Patagonia is making tremendous strides to be a leader in sustainability. I think they serve as good model for other companies in terms of making sustainable choices, while still being a large, profit-driven company. The Women’s R3 Yulex front-zip full suit shows the work they have done to make it environmentally conscious, but also shows that there is more work that can be done. One issue with this product, and many Patagonia products, is the high price. Listed at $489, this product shows that sustainability comes at a cost and may not be accessible to everyone. Overall, Patagonia seems to be a sustainable company doing great work, but they are not perfect and can make some changes to be even better.
I was able to find that this wet suit uses rubber with 85% being Yulex natural rubber and 15% synthetic rubber on the interior. The fabric on the exterior of the wet suit is made of 85% recycled polyester and 15% spandex. Yulex natural rubber, which is a renewable resource. Natural rubber is obtained through tapping the sap from hevea trees. The issue with hevea is that it is a cash crop. A cash crop is a crop grown for profits and have negative environmental impacts due to wanting to produce more of it. In Southeast Asia land the size of Vermont and Massachusetts were cleared to plant hevea. Patagonia partnered with the Forest Stewardship Council to ensure that the rubber they get is from a sustainable source. They also use recycled polyester to make the exterior part of the wetsuit. Polyester is made from petroleum so by using recycled polyester they are extending the life cycle of already in use goods. Patagonia acknowledges that spandex is not a sustainable material and they are looking at a replacement for it. Patagonia says that finding a replacement is difficult since spandex is essential to the wetsuit so instead they are focusing on the sustainability of materials that make up a larger percentage of their product.
On the website, Patagonia admits that they don’t own the factories that make their products, and have limited control over those working conditions. They also state that apparel workers are among the lowest paid people in the world. To combat this, they have made 82% of their products this season Fair Trade Certified. Essentially, Patagonia pays extra for the Fair Trade Certified label to be put on their clothes. The money they pay for this label goes to the factory where collectively workers decide how to spend the money. This could be for programs in the community or to buy needed items. In making this product, solution dyeing is used to get the desired color. The alternative to this is batch-dyeing, which uses a lot of water and energy, and also produces waste and CO2 emissions. Solution dyeing means that color is added to molten plastic before making the fiber. The yarn is created in a specific color, which is a more sustainable process that the yarn being produced and then dyed. The website says that by using solution dying, there is up to a 90% reduction in water usage, and 96% CO2 savings. Only a small amount of all Patagonia products has been switched to this method, and it can only be applied to synthetic fibers. They provide a list on their website of the 64 factories, farms, and mills that they use, and this product is made in Thailand. The factory is the SHIECO Thailand Company sewing factory, and specializes in making water sports apparel. Patagonia says that all suppliers must meet Patagonia’s standards for business, quality, environmental and social standards, but when I visited the SHIECO website I was unable to find the same information.
Patagonia has multiple programs to promote sustainability and fight for social justice. They also recognize the issues of each material and processes they require, and they are working towards finding solutions to these issues either through new technology or by finding a replacement material. Patagonia also has a program called Worn Wear. This is a site where you can buy used products, trade in your Patagonia products or get the gear you have fixed. The website states that buying used will extend the life of the product by two years, which cuts the carbon, waste and water footprint of the product by 73% since it is not going to waste and a new product is not purchased. This program is important to promote the reuse of goods. Patagonia has offices around the world, two distribution centers and more than 70 stores also around the world. They use 100% renewable electricity in the US and 76% renewables in the rest of the world. Their total scope 1 and 2 emissions were 5,186 metric tons of CO2 in 2020. What they do not provide is their scope 3 emissions. These emissions come from indirect usage of their products and account for the highest emissions of the three scopes. I am not sure if they didn’t disclose this information because its hard to calculate or they do not want to provide such a large number. Overall, I think Patagonia displays good sustainability values, and is working to make their products and company even more sustainable.