Patagonia: An Activist-Minded Company

At the final stage of writing the manuscript of Terhi Koipijärvi’s and my coming book Yritysvastuu – Johtamisen uusi normaali (an unofficial translation: Corporate Responsibility – The New Normal of Leadership) I got a chance to interview Mihela Hladin, Environment and Social Initiatives Manager of Patagonia Europe. When I cycled to their office in Amsterdam, I was more than excited: I’d meet a thinker from a company that has concretized the vision of doing business I’ve cherished since my studies in late 1980s. Patagonia’s mission statement Build the best product, cause no unnecessary harm, use business to inspire and implement solutions to the environmental crisis has remained the same since 1990s, which proves the company’s pioneering role in shaping industrial behaviour.

The Patagonia office at Amsterdam’s Jollemanhof is under renovation. More office space is needed because the company has grown fast during the past couple of years. But Milena finds us a nice and peaceful meeting space, and we are ready to start.

Patagonia is, without doubt, one of the iconic companies when it comes to sustainability. Is it already above all the criticism from its stakeholders?

– We are a private company, which means that we do what we think it’s the right thing for the Planet. But we are of course under continuous scrutiny.

The forerunners are expected to look for and find new solutions. The pressure comes from outside but from inside, as well. But it only increases motivation and creativity:

– Patagonia is indeed an activist company. This is deeply rooted in our culture. But it doesn’t mean that our staff would only go out to protest and march on a regular basis. Instead, it means that our people have a constant curiosity on how to live up with the company’s mission statement and are willing to go an extra mile to find a solution where it didn’t exist before.

Patagonia exist to change the world and the way companies act as members of a society. It has a rocking attitude to business, and a philosophy like an NGO, so why not to be one?

– As a company, we generate our own income, and with that money, we can support environmental organizations, and develop more environmentally sound products. Being a business that combines responsibility and good business has a different appeal to other businesses then being an NGO. We continue challenging the notion of that business is threatened by advanced environmental innovation and responsibility that goes beyond profit for shareholder.

To be independent with funding means that Patagonia do not need to compromise with anybody else’s agenda.

– If we were just a campaigning organization hardly anybody would take us seriously. Now, our leverage and credibility are much higher. We can keep on challenging others and pushing the boundaries of a sustainable business conduct.

Patagonia has proved its approach successful, both economically and sustainably. It has proved that sustainable business is more than business as usual: with the environmental crisis our world is in today, it should become a new normal.