Thu Nov 11 2021 Michael McQueen

In a marketplace increasingly concerned with climate change and environmental sustainability, the call to action for companies rings loud and clear. With Millennials and Gen Z consistently willing to pay more for products with purpose and boycott the companies that fall short, businesses and brands can no longer ignore the demands of the environment, or the market.

In this climate, it is tempting for some businesses to engage in ‘greenwashing’, making statements or taking actions that may seem impressive but in reality do little to mitigate environmental impacts. Other companies well and truly practice what they preach, and it comes as no surprise that these are the ones that reap the rewards.

Far from greenwashing or virtue signalling, Patagonia demonstrates an unswerving commitment to its purpose of ‘Saving our home planet’, and has won the love and trust of markets on the way. While many brands have a purpose related to environmental sustainability, Patagonia’s devotion to the cause far exceeds that of many other businesses, with its eco-friendly moves often coming at a cost to the company itself.

In 2011, it published an ad in the New York Times on America’s Black Friday which featured a photo of one of its bestselling jackets with beneath the bold words, ‘Don’t Buy This Jacket.’ Their motive was to encourage people to think before they buy, and buy only what they need.[1] In the face of the excessive consumerism that characterises the world’s holiday seasons, this was a bold statement of integrity, ethics and purpose.

A quick scroll through its dedicated ‘Activism’ page on its website quickly reveals more of this sacrificial commitment. In what could easily be read as an act of rebellion and protest at government’s capitalist focussed policies, the company states, ‘We’re taxing ourselves’. According to this self-imposed ‘Earth tax’ policy, the company dedicates 1% of its profits to supporting environmental non-profits. Since the company first made this commitment, it has given $89 million to environmental causes, all while encouraging other companies to do the same. [2]

Another page of Patagonia’s website boasts its ‘Worn Wear’ program, which encourages and enables customers to repair their clothing rather than buy brand new and offers an easy recycling program for when the clothes are beyond fixing. The company provides repair instructions for clothing, has a Repair Hub dedicated to customers seeking repair alterations, and holds events where people can come in to have their clothes mended or find some damaged clothes that they can mend themselves and keep. The page declares in bold letters ‘Repair is a radical act’, which is all too true when considering the planned obsolescence and cheap products that characterise the largest part of the fashion industry.[3]

Again highlighting their commitment to quality and long-lasting, intergenerational products, the company this year announced that they are removing all logos from their clothing because people tend to be less likely to pass on clothing to kids or other people when it has a logo. Their goal for their products is a long lifespan, and yet again they demonstrate their willingness to stick to goals even when it costs them.[4]

In April 2019, Patagonia also took the bold and purpose-driven step of walking away from one of its most devoted customer groups – finance professionals. On Wall Street, Patagonia fleece vests have almost become an unofficial uniform over the years. Despite this popularity, Patagonia announced that they wouldn’t be supplying any new corporate clients with co-branded products if the client company engaged in environmentally damaging activity, cutting off much of its business with the Wall Street crowd.[5]   

A company clearly comfortable with controversy, one of Patagonia’s most recent moves came with a boycott of one of the world’s most powerful companies and advertisers. Since June 2020 Patagonia has removed all paid advertising from Facebook’s platforms in protest of its spreading of hate speech and misinformation regarding climate change. Recent releases of Facebook’s internal documents triggered a follow up announcement from Patagonia restating their ongoing commitment to this decision and calling other companies to boycott the platforms: ‘We encourage other businesses to join us in pushing Facebook to prioritise people and the planet over profit.’

Beyond their bold moves, Patagonia maintains a high level of integrity in its internal processes. It has consistently transitioned to sustainable sources in supply chains, investing in regenerative agriculture and farming and maintaining high standards for workers. 87% of its clothes are made with recycled materials while 100% of its virgin cotton is grown organically.[6]

For all of its outstanding action, the company has not lost any humility, a Patagonia spokesperson recently stating that they don’t use the word ‘sustainable’ within the company, because they acknowledge that they are part of the problem. The spokesperson goes on to discuss their goal for carbon neutrality by 2025 and the need to cut emissions from the company’s supply chain. In a disarmingly honest statement, ‘we aren’t entirely sure how to do this,’ the company models exactly the kind of humility and transparency that wins the trust of customers and turns corporate spin on its head.[7]

Some criticise Patagonia’s bold moves as brand activism gone too far, but Patagonia have reaped enormous rewards from being ruthlessly focussed on purpose – they are trusted and admired like few other companies. While many of their moves have come at a cost and their high level of integrity is in no way cheap, it is likely that they will pay off in the long run. Yesterday, the company won The Environmental Sustainability Award at this year’s glamorous and prestigious CFDA Awards[8], revealing the prioritisation of ethics and integrity slowly infiltrating even the highest of fashion ranks.

While it may be costly, purpose pays off. This is as true for business as it is for life, and it is clear that businesses that hold unswervingly to their ethics and aims regardless of their environment reap the rewards in the long run. Patagonia is the perfect case in point. Regardless of context, time or event, Patagonia has stayed consistent, revealing a tireless commitment to saving the environment its clothes are designed for.


Michael McQueen is a trends forecaster, business strategist and award-winning conference speaker.

He features regularly as a commentator on TV and radio and is a bestselling author of 9 books. His most recent book The New Now examines the 10 trends that will dominate a post-COVID world and how to prepare for them now. 

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[1] 2011, ‘Don’t Buy This Jacket, Black Friday and the New York Times’, Patagonia, 25 November.

[2] 2021, ‘Activism’, Patagonia.

[3] 2011, ‘Worn Wear’, Patagonia.

[4] Gilber, B 2021, ‘The finance bro uniform is officially dead as Patagonia stops adding corporate logos to its ubiquitous fleece vests’, Business Insider, 10 April.

[5] Bain, M 2019, ‘Patagonia suggests finance bros aren’t a fit for its fleece vests’, Quartz at Work, 4 April.

[6] 2021, ‘Environmental Responsibility’, Patagonia.

[7] Thoren B 2021, ‘Patagonia doesn’t use the word ‘sustainable.’ Here’s why’, Fortune, 2 November.

[8] Farr, E 2021, ‘Patagonia Has a New Mission to “Save Our Home Planet”—One of Its First Employees Explains How They’ll Get It Done’, Vogue, 9 November.