Patagonia’s Unconventional CSR

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Image source: Patagonia.com

California-based Patagonia, which specializes in outdoor apparel, has taken an unexpected and untraditional approach to corporate social responsibility (CSR). Sustainability, giving back and caring for the planet are firmly connected in a company conviction that’s clear for customers and the business world to see. That’s supported by Patagonia initiatives to buy and consume less.

A family business owned by Yvon and Malinda Chouinard, Patagonia’s mission is to “build the best product, cause no unnecessary harm, use business to inspire and implement solutions to the environmental crisis.”BtheChange.jpg

Yvon wrote in the company’s biography, Let My People Go Surfing, “Patagonia exists to challenge conventional wisdom and present a new style of responsible business.” True to form, in 2012, it was one of the first companies in California to become a Certified B Corporation.

Social & Environmental Activism

Knowing the resources it uses and waste it produces, Patagonia believes it has a responsibility to give back. Rather than thinking of what they do as charity or traditional philanthropy, the company calls it “our Earth Tax,” and considers it part of the cost of doing business.

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Image source: Patagonia.com

For the past 30 years, through its membership in 1% For The Planet® (an alliance of businesses), Patagonia has given 1% of sales to the preservation and restoration of the natural environment. To date, the company has donated $70 million in cash and in-kind services to 3,400 grassroots groups. A few stats show how the company supported environmental and social initiatives this past year:

(For a detailed look at Patagonia’s work in 2015, check out its Environmental + Social Initiatives booklet.) 

Sustainable Clothes & Supply Chain

Patagonia is determined to create “the world’s most socially and environmentally responsible supply chain,” and has steered the clothing industry into a more sustainable direction through its actions.


With products and suppliers.
In 1993, Patagonia was the first outdoor clothing manufacturer to use fleece made from post-consumer recycled (PCR) plastic soda bottles. And in 1996, it switched to using organically grown cotton in all cotton products.  It was also one of first major outdoor companies to work with Fair Trade USA on its Fair Trade Certified apparel.

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Image source: Patagonia.com

In 2007, to be more transparent about its supply chain, the company started publishing the environmental impacts of articles of clothing in The Footprint Chronicles® as well as including it on Patagonia’s product pages.

Within the industry. As a founding member of the Sustainable Apparel Coalition—an alliance of 30 companies in the clothing and footwear industries formed in 2010—Patagonia and member companies measure their environmental and social and labor impacts, benchmark performances against each other, and publish the results in a social and environmental performance index.

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Image source: GreenBiz, collateral at the Yerdle-Patagonia event in SF

The company’s belief in environmental conservation and corporate responsibility is integrated into its anti-consumption advertising. Maybe the most recognized of these ads ran on Black Friday in 2011 with the surprising message: “Don’t Buy This Jacket”, encouraging consumers not to buy what they didn’t need.  Patagonia has echoed this message over the years in its “buy used” marketing with eBay, and most recently, through its Worn Wear initiative about repairing clothes. While many think these messages fly in the face of why the company exists, Patagonia firmly believes it’s just the right thing to do.

Making a Bigger Difference

Patagonia’s commitment to inspire and implement environmental solutions reaches beyond the industry. In 2013, the company launched $20 Million and Change, through a holding company, Patagonia Works. It’s dedicated to a singular cause: using business to help solve the environmental crisis. With this fund, Patagonia helps like-minded, responsible start-up companies which want to work with nature rather than using it up.

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Image source: Patagonia.com

Humble about its CSR accomplishments, Patagonia states: “We have a long way to go and we don’t have a map—but we do have a way to read the terrain and take the next step, and then the next.”

If you’re inspired by Patagonia to take steps and give back through your company’s CSR efforts, we’re ready to help. Just contact us.

For more philanthropy news and CSR insights, subscribe to our Company Blog and follow us on LinkedIn.

– Andrea Lloyd
Director of Programs

CSR Pioneers Ben & Jerry’s

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Ben & Jerry’s is thought of as the ice cream company with heart and soul. From the start, its founders Ben Cohen and Jerry Greenfield set out to prove that business can play a positive role in society.

In 1978, after taking a $5 correspondence course in ice cream-making from Penn State and making a $12,000 investment ($4,000 borrowed), Ben and Jerry began selling ice cream from a renovated gas station in Burlington, Vermont.  While the company name references only two men, a third man, Jeff Furman (a lawyer and accountant) is considered the ampersand in Ben & Jerry’s and a driving force in the company’s social responsibility efforts.

Utne Reader described them as three men who shared ideals formed in the 1960s and tempered by Vietnam and Watergate. They were smart and creative but suspicious of big business, painfully aware of injustice, and looking for better ways to live.

Social mission as a guiding business principle

In 1988, Ben & Jerry’s became one of the first companies in the world to make a social mission integral to its business and inseparable from its product and economic goals. Its social mission: use the company in innovative ways to make the world a better place.

When Unilever bought Ben & Jerry’s in 2000, the company became a wholly-owned subsidiary but fought to retain its social consciousness. Through a unique merger agreement, Ben & Jerry’s established an independent board of directors so it could maintain the company’s mission and preserve its values—a board that has the right to challenge Unilever at any time if it feels those values are compromised.

In September 2012, Ben & Jerry’s was certified as a B corp and became the first and only wholly-owned subsidiary of a public company to do so. Its publicly-available impact assessment shows how the company is doing in its governance and for the environment, workers, and community. (The B Corp model can ensure companies provide benefits to society in a way that’s transparent, balanced, and people can believe in.)

“We wanted to constantly challenge ourselves to be better,” said Rob Michalak, Ben & Jerry’s Director of Social Mission. “This model provides the rigor and standards to ensure that we are living up to our own mission and that we push further.”

The measures of success

Creating linked prosperity for suppliers, employees, farmers, franchisees, customers, and neighbors—everyone connected to Ben & Jerry’s—is how the company defines success. They operate to benefit people and communities, support social and environmental justice, and give back.

Sourcing & purchasing ingredients. The company uses its purchasing power to buy Fair Trade Certified base ingredients of sugar, cocoa, banana, coffee and vanilla.

In manufacturing, Ben & Jerry’s works to reduce its footprint and has offset 22,400 tons of CO2 emissions since 2002. The company is also actively involved in climate justice, mandatory GMO labeling, peace building and many more issues.

Ben & Jerry’s: Giving back

Their efforts to give back go beyond improving quality of life for local communities. In addition to donating more than 5% of profits to charity:

  • Ben & Jerry’s foundation engages its employees in philanthropy and social change work, and supports grassroots activism and community organizing for social and environmental justice around the country. In 1991, the foundation was restructured to be employee-led, and employees make all the decisions about grants. In 2014, the foundation won the National Committee for Responsive Philanthropy’s award for a Corporate Grantmaker.
  • The foundation funds the Vermont Community Action Team (CAT) grant program for an array of programs, and prioritizes support for basic human needs and the underserved, including seniors, at-risk youth and low income communities. In addition to grants, employees work together on several large-scale community service projects each year.
  • PartnerShops are independently-owned Ben & Jerry’s scoop shops operated by community-based nonprofit organizations, and run as social enterprises. They offer job and entrepreneurial training to youth and young adults who may face barriers to employment.

Ben & Jerry’s has set a high CSR bar. Not every business has the resources and ability to pursue social responsibility with such fervor, but any business can get started.  Inspired to discover how? Contact JustGive today; we’ll help.

– Candy Culver
Marketing Consultant