Our Footprint Chronicles have generated a wide range of feedback. We’ve received a whole raft of incisive questions that have sent us scurrying off to do more homework. We’ve received some praise, most recently in the form of the "People’s Voice" award in the 2008 Webbys. And we’ve received some criticism.
We’re grateful for all of the comments — good and bad. The Footprint Chronicles was created to be a dialog, and toward this end, our Vice President of Marketing, Rob Bon Durant offers this response to one of the increasingly common criticisms being sent our way:
We created the Footprint Chronicles to offer our customers a behind-the-curtain view, to shine a light in the dark belly of the whale. In the Chronicles, we look at both the good and, more importantly, the bad of our current environmental and social manufacturing practices. We hold no secrets, we are transparent in every way that we can conceive. We’ve had a number of customer responses to the Chronicles.
Among the responses was this one: "Boy do you guys ever do a good job trying to paint a positive picture of your company. Why don’t you just admit that your supreme aim is to make as much money as possible and all this eco stuff is fluff?"
I oversee Marketing and Communications here at Patagonia and I’d like to answer that one directly:
She’s right. Our aim, though I wouldn’t qualify it as ‘supreme,’ is to make money. Why? Because simply stated, the more successful we are as a company, the more money we give away. In fact, in 1985 we made formal our decision to support environmental activism by committing 10% of our pretax profits to grassroots environmental groups. Later, we changed our pledge to at least 1% of sales. That way, profits or no profits, make money or not, we pay our penance for leaving a footprint, for being polluters, plain and simple.
We give at the grassroots level to innovative groups overlooked or rejected by other corporate donors. For 23 years, 100% of the 32 million in dollars and in-kind donations we’ve given toward environmental causes has been delivered straight to the front lines of environmental activist movement. We fund the on-the-ground fights, not overhead expenses, and we’ve funded over 1000 organizations. So yes, we want to make money. But that’s not the only reason we’re in business.
To fully understand our impetus to post a profit, perhaps we should consider a portion of our mission statement which is "…to use business to inspire and implement solutions to the environmental crisis." Patagonia exists to challenge corporate convention, to offer a proven and profitable business model as inspiration for other companies to follow suit. We present a business model that takes full responsibility for the product it makes, from birth to reincarnation. We hold no trade secrets beyond our own intellectual property. If our competitors need to know how to source organic cotton or begin a polyester recycling program, we teach them. We believe this effort is a tide which lifts all boats and we offer up our knowledge willingly and without hesitation–something no greenwasher could ever afford to do.
That was the genesis of The Footprint Chronicles. The more we examine our practices, the faster we can change for the better. We publish the names of our factories, we explain that frankly the best factories in the world–the only ones that have the technologies to meet our high quality specifications–exist overseas. We have in-field, independent social auditors at our factories. We are proud to have mostly long-term relationships with our partner factories that ensure both investments in living wages and technology that can be constantly updated and improved. And we document everything via the Chronicles, as well as Corporate Social Responsibility reporting.
And still, it’s not perfect, so we ask you, our customers, to comment directly on the Chronicles, give us your thoughts, help us move forward.
But all that said, we understand that still there will be skeptics. And to them, we say fair enough, don’t take it from us. To the skeptics, I direct you to the environmental activists who we’ve funded, who have won their victories, be they rivers never dammed, mines never dug, mountaintops never removed or pesticides never sprayed. Yes, please, don’t take it from us, ask the front liners, folks often just like you or me who have become outraged enough to say simply "enough!" All we did was use our ‘marketing dollars’ to invest in our greatest long term business asset: the health of our fragile planet.
On a personal note, Patagonia is the most innocent company I have ever or most likely will ever work for. And so, yes, we are round pegs, and, yes, we disdain conformity, and yes, we don’t play by the rules. You can love us or hate us, appreciate or criticize, but above all, please don’t ignore us, for we are out to change…everything. Patagonia will never be a totally sustainable company, there is no such thing, we will never make a totally benign product, but we are committed to trying.
Rob Bon Durant