Curious MD Nikki Cunningham talks about how Patagonia lives and breathes its brand purpose and how other brands should take note. (Warning: it’s not easy to achieve).
In business to save the planet
Last week, Yvon Chouinard, founder of outdoor clothing and equipment retailer Patagonia, made a surprise announcement that he had donated the company. The entire company. A move that means, after reinvestment, all of Patagonia’s profits will be donated to charities that will fight the environmental crisis, protect nature and biodiversity, and support thriving communities.
At a time when trust in many forms is low, it’s refreshing to see a brand following through on what it says it believes in. Though that in itself is a problem – why is it we don’t trust what brands say, and what can they do to restore our faith?
The overcommunication issue
Brand purpose is regarded with scepticism. Almost all businesses make grand acclimations about their purpose, and only a few live up to their promise. Too often, companies think they can fulfil their purpose by putting out official statements in response to current events. In other words, be lazy.
In normal circumstances, we’re big fans of communication; it’s vital for healthy, happy relationships. But, when you’re speaking for the sake of speaking, you do your brand more harm than good. Not backing up what you say with actions will make consumers doubt you mean what you say. Inauthenticity is far worse than if you said nothing.
Patagonia founder Yvon Choinard. Image Tom Frost
Why does purpose work for Patagonia?
‘We appreciate that all life on earth is under threat of extinction. We’re using the resources we have – our business our investments, our voice and our imaginations – to do something about it.’
From any other company this might sound like empty words, but for Patagonia, this sentiment guides everything they do. They don’t just talk about caring for the environment – they do something about it. They live their purpose.
A timeline of action
1985: 1% for the planet was launched. Patagonia began to donate 1% of every sale to climate charities.
2007: The Footprint Chronicles is launched. It traces the social and environmental impact of Patagonia’s products.
2012: Patagonia became a certified B Corporation and registered as a benefit corporation in the State of California.
2017: Merchandise in good condition can be returned for new merchandise credits. The used merchandise is cleaned, repaired and sold on its “Worn Wear” website.
2019: ReCrafted was launched. It creates and sells clothing made from scraps of fabric from used Patagonia gear.
2020: Patagonia suspended its advertising on Facebook and Instagram as part of the “stop Hate for Profit” campaign.
2022. Patagonia is donated to charity.
And this timeline doesn’t account for all of the indirect effects Patagonia has had. From funding charities, helping grassroots groups, and the actions of individuals inspired by their films, books and articles.
Throughout its almost 50 years of trading, Patagonia has always been committed to producing good quality, long-lasting products that don’t cost the earth. They’ve used actions to back up their words. They’ve lived their purpose.
Will others follow?
For Patagonia, donating themselves to charity wasn’t as rash a move as it might have initially appeared; they have a long history of action. It would undoubtedly be difficult for other companies to do the same as Patagonia. Their history, structure and employees who share the company’s vision all mean they can enact change much more quickly than a standard business. But, we hope that it encourages others to consider how to go beyond words and act on their purpose. What they actually believe in. Wouldn’t that be something.