April 24, 2001

Patagonia Leaders Extoll Virtues of Organic

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Patagonia Inc. has always maintained that there is no conflict between the interests of business and of the environment. The maker of warm, fuzzy fleeces and other outdoor gear has made a name for itself by trying to meet both interests.

The company’s stated purpose, “to use business to inspire and implement solutions to the environmental crisis,” has served as a guiding principle for Patagonia and its employees, according to Michael W. Crooke, chief executive officer of Patagonia.

“We don’t separate business and environment; our company was founded on an environmental slant,” Crooke said. “The first products held this philosophy and every product we make today still holds this philosophy.”

In 1996 Patagonia switched from using natural cotton to making all of their sportswear products with organic cotton.

“This is a decision that was based entirely on the environmental ramifications in growing natural cotton,” said Jil Zilligen, vice president of environmental initiatives at Patagonia.

Organic cotton is grown without any harmful chemicals. Adopting these methods “can boost biodiversity and healthy ecosystems, improve the quality of the soil and often uses less water [than natural cotton production],” according to the company’s website.

Patagonia has begun to demonstrate the benefits of using organic cotton by conducting tours of their cotton fields and showing that the quality and appearance of its products has not diminished by making the switch, Zilligen said.

“We have built a successful business model and are living proof that fiscally environmentalism can work,” Crooke said.

Patagonia has developed a new method of production for its signature fleeces. Rather than using crude oil to produce material for its fleeces, Patagonia has created the Synchilla fleece.

The fleece is made by recycling and spinning used plastic soda bottles. The company estimated that since 1993, it has diverted roughly 40 million two- liter plastic bottles from landfill sights.

In keeping with this philosophy of environmentalism, Patagonia donates ten percent of pre-tax profits to grassroots environmental groups.

Patagonia has also switched to 100 percent wind energy in all of its stores and offices in California in order to comply with the Kyoto Protocol. The focus of student demonstrations last week, the agreement calls for a seven percent reduction below 1990 levels of greenhouse gases by 2012.

“[Working toward] the Kyoto Protocol has put Cornell ahead of the game in terms of environmental responsibility and this policy will eventually pay off financially as well,” Zilligen said.

With its environmental initiatives in the works for Patagonia, the company has gained a lot of momentum, Crooke noted.

Crooke is speaking today at 5 p.m. in B45 Warren Hall. His talk is called, “Committed to the Core: What Does it Mean to be an Environmentally Responsible Company.”

Archived article by Ruthie Wahl