Patagonia Change Story: Less Is More

“How one step makes the next step possible – a simple lesson but key”. Yvon Chouinard and Vincent Stanley

Interview with Vincent Stanley, Patagonia’s Philosophy Director and Chief Storyteller

Patagonia has created a long-term environmental purpose, which has evolved over several years while the company has been learning about the potential harm and impact of their products. Patagonia has taken unusual and not necessarily business-friendly steps to make changes, and, as you will discover, the company made those changes believing that it was doing the right thing and as a part of its environmental call.

Switch to Organic Cotton

Unexpected event occurred at the time of the opening of the Boston Patagonia store. After a few employees became ill an independent audit showed that cotton was one of the most toxic products, raising the question of what was the right thing to do – social consciousness was there. The customers were not aware of the situation and did not ask for any changes. How to gain agreement within the company for change? How to make changes tangible? Very practical solution, the company decided to rent buses and take employees to both conventional and organic cotton fields. Once there, the risk calculation was visible to all: with incredible levels of pollution in the conventional fields, it was evident to everybody on their ride back that change needed to happen.

Being informed, transparent, and committed deep within the organization, a radical change was made to switch entirely to organic cotton within a year. During that period, everybody needed to be progressively on board: resourcefulness and open-minded partners were pivotal to succeed. There were multiple consequences to deal with: breaking relations with existing conventional suppliers, creating a new infrastructure, finding the few suppliers of organic cotton, raising the price of the clothes WHEN nobody was asking for this…

Doing what you love and doing the right thing, while giving back to the community, the environment and nature, is meaningful work, and is called ordinary human excellence by the Patagonia founders: “Take advantage of the trust you earn, and you will earn more of it, especially if you are credible and tell the truth about your mistakes and failures; get going a little snowball of support.”

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