Innovator Article

Patagonia’s Prescription for a Healthy Planet

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By Marianne Skoczek

On Black Friday—the day after Thanksgiving, when retailers’ ledgers turn from red to black—the outdoor-clothing maker Patagonia shocked shoppers with a full-page ad in the New York Times. A photo of a top-seller ran the admonition: Don’t Buy This Jacket.

Noting that our culture of consumption is leading to environmental bankruptcy, the ad asked consumers “to buy less and to reflect before you spend a dime on this jacket or anything else.”

In the following days, said Rick Ridgeway, Patagonia’s vice president of environmental initiatives and special media projects, “close to 35,000 people took our Common Threads pledge to reduce purchases and to repair, reuse or recycle their belongings.”

Ridgeway spoke at the Graduate School of Management on January 24 as part of Sacramento NPR affiliate Capital Public Radio’s environment-energy news initiative. A long-time Business Partner of the School, CPR launched the initiative last year at Gallagher Hall, the School’s LEED Platinum–certified campus home.

Patagonia has fostered an eco-minded business strategy since 1972, when founder Yvon Chouinard first devised and sold new mountain-climbing equipment that left the mountain unscarred. “This was a fundamental lesson,” said Ridgeway: “Make a change motivated by environmental concerns and have it be an economic benefit.”

An acclaimed writer, photographer and Emmy Award–winning filmmaker, Ridgeway oversees Patagonia’s Common Threads Initiative and Freedom to Roam, which seeks protection for wildlife corridors. He also manages the company’s book and film-production division.

“Business is a series of choices,” said Ridgeway. In 2010 he formed the Sustain-able Apparel Coalition to create an eco- index that quantifies the environmental and social/labor impacts of these choices for apparel and footwear, from natural resource extraction to manufacturing, packaging, transportation, use and—
ultimately—disposal. Coalition members include the EPA, Gap, Levi Strauss, Nike, Patagonia, Target and Walmart.

“This index is a game changer,” said Ridgeway. “We’re looking at a funda-mental shift in how business is done that will help move us to a post-industrial, sustainable economy.”

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