprecedented” for a company like Patagonia, said Josh Ewing, who worked with Patagonia on Bears Ears while running the nonprofit Friends of Cedar Mesa.

The lawsuit and the effort to move the trade show “were steps companies don’t typically take,” said Ewing, who now leads the Rural Climate Partnership. “They don’t take protest action with their money because they’re afraid of their money, they’re afraid of losing their money if they get too active.”