Patagonia: Environmental Activism

Posted on March 17, 2012 by Fraser Doherty


I am massively inspired by companies that do things their own way, led by entrepreneurs who use their business as a way of bringing about a change in the world that they believe in.  

A pioneer of this new approach to business has undoubtedly been Yvon Chouinard, the founder of Patagonia.  Started in California in 1972, the company has been a leading light in ethical business.  They were talking about sustainability and the need to produce their products in a way that had a limited impact on the environment, before it was cool.

As a company, they design clothes and products for people who love the outdoors - mountaineering, fishing, surfing and the like.  Everyone who works there loves outdoor pursuits too - and they love the wild, beautiful natural environments that they do them in.  Because of their love for the environment, they create products that will last a lifetime and that will be made from materials that have a minimal impact on the world.

“Let my people go surfing”

Patagonia have been consistently ranked as one of the best employers in America; the company operates on flexi-time work hours, so that the whole team can take time off to go surfing when the surf is good.

But where I would say the company has had the biggest impact on the world has been through its activism against environmental destruction.  It is one of a number of companies that has committed to the ‘One percent for the Planet' initiative, giving one percent of its sales or ten percent of its profits, whichever is greater, to environmental groups.  So far it has donated over $25m.

Even while investing so much of its energy and profits in environmental issues that the company feels strongly about, Patagonia has grown into a worldwide brand.  They’ve been a massive commercial success; employing over 1,200 people, with revenues exceeding $270 million.  

The Patagonia story shows that running a business in an ethically minded way is not some kind of hippie fantasy.  It’s possible to run a company ethically and with integrity and also become a commercial and financial success along the way.  Your customers will love you for it - and your team even more so.

This is one of my articles on starting your own business, from my column on HotFrog.  You can see them all here.

* Buy Yvon Chouinard's Book "Let My People Go Surfing" Here *

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