Brand Activism: 5 Questions With Patagonia CEO Rose Marcario


Patagonia - conservation

When Patagonia decided to sue the U.S. government on December 4th to protest the downsizing of two national monuments in Utah, it wasn’t much of a stretch for the outdoor apparel and gear brand. After all, it has been at the forefront of eco-activism for the entire 45 years of its existence.

“The President Stole Your Land” is how the brand launched its pull-no-punches digital marketing campaign (including an interactive film) before filing a federal lawsuit, along with a coalition of environmental and other groups, aimed at reversing the federal move to reduce by two-thirds the Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante monuments.

The Utah areas in question are land preserves that limit or ban commercial or other activity that potentially could damage their environment and were designated during the last two Democratic administrations in the White House, as Marcario noted in an essay for TIME magazine explaining the federal lawsuit.

The Trump administration has countered that the lands will remain under federal protection even if no longer designated as national monuments and positioned the moves as being in support of ranchers along with most U.S. state and local Utah officials, who called the monuments’ creation a federal overreach that has eliminated or limited some traditional uses of the land such as ranching, mining and ATV access.

The Ventura, Calif.-based Patagonia has been lobbying against the monument changes out of its conviction that the lands need to be preserved as they have been. Patagonia can afford to take a stance and be a little more fierce than other brands because it is structured as a benefit corporation or B Corp, a designation that allows companies to take into consideration goals other than share appreciation.

So it’s also lobbying to protect the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, about which Patagonia president and CEO Rose Marcario stated: “Americans have voiced overwhelming support for protecting the Arctic Refuge, and the fight is far from over. If we destroy the Arctic Refuge today, we will never get that wild, unspoiled wilderness back.”

Catering to the millions of Americans who are avid outdoor enthusiasts and environmentalists also, of course, boosts the brand’s determination—and sales. “Any time that we do something good for the environment, we make more money,” Marcario told students at the University of California, Berkeley, earlier this year, according to Bloomberg.

The company has “always been engaged in civil society by funding grassroots environmental activism and helping to share the stories of the wild places we hold dear to inspire others to explore, love and protect them,” Marcario told brandchannel in an interview.

Rose Marcario - Patagonia President and CEO Marcario (right), a former Wall Street banker who was named CEO in 2014 after serving as its COO and CFO, told us more about the brand’s stance on the public monuments debate and more on its mission:

Patagonia is synonymous with CSR and corporate citizenship. How has that evolved over the years?

Patagonia’s mission is: “Build the best product, cause no unnecessary harm, use business to inspire and implement solutions to the environmental crisis.” These words guide us in everything we do. Our work is always focused on what we can improve in the supply chain which can be more broadly adopted.

Whether it’s seeing the devastation conventional cotton was doing to workers, habitat and ground water and converting 100% of our line to organic cotton over 20 years ago; using recycled materials; or converting factories to Fair Trade, it’s part of our DNA to continually seek new and better ways to make our products.

Patagonia Defend Bears Ears Utah national monument

Patagonia’s activism in Utah goes back a few years; can you fill us in?

It is important to note that people first started advocating for protections around the Bears Ears area almost 80 years ago. But we first got to know the area because of the incredible climbing in an area called Indian Creek, and we gave our first grant to a local conservation group working to protect Bears Ears in 2012.

In the recent campaign to formally protect it, we partnered with the local tribes, communities and conservation groups, and used online petitions, videos and store events to advocate for preservation of the area.

This effort culminated in December 2016 when President Obama created Bears Ears National Monument, and then of course, our campaign took a different course shortly after President Trump took office and indicated that he would dismantle the protections for the public land. He actually has eliminated more protected public land than any President in American history. It’s a very troubling development.

Patagonia Bears Ears

In deciding to sue the White House, were there any concerns about the possible damage to the brand?

No. Being able to explore places like Bears Ears is why Patagonia was created and fighting to protect them is why we are still in business. Almost three million people spoke out to keep our National Monuments in place and we consistently hear from our community that one of the reasons they choose to shop with us is because of our leadership when it comes to standing up for the environment. Our customers know who we are and that’s one of the reasons they buy our products.

How did becoming a B Corp change things?

We became a California benefit corporation in 2012 in order to legally enshrine our longstanding environmental and social values into the foundation of our business. Our articles of incorporation require that we confront urgent environmental threats by investing our resources as a growing business into environmental nonprofits.

How is activism embedded in the brand and throughout your workforce?

We encourage our employees at all levels of the company to fight for what they believe in. We even have a policy where employees can be reimbursed for their bail money if they’re arrested during non-violent protest.

Two examples of programs that we offer to encourage activism are our environmental internship program, where we pay employees their usual wage to leave their job and work for an environmental nonprofit of their choosing.

And a second is for retail store staff, employees receive grant funding requests from nonprofits in their community and decide whether, and how much, to fund the requests. We all feel that we’re working for a larger cause, and that is an important part of who we are as a company.

What are your KPIs or metrics for measuring the effectiveness of a particular environmental campaign?

We certainly use life cycle analysis data to measure impacts of product footprints and how to reduce or eliminate the water, energy and waste and manage materials in our line to move to the lowest impacts possible. We use shared data from the Sustainable Apparel Coalition and other industry supply chain data to measure our reductions.

We have a wonderful group of in-house designers who have been making product for decades and are constantly raising the bar on innovation and design that produces the best products with the least harm.

For our grants program, each year, we produce an environmental initiatives booklet that shows how much money we donated, who we gave it to, how many hours of environmental work we logged, and what was done with those hours and money. For our fight to defend Bears Ears National Monument, we will have won when the courts rule in our favor.

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