Protecting the world one thread at a time

Our interactions with others shape our reputations as individuals. Similarly, companies are judged by their behaviors and their interactions.

Corporate social responsibility (CSR) is one driver of reputation. We respond more favorably to companies that add value to society – companies that are employers, neighbors, or vendors of choice.

The current cold spell brings to mind a company that was founded on the premise of “giving back” to society and the environment. It encourages its customers to do the same.

The mission of Patagonia, the outdoor clothing company, is to “build the best product, cause no unnecessary harm, and use business to inspire and implement solutions to the environmental crisis.”

In grade school we learn the meaning of the five  “W’s.” In its “Common Threads Initiative,” Patagonia introduces us to the five “R’s” – reduce, repair, reuse, recycle, and reimagine.

The company suggests that everything we make costs the planet more than it gives back. As consumers, we should only buy what we need – not an easy sell to a society that equates possessions with happiness!

Patagonia delivers a powerful message, but, more importantly, it also “walks the talk.” Last year, the company repaired 12,000 garments. Since 2005, it has recycled 45 tons of worn out clothing and turned 34 tons into new garments.

Patagonia donates one percent of its sales to grassroots environmental organizations to help preserve and restore the natural environment. It encourages (and pays for) employees to spend time working with these organizations.

But, Patagonia is not concerned only about the environment. It works hard to promote fair labor practices and ensure safe working conditions throughout its supply chain.

Perhaps the biggest affirmation of the company’s culture and values came last month. Patagonia became one of California’s first “benefit corporations.” Under this legal framework, shareholders can no longer demand that the company prioritize profits over social and environmental responsibility. Critics may mourn a loss of financial accountability, but the aging founder of the company, Yvon Chouinard, is assured that Patagonia can continue its mission in perpetuity – a mission to stop the destruction of our environment.

Will other companies follow Patagonia’s lead?