On Friday, October 24th eighteen members of Pepperdine's Net Impact chapter were given the opportunity to visit clothing company Patagonia's campus in Ventura, CA and speak with CEO Casey Sheahan.
Upon arrival to the campus, it became apparent that this would not be a tour of a typical global company. Employees were dressed comfortably in outdoor apparel including fleece, tee shirts, work pants and climbing shoes. The facilities reminded me of the great outdoors rather than the headquarters of a company with over 1300 employees.
We were greeted by our eventual tour guide of the facility and former 11x frisbee world champ, Chipper Bro. From there we grabbed a quick bite to eat in the dining facility (a Sunrise breakfast sandwich and Honest Tea did it for me) and headed up to the company lecture room. Here we spoke with Director of Material Development and Advanced Concepts and Pepperdine Executive MBA, Tetsuya O'Hara. Mr. O'Hara gave us a quick overview of the company and the buidling in which we were located and introduced us to President and CEO, Casey Sheahan.
At this point I had little idea of what to expect. Our group barely filled the the first row of seats and Mr. Sheahan sat informally in front of us with two large powerpoint screens behind him and clicker in hand. He casually explained the goals of Patagonia through the company's mission statement:
Build the best product, cause no unnecessary harm, use business to inspire and implement solutions to the environmental crisis.Build the Best Product:
We began our discussion of how Patagonia accomplishes these goals with the state of the current economy and its affect on Patagonia and the clothing industry. Mr. Sheahan likened the current economic crisis to the Great Yellowstone Fire of 1988. During that time people were afraid that Yellowstone would not be able to recover, however the forest ended up growing back stronger than it was previously. The fire actually had a cleansing affect. More specifically, Mr Sheahan views the current state of the economy as an opportunity for smaller, strong companies to gain market share through offering the best product. Patagonia continues to grow through caplitalizing on the multi-channel growth of its wholsale, retail and internet businesses.
Cause no unnecessary harm:
The roots of Patagonia's goal to cause no unnecessary harm can be traced back to founder Yvon Chouniard's 1972 push for "Clean Climbing." The Chouinard Catalog called for climbers to discontinue their practice of hammering into rock in favor of using a solution that did not damage the face of the mountain. A timeline of Patagonia's major developments in this area is as follows:
1993 - Introduction of the use of Synchilla in clothing.
1996 - Organic Cotton is used in clothing.
2004 - Common Threads Garment Recycling Program
2005 - Recycled Polyester is used in clothing.
2006 - Development of the Regulator Wetsuit
2007 - Recycled Nylon 6 is used in clothing.
One of the key aspects of Patagonia's goal is that the company realizes that not all harm can be eliminated in the process of manufacturing apparel. Therefore, Patagonia strives to be as transparent as possible in the production process of its clothing. This lead to the Footprint Chronicles in which consumers can trace the clothing back to its original sources and catalog the environmental impact of products they consume, both good and bad.
Beyond informational campaigns, Patagonia has made significant investments in research and development and making sure its processes are inline with its mission statement. For example, the Reno Distribution facility is a LEED certified Building.
Implement solutions to the environmental crisis:
Apart from internal implementation, Patagonia also seeks to help its consumers do their part in addressing the environmental crisis. This is done primarily through the Patagonia website and the development of environmental campaigns. Currently, Patagonia is under the "Freedom to Roam" campaign which seeks to designate clear paths for wildlife to migrate.
Use business to inspire:
This aspect of Patagonia's mission statement is not one that can necessarily be highlighted in a Powerpoint. However, I believe it is a feeling that came over our entire group of MBA students that through business we have the power to create positive change. Through Patagonia's example we understand that the problems we will face as business leaders in the future will be immense, but by understanding our values and remaining "committed to the core" it is possible that we can make a difference.
first year & Net Impact member