The Four Horsemen Society of Notre Dame hosted Patagonia’s Vice President of Marketing, Vincent Stanley, on October 12th in Geddes Hall to speak on the challenges faced in achieving environmentally sustainable business practices in today’s society.
As a member of Patagonia for over 40 years, Stanley can attest to the company’s consistent effort to engage in responsible business practices that limit any harm to the environment. Stanley co-authored The Responsible Company, with Yvon Chouinard. The book, published in 19 languages, has been adopted into many business schools’ curriculum.
“We wanted this book to be a how-to book for companies to become sustainable. We’re hoping it becomes the Elements of Style for business sustainability,” explained Stanley. When asked if it is easier for an established business to act sustainably as opposed to a startup company, Stanley answered, “A business is more likely to be successful if it devotes itself to sustainability from the start.”
The book discusses specific ways companies can start off in a sustainable manner or existing businesses can adopt more sustainable practices; it also includes checklists at the end to measure how the company is performing on a sustainability scale. Stanley discussed Patagonia’s willingness to share all their successful and sustainable practices: “Patagonia strives to be an example to other businesses, so we share our discoveries on ways to run businesses while keeping the environment in mind,” he said.
Patagonia works to embody the four R’s: reduce, repair, reuse, and recycle. The key to improving a company’s sustainability is to ensure these R’s are used in order; it is most difficult to recycle, so this should be the last step. For example, certain fibers, like wool and cotton, are challenging to recycle into useful fibers. Stanley noted, “After trying to reduce, repair, and reuse, we recycle the best we can, and what we can’t recycle we repurpose.”
To embody the first “R,” Patagonia undertook a risky campaign to encourage consumers to reduce their purchases. In their Common Thread Initiative Campaign, Patagonia released advertisements that pictured one of Patagonia’s jackets and the words, “Don’t buy this jacket.” As Stanley explained, the campaign emphasized that the jacket “comes with an environmental cost higher than its price.” The advertisement went on to explain that the 60% recycled polyester jacket is durable and well-made, meaning it does not need to be replaced often. Patagonia places increased importance on creating high-quality products that have longer life spans than competitors’ products.
A campaign pushing consumers to buy less seems contradictory to the goal of a retailer—to sell more. Patagonia, however, values the environment and places more emphasis on sustainability than increasing sales. After the advertisement was released, the sales stayed relatively stable, fulfilling Patagonia’s goal—to bring attention to the problem rather than the jacket itself. Patagonia wants consumers, as well as other businesses, to be aware of the consequences certain production methods have on the environment.
To this end, Stanley has high hopes the book will not only explain the relevant issues that call businesses to practice greater sustainability, but also offer direction and guidance in becoming more environmentally-friendly consumers and producers.
Ellen Roof is a sophomore majoring in business and psychology who would like to give a shout-out to the Community Crossings family in Welch, WV for facilitating an incredible week of service over fall break. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.