Patagonia Has Set a New Precedent

By Joanna Fragopoulos

Patagonia embodies brand purpose. Now more than ever. The company's founder made the rare decision to transfer the ownership of the company to a trust and nonprofit organization, rather than sell it for a profit, as reported by the New York Times. The Times wrote that this was done to "ensure that all of its profits — some $100 million a year — are used to combat climate change and protect undeveloped land around the globe," though the company will still be run as a business.

Talk about putting your money where your mouth is. Yvon Chouinard, a revolutionary in the sustainability field within the retail industry, did this to "save the planet," telling the newspaper, "Hopefully this will influence a new form of capitalism that doesn't end up with a few rich people and a bunch of poor people. We are going to give away the maximum amount of money to people who are actively working on saving this planet."

This action sets a significant precedent when it comes to sustainability — and the decisions companies will have to make when it comes to combating climate change. Hopefully, this will create a ripple effect within the industry and inspire companies to think big — and outside the box when it comes to dedicated efforts, resources, and financial backing. It's one thing to make cutesy PSAs and campaigns, but it's another to set aside tremendous resources, as brands should, to make a real change. Redistributing wealth and resources should be an integral part of the strategy and conversation.

Ryan Gellert, Patagonia's CEO, also stated that Chouinard's two children felt "very strongly" about the decision, stating that "they really embody this notion that every billionaire is a policy failure."

Of course, this isn't the first time the company has tried to forge a path forward. For instance, in another avenue, Patagonia joined the Time to Vote movement, which advocated measures that ranged from "offering paid time off on Election Day to actively promoting initiatives such as early voting and vote-by-mail" in 2018. 

In an ANA B2B Marketer article, Corley Kenna, head of communications and policy at Patagonia, stressed the importance of doing good and promoting sustainability in a real way, not just through words: "Whether it's about climate change or how we build our products, we root our statements in facts and science, and we always try to make it easy for our community to act on an issue."

Chris Penny, the managing director of brand strategy at agency SSR, wrote about how to effectively embody brand purpose, writing for the ANA that actions speak louder than words: "Translate your learnings into quick wins and medium- to long-term changes to give consumers what they really want. This could be improvements to your products and services offering or acting on your values to demonstrate authenticity." 

Similarly, Dave Frankland, principal analyst of marketing at Insider Intelligence, stated that "lip service" is the worst thing a brand can do, explaining at an ANA event, "The biggest danger is lip service. You need to know who you are as a brand and start from there. There are things you could be sure your brand will get pulled into. Identify those issues and your stance and be ready. Doing that in advance makes making those decisions easier."

Frankland also added that risk is inevitable, and it's about making strategic choices. "You have to analyze risks. You're going to upset some people, but it has to come back to what we represent and what we stand for. Some companies do it better than others. Some companies are purpose-driven. For example, I love the outdoors, so I'm a big Patagonia buyer. I go out of my way to buy Patagonia and I'm willing to pay more for it because I believe in what they stand for." 

Don't forget to check out this episode of Beyond Profit, a podcast of the ANA Center for Brand Purpose, with Patagonia's director of philosophy, Vincent Stanley. 

Joanna Fragopoulos is a director of editorial and content development at ANA.

The views and opinions expressed in Industry Insights are solely those of the contributor and do not necessarily reflect the official position of the ANA or imply endorsement from the ANA.