A couple weeks ago, while in Southern California for the Westdoc Documentary Conference, I was lucky enough to get a private tour of Patagonia Headquarters in Ventura, California. Although I've never actually worn anything made by Patagonia, the tour turned me into a huge fan of the company. I admire the way they treat their employees, their commitment to making ethical products, and their dedication to a larger social mission.
The first room I saw at the sunny, breezy HQ was quite literally a surfboard library, where any employee could just grab a board and return it at their earliest convenience. They had the same thing for bicycles. There were child care facilities, a beach volleyball courts, electric-car chargers, and a refrigerator stocked with organic, local produce for employees to purchase at subsidized prices.
As I walked through the company's product design offices, color research lab, and eventually the retail store, I noticed a common thread. There were posters, programs, and signs everywhere reminding employees, customers, and suppliers that Patagonia does not simply exist to make money. It exists to make money AND help tackle the global environmental crisis.
The Patagonia mission, in fact, is carved in wood on top of the door frame that greets everyone that walks into their offices:
Patagonia is pursuing what is known as a "Double Bottom Line," doing well (financially) and doing good (socially). They have registered as a B-Corp, a new movement and legal status for companies that want to be known for something more than just their commitment to profit. They have created metrics for ensuring make their products are made ethically and sustainably. They have a long laundry list of impressive environmental initiatives that are affecting real change.
I believe that this model is the key to answering many of the challenges we face as a society. The private sector typically addresses only market-driven problems. Government is overly bureaucratic, slow, and nationalistic by nature. Philanthropy does not often think about self-sufficiency and scale. I think business may hold the key to making sweeping global changes. I, for one, am really inspired by this idea. I am also now the proud owner of a new orange, down Patagonia jacket.