With 83% of its line Fair Trade Certified, Patagonia boasts more Fair Trade style offerings than any other apparel brand. This is an impressive accomplishment and Patagonia is a well established brand that is always motivated to implement better practices. For example, it is finding alternative fibers to use such as recycled cotton to help reduce its environmental impacts as well. Furthermore, Patagonia has a Worn Wear program that works to extend the life of its clothing and reduce waste. Notably, it has pledged to give “1% of sales to the preservation and restoration of the natural environment.” Undeniably, Patagonia is effectuating sustainable practices that are benefiting our planet. However, Patagonia can and must do better. I expect its goals to be reality in the near future.
The Responsibili-Tee is 100% recycled, made of “4.8 plastic bottles and 0.3 pounds of cotton scrap.” The recycled cotton in this shirt is made from scrap that is collected from Patagonia’s factory floors. One pound of conventional cotton requires around 173 gallons of water to produce whereas the recycled cotton requires 96% less water. Not only does recycled cotton drastically reduce water use, but also saves 70% of CO2 emissions compared to conventional cotton. By utilizing recycled cotton, Patagonia is able to not only extend the lifespan of the fiber but also conserves environmental resources that are required to grow conventional cotton. All this considered, I would say this shirt is made with one thing in mind: sustainability. I find it incredible that Patagonia can create a t-shirt out of 100% recycled materials that appears like a normal t-shirt and comfortable.
Patagonia’s supply chains first collect pre-consumer scraps that are directly from the sewing factories, certifying that the cotton collected meets its quality standards. The fibers are then shredded and re-spun into yarn. The recycled cotton is often blended with recycled polyester. This helps extend the fibers’ length so that they can be used for clothing products. Patagonia has initiated a Supply Chain Environmental Responsibility Program that rigorously measures and reduces manufacturing impacts. The program employs tools namely the Higg Index as well as third party certifications that are used to uphold suppliers to high standards. Suppliers are encouraged to advance leading environmental responsible practices. Patagonia also initiated a Material Traceability Program to “ensure a strong chain of custody guidelines for our suppliers.” Patagonia also pledges to be carbon neutral by 2025, including its supply chain.
While Patagonia is implementing many environmentally beneficial programs, I am wary about how impactful they are considering that Patagonia does not directly control its suppliers. I think Patagonia has good intentions, but that these intentions must be paired with more immediately apparent action and results. For instance, Patagonia’s owned and operated facilities only contribute to 3% of its total footprint and is run with 100 percent renewable electricity in the United States. If these stringent standards were enforced across all of its suppliers, Patagonia could vastly benefit the environment. Patagonia acknowledges that it may have to change its behaviors in order to achieve its goal of becoming zero waste, but once again, I expect a store that prominently vocalizes its sustainability to act to achieve its goals immediately.
On its website, Patagonia allows consumers to track each factory, farm, and mill it operates. This transparency is great for consumers who want to investigate where their specific products are made. However, Patagonia does not make its products or own any of the factories that do. This complicates the amount of control the company has over reducing the social harm its manufacturers and suppliers create. In order to hold these suppliers accountable, Patagonia enforces high environmental and social standards, “lean[ing] on industry tools and standards to manage this process, and when rigorous enough standards don’t exist, create them.” This has led Patagonia to develop a robust social responsibility program to help benefit workers who have a role in creating Patagonia’s products. One such is Fair Trade, which allows Patagonia to tangibly benefit its workers’ lives. In fact, Patagonia offers “more Fair Trade Certified sewn styles than any other apparel brand.” This program has helped over 72,000 workers in 10 countries, as the premium that Patagonia pays for products that carry the Fair Trade Certified sewn label goes directly to factory workers who are able to determine how it’s spent. The Fair Trade program helps ensure worker health and safety are protected while simultaneously making sure suppliers are compliant with social and environmental standards.
Patagonia has also implemented its Living Wage Program, acknowledging the importance of fair pay for its employees so that they can “afford a decent standard of living.” The importance of this has been heightened even more in light of COVID, as so many workers either suffered from reduced pay or job loss. Patagonia understands that living wages are a basic human right. After performing its own research, Patagonia announced it is in line with the Global Living Wage Coalitions’s definition for a living wage and now utilizes the Anker Methodology that allows it to estimate and compare wages amongst variant countries while also taking into consideration local costs. Patagonia discusses on its website that it particularly supports this approach because of its reliance on transparency and research making it a solid and credible benchmark. The benchmarks that GLWC has developed are “included in the Fair Labor Association’s fair compensation and living wage dashboard, which Patagonia helped to develop.” I appreciate Patagonia’s active efforts to advance fair labor practices. Yet, in 2019 only 35% of Patagonia’s factories were paying workers a living wage. I think Patagonia must do better on this front. I appreciate that they are transparent about how they can be better, I just expect Patagonia to once again implement fixes to its acknowledged shortcomings.