Outdoor apparel retailer Patagonia has recently taken more of a political stand to protect the environment, in addition to its focus on a sustainable supply chain. CEO Rose Marcario discusses Patagonia’s new mission at NRF 2019.

“We’re in business to save our home planet,” is outdoor gear and apparel retailer Patagonia’s new mission statement.

It’s a more succinct update from its previous mission statement, “Build the best product, cause no unnecessary harm, use business to inspire and implement solutions to the environmental crisis.”

Rose Marcario, CEO

Rose Marcario, CEO

In the ’90s, it was groundbreaking for a retailer to say it wanted to cause no unnecessary harm and to look into the impact of its supply chain on the environment, said Rose Marcario, CEO of Patagonia, at the National Retail Federation 2019 conference. Today that’s not enough, she said.

“We don’t just seek now to do less harm, we need to do more good,” Marcario said.

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Patagonia has several ways in which it works to have a positive impact on the environment, such as sourcing its product materials from fair trade and organic sources and ensuring its supply chain follows fair and sustainable practices. Within the past few years, however, Patagonia has turned its environmental mission to politics and has endorsed senators that align with its values and openly criticized the presidential administration on its tax cut and public land policies.

While many retailers would be nervous to take a political stand, Marcario said this is in line with its brand mission and what its customers expect.

“For us, it hasn’t been a big risk,” she said. “We know our customers. We’ve never been a mass advertiser; we don’t do commercials. People find the brand, and they are interested in the product. … Customers come to us with some connection to the outdoors, they get to know us and have a relationship with us.”

Patagonia’s recent political activity

In December 2017, President Donald Trump signed a proclamation that seeks to dramatically reduce the boundaries and management of Utah’s Bears Ears National Monument and Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument. Patagonia.com responded on its homepage displaying an all-black screen with white lettering declaring, “The President Stole Your Land.” Shoppers had to X out of the page to access the site, which still had that message as one of its hero images. Patagonia is one of the companies that is currently challenging the proclamation in court, Marcario said. 

Then, last October, Patagonia endorsed candidates running for the U.S. Senate in Nevada and Montana.

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Patagonia has a distribution center in Nevada and a store in Montana and endorsed Jacky Rosen (D-Nevada) and Jon Tester (D-Montana), who both support protecting public lands and water. Patagonia featured its endorsements on its website, social media accounts and in customer emails. 

“The company is endorsing candidates for the first time this year because of the urgent and unprecedented threats to our public lands and waters,” Patagonia wrote in a statement on the endorsement. “Nevada and Montana are two states where Patagonia has significant company history and a long record of conservation accomplishments, and where the stakes are too high to stay silent.”

The races were close, but those candidates won. “We felt like we had influence there, and I feel good about that,” Marcario said at NRF. 

It also closed its stores to give its employees time off to vote.

In November, Patagonia announced that because of changes to the tax law, the retailer owed $10 million less in taxes. Patagonia said that the tax cut was “irresponsible” and donated its $10 million refund in the form of 20,000 grants to philanthropic environmental organizations that are committed to protecting air, land and water and looking for solutions to climate change. This was on top of the 1% of total sales it already donates.

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Protecting the environment has always been central to Patagonia’s mission. While it may feel like Patagonia has taken a more political stand, Marcario said Patagonia’s actions are proportional and appropriate relative to the amount of changes that need responding to, Marcario said. Plus, changes to the environment personally affect Patagonia employees, as 75% of its employees had to be evacuated last year due to the wildfires. 

“We still run a very successful business,” Marcario said. “We fund all of our initiatives.” 

Patagonia is No. 192 in the Internet Retailer 2018 Top 500, and had online sales grow 14% in 2017 over 2016, according to Internet Retailer estimates.

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