Patagonia launches ‘survival mission’ in bid to remodel consumerism

Patagonia is set to explore whether it can survive in a "responsible economy" whereby mass consumption is drastically reduced as society begins to operate within tighter resource limits.

Calling it “the most ambitious and important endeavour we have ever undertaken”, the company’s founder Yvon Chouinard revealed that over the next two years Patagonia would seek to refine its business model in preparation for this scenario.

“Our other environmental campaigns have addressed travesties such as the depletion of the oceans, pollution of water, and obstacles to migration paths for animals. But these are all symptoms of a far bigger problem – the ‘Responsible Economy Campaign’ addresses the core,” Chouinard wrote in his latest blog.

As well as crowdsourcing ideas around more sustainable consumption, the clothing company will look to discover where responsible economies are most likely to emerge, dismissing any “pie-in-the-sky theories” in favour of real-life examples.

“We’re going to feel our way into how this question affects how we do business. Can Patagonia survive in a responsible economy?” Chouinard questioned.

He argued that growing demand for cheap and disposable goods was skewing the global economy, ultimately making it unsustainable, and that a new economic model was urgently needed.

“The sad truth is that the world economy revolves around our consumption. The stock markets rise and dip according to the level of consumer confidence. And while we work harder and harder to get more of what we don’t need, we lay waste to the natural world.”

Patagonia is widely considered as one of the most genuinely environmentally aware brands – over the past 20 years, it has worked hard to behave more responsibly through hard-hitting consumer-facing campaigns such as ‘Buy Less’. However, Chouinard acknowledged that much more needed to be done.

“Making things in a more responsible way is a good start, and many companies like us have started doing that, but in the end we will not have a sustainable economy unless we consume less. However, economists tell us that would cause the economy to crash.

“I think we at Patagonia are mandated … to face the question of growth, both by bringing it up and by looking at our own situation as a business fully ensnared in the global industrial economy. I personally don’t have the answers,” he admitted.

That said, Chouinard believes economic growth is still necessary. “You do not need a zero-growth economy. What we are reaching toward is an economy that does not rely on insatiable consumerism as its engine.”

Maxine Perella

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