Patagonia’s Environmental Focus

In the Outdoor Industry, Patagonia is often held up as the standard-bearer for environmental consciousness.  Look no further than the homepage of Patagonia’s Australian website to get a sense for the company’s major focus.  After the “About” section of the main menu, the next category is “Environment”.  This is before any real display of any product.  On the bottom half of the homepage are headline articles such as “Save Bells Beach” and “2012 Marine Debris Clean-Up”.  It’s only after that you get to a Store Locator.

Much of the credit goes to Patagonia’s founder, Yvon Chouinard, and climbing partner Tom Frost, who, long before environmental conservation became fashionable, were inventing and manufacturing equipment for a movement called “clean climbing”.  Brought to the United States from England by the climbing legend Royal Robbins in the 1960s, clean climbing involves climbing gear and climbing techniques to avoid scarring rock by avoiding drilled and hammered equipment such as bolts, pitons and copperheads.  The gear and techniques revolutionised rock climbing.  The company he established for his wares, Chouinard Equipment, was the forerunner of what eventually became known as Black Diamond, which still manufactures some offshoots of his original designs.

Yvon Chouinard is more well known, however, for creating Patagonia, founded in the 1970s to develop and sell rugged technical clothing.  Besides climbing, Chouinard has been a keen surfer, kayaker and fly fisherman.  Patagonia’s product range reflects this.  But his greatest contribution is often considered as his environmental work.  Ever since 1985, for example, Patagonia has pledged 1% of sales to the preservation and restoration of the natural environment, having given out more than US$40 million to grassroots environmental  groups around the world.  Patagonia is also focused on their eco-footprint, the environmental impact of the fibres and fabrics it uses in manufacturing its apparel, conservation, recycling and, most recently, water use.  Chouinard is the first to admit these efforts do not necessarily reach the level of true environmental sustainability.  He himself used to hammer pitons into rock faces before realising more environmentally friendly methods existed.  But Patagonia’s efforts are at least being seen as a rallying point for environmental awareness within the Outdoor Industry.

In Australia and New Zealand, Patagonia’s focus, both in terms of its product portfolio and environmental concerns are centred around Merino wool and on surfing.  In apparel, Patagonia has recently formed a relationship with wool accreditor NewMerino to ensure wool suppliers take measures related to everything from grassland conservation to using non-mulesing techniques.  For surfing, Patagonia makes its surfboards, for example, out of an extruded polystyrene that contain no air-polluting VOCs (volatile organic compounds).  More is being introduced regularly, such as Patagonia including Australia in its Common Threads program.

Patagonia product is available through 5 of its own stores in Australia, as well as numerous retailers, such as Paddy Pallin outlets.  In New Zealand, Patagonia apparel and footwear is distributed by Nevada Sport and available at retailers such as R&R Sport and Bivouac.

Don Jurries

Feature Image: Patagonia Australia

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