Sustainability has many forms, though preserving the environment and avoiding waste are always at its core. We spoke to industry players on their different (green) visions in context of our brand new FITS & FABRICS Issue. Here, Mihela Hladin Wolfe, environmental and social initiatives manager at Patagonia, discusses the standards of sustainability and how Patagonia campaigns for it.
What does sustainability actually mean?
Sustainability stands for protection and preservation of the environment. It is the reason we’re in business and every day’s work and at Patagonia, it isn’t what we do after hours. We believe the environmental crisis has reached a critical tipping point. Without commitments to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, defend clean water and air, and divest from dirty technologies, humankind as a whole will destroy our planet’s ability to repair itself.
How does your company engage itself in sustainability?
Our mission is to build the best product, cause no unnecessary harm, use business to inspire and implement solutions to the environmental crisis. Patagonia grew out of a small company that made tools for climbers. Alpinism remains at the heart of a worldwide business that still makes clothes for climbing – as well as for skiing, snowboarding, surfing, fly fishing, and trail running. These are all silent sports. None requires a motor; none delivers the cheers of a crowd. In each sport, the reward comes in the form of hard-won grace and moments of connection between us and nature. Our values reflect those of a business started by a band of climbers and surfers and the minimalist style they promoted. The approach we take towards product design demonstrates a bias for simplicity and utility. For us at Patagonia, a love of wild and beautiful places demands participation in the fight to save them, and to help reverse the steep decline in the overall environmental health of our planet. We donate our time, services and at least one percent of our sales to hundreds of grassroots environmental groups all over the world who work to help reverse the tide. We know that our business activity – from lighting stores to dyeing shirts – creates pollution as a by-product. The categories of our work include: Reducing the environmental impact of our company and supply chain, supporting grassroots activists by paying an Earth Tax, using our company voice to advocate for systemic change, empowering our customers by making quality products that can be repaired, supporting regenerative practices in ranching and agriculture and envisioning a new approach to business.
Staying true to our core values during 40 years in business has helped us create a company we're proud to run and work for. And our focus on making the best products possible has brought us success in the marketplace.
Does it need more laws or government influence to establish sustainable production - if yes, how?
As a business, we are in the early stages of learning how what we do for a living both threatens nature and fails to meet our deepest human needs. The impoverishment of our world and the devaluing of the priceless undermine our physical and economic well-being. Yet the depth and breadth of technological innovation of the past few decades show that we have not lost our most useful gifts; humans are ingenious, adaptive, and clever. We also have moral capacity, compassion for life, and an appetite for justice. We now need to more fully utilize these gifts on all levels – from citizens, businesses, and governments - to make economic life more socially and environmentally responsible, and less destructive to nature and the commons that sustain us.
What are the "minimum" standards (certifications, sustainably produced materials, productive techniques, etc...) that sustainable textiles should have?
One of the most responsible things we can do as a company is to make high-quality stuff that lasts for years and can be repaired, so you don’t have to buy more of it. We co-founded The Sustainable Apparel Coalition (SAC) in 2009 with a vision to join an apparel, footwear and home textiles industry that produces no unnecessary environmental harm and has a positive impact on the people and communities associated with its activities. The goals of the SAC coalition for 2020 are for The Higg Index to be adopted worldwide as the trusted, industry standard tool for measuring and improving sustainability in our supply chains. Companies and people at every step of design, production, and distribution take full accountability for environmental and social impacts and consumers use the Higg Index to evaluate and influence the product choices they make.
How can the consumer be better engaged and educated when it comes to buying a sustainable product?
As individual consumers, the single best thing we can do for the planet is to keep our stuff in use longer. This simple act of extending the life of our garments through proper care and repair reduces the need to buy more over time—thereby avoiding the CO2 emissions, waste output and water usage required to build it.