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An environmental organization disguised as a clothing company

Thursday, May 3, 2007

This morning, NPR launched a series on how Americans are adapting to global warming with a feature on Patagonia, the Ventura outdoor clothing manufacturer. Reporter Scott Horsley leans on some eco-hippie cliches (organic pasta in the employee cafeteria, surfboards in the board room, free on-site yoga sessions) but notes that Patagonia's philosophy – acknowledging that making clothes inherently causes adverse environmental impacts, while doing everything possible to minimize harm – is not only profitable today but designed to keep the company in business for a long time. Says CEO Casey Sheehan: "There's no profit to be made on a dead planet."

Patagonia's environmental commitment goes well beyond its business practices. The company has a grants program that supports advocacy groups (including EWG) and sponsors a semi-annual conference that teaches campaign skills to activists (at which I've been a workshop leader). Still not green enough for you? The company will pay the fine of any employee who is arrested for participating in environmental protests, and donates climbing gear to The Ruckus Society, an Oakland-based organization that trains environmentalists and others in non-violent direct action. Not just sustainable, not just activist, but radical – it's a business model we need more of.