Organizational transformation

Patagonia Saying Less

Sam Frentzel-Beyme Follow Managing Partner & Strategy Director

The Short of It

  • Patagonia recently launched a new initiative that encourages customers to “reduce, repair, reuse and recycle their clothing and equipment” under the tagline “Reduce what you buy”.
  • The take away for organizations is that branding is about values and the act of facilitation is the externalization of those values.
  • By thinking clearly about what an organization is really trying to facilitate, you get insight into what you really care about.

I And saying it pretty well. Patagonia, the quirky and well-loved company founded by Yvon Chouinard in 1972, recently launched a new initiative that encourages customers to “reduce, repair, reuse and recycle their clothing and equipment” under the tagline “Reduce what you buy”.

It may seem odd that a company in the business of selling goods would actually encourage their customers not to buy. But Rick Ridgeway, Patagonia’s environment VP, sees it another way. His take is that the current state of consumption can’t continue as we are using natural resources “1.4 times the rate at which the earth can restore them”.

"The main thing is that we're trying to get people to wake up, and we have a lot of loyal customers who appreciate our willingness to initiate dialogue like this," he says. "We want to challenge other businesses, too. The fundamental assumption that we can continue on a growth economy is flawed in the long term. We need to start talking about what we are going to do about it."

The project echoes a lot of existing thinking around social responsibility, but takes it one step further than most programs by being so explicit about something so financially contrarian. This got me thinking of two things.

First, Patagonia isn’t really in the product sales business. It’s in the “life facilitation” business. And when I say “life” I think of those old pictures of Yvon in the 1960’s when he was considered one of the leading climbers of the “Golden Age of Yosemite”.

It seems that his original goal has always been to create better tools to help him, and others like him, do what they love to do. And even though Chouinard Equipment, Ltd. filed for Chapter 11 in 1989, now reestablished as Black Diamond Equipment, Ltd., the philosophy of facilitation provided the roots for the company we know today as Patagonia.

The take away for organizations is that branding is about values and the act of facilitation is the externalization of those values. By thinking clearly about what an organization is really trying to facilitate, you get insight into what you really care about.

The second thing that I began to think about was a bit more philosophical: what does it mean to truly live? It is easy to mistake Patagonia’s more open approach to work as unique and only possible because of the industry they are in. After all, a large part of Chouinard’s development was through enjoying, exploring and understanding the earth’s natural beauty.

But what if this philosophy of taking time for oneself in nature was encouraged in every company? How would our perceptions about time and the value of life change? Would we ever have gotten into our current environmental crisis had we worked in organizations that encouraged the relationship between ourselves and the natural world that surrounds us?

For myself, I’m reminded that there are so many places in the world I still want to explore. I shouldn’t think of these “getaways” as retreats from my work, which I love, but important aspects of my work since what I do is a direct reflection of who I am and who I am becoming.

For organizations, I think there is a similar lesson. Great organizations are about great people and great people are usually continual works of progress and development. Encouraging employees to live more fully in the natural world can only mean that they bring that zeal back to the organization and all its operations.

The funny thing is that do that we might all need to swing by the Patagonia store first.

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