Our home closets and drawers contain ancient Patagonia clothing and luggage. They have been bundled, dragged, scraped, twisted and lugged across countless airports, cars, camping areas and hallways. The stuff never dies. On the infamous Black Friday following Thanksgiving, when Americans gorge on retail therapy post Romanesque meals, Patagonia unveiled a brilliant campaign: Don't Buy This Jacket.
Patagonia, a privately held company, long at the vanguard of sustainable business practices, was advising its loyal customers not to buy new Patagonia products it didn't need. Through its Common Threads Initiative, the company asks consumers to take a pledge to buy and use less "stuff," but also makes available a new service via eBay where consumers can purchase used Patagonia goods. This act led to expected derision by traditional writers at Forbes and The Economist, but we thought it was brilliant (I am a huge aficionado of consignment myself).
The life cycle impacts of product development, including outdoor clothing, is fairly astounding when you dig deeper. If you peruse Patagonia's Footprint Chronicles you will find transparent information on how and where Patagonia products are made. The outdoor industry writ large is making admirable (beyond admirable) headway in improving its environmental and community impacts. Both the Outdoor Industry Association and its European counterpart have been involved with reducing the impacts of outdoor equipment and clothing through its design initiative the EcoIndex. The trends in transparency and design changes harkens back to Interface Corporation's first corporate sustainability report, resplendent in its shocking (gasp!)Take-Make-Waste mantra.
517 Companies. 60 Industries. California Most Recently. Will Washington State Be Next?
In early 2012, ushering in the new year with zest and promise, Patagonia again got high water marks by standing in line to become California's first B (Benefit) corporation. For all you legal scholars out there you can read this tome about why there needed to be a national movement to create legislation that promotes (and functionally enables) good corporate citizenship. Yves Chouinard, the wiry and peripatetic founder of Patagonia said "I learned at an early age that it's better to invent your own game; then you can always be a winner." Patagonia is a game changer and so is the story of B Corporations.
Here is the skinny from a non-legal perspective: most corporations, by law, have a fiduciary duty to shareholders to maximum their return on investment. That's it. If the company reduces that value through its sustainability and community level initiatives, it becomes vulnerable to shareholder litigation.
To successfully address sustainability issues, corporations must be able to fulfill commitments to communities, employees, other stakeholders and the voiceless "environment" which permits us to live and do business. This cannot occur unless changes are made to state law, in consort with a longer conversation about the role of business in community life.
In an effort to change the system reforms that would enable better corporate citizenship, B Lab, itself a non- profit corporation, started a new certification system to encourage recognition of businesses that wanted to address societal issues in addition to making a profit.
B Corps, unlike traditional businesses:
- Meet comprehensive and transparent social and environmental performance standards;
- Meet higher legal accountability standards;
- Build business constituency for public policies that support sustainable business.
Washington State is considering adopting B Corp legislation which would help the sustainable tourism industry prime the pump for future action. Support these efforts and continue with your good work. It pays off. Just ask Mr. Chouinard.
Calyx Sustainable Tourism