Practical insights for compliance and ethics professionals and commentary on the intersection of compliance and culture.

Patagonia’s social responsibility and targeted political engagement as corporate values

The famous outdoor industry retailer Patagonia has a bold and defining mission statement: “Build the best product, cause no unnecessary harm, use business to inspire and implement solutions to the environmental crisis.” In this, a company which makes its profits off selling products to people who wish to explore and enjoy the outdoors has linked its strategy, growth, and indeed reason for existing, to respecting and protecting that environment. Patagonia’s reputation has been cultivated in the public eye to carefully coincide with this intention.

In recent times, however, Patagonia has grown much more quickly than its previously modest expectations, pursuing revenues wherever consumer demand takes the company and stepping up their competition. This has been driven largely by the fact that consumers who have an affinity for the environment and its protection also, logically, are interested in driving their spending power toward companies that they feel share this value. Millennial customers are highly motivated by companies which model social, cultural, and, especially relevant in the case of Patagonia, environmental values. With the vast array of consumer choices that the retail industry offers, both in products and in outlets to purchase these products, cheapest price or easiest availability is no longer the only or the loudest driver of buying power.

Patagonia has hereby achieved the special mix of corporate ambition and conscience. The company is not just an outdoors products retailer, though it still may be thought of as that by many. Instead, it has grown into a green venture capital fund, a food producer, book and film publisher, and a political activism organization that is willing to take on the US government on environmental protection and conservation causes.

Being a company that believes in something, and being rewarded with consumer loyalty, interest, and purchasing power for it, is a powerful message for compliance programs. Creating a serious, genuine corporate image based on values and then selling that image to customers as much as any other product is a huge ambition and a dynamic identity for the organization. Companies must develop corporate cultures which drive what they do with a specificity beyond pursuing sales and dominating product markets. They must recruit leaders who embody this, reinforce this honestly with their employees, and offer integrity in this message to the consumers who will trust them with their loyalty in return.

Hereby, companies such as Patagonia can become not only revenue leaders in their industries but also corporate role models to their peers and competitors. While seeking to directly motivate positive change at the publicly traded titans of industry may be biting off too much to chew, organizations can grow themselves strategically so that their own corporate impact is bigger and better.

In Patagonia’s case, relying on direct-to-consumer business via their own stores and website means that they can take their growth and values ambitions directly to their customers and feed-forward based upon the reception they receive. This is a powerful engagement opportunity for a brand and building a political and social consciousness that is informed by it means that the company can shape itself into the type of organization its customers admire and with which they want to be associated. While Patagonia cannot force political action or change at the highest level on its own, as a company it can be forward-looking and progressive in a time when its consumers appreciate and desire these values. Hopefully, Patagonia can also be an example to other companies to raise the competitive standard for corporate cultures and relevant, genuine social responsibility as a core business value. If that is effectively accomplished, then productive change for the collective can be well within reach.

For more about the power of Patagonia’s corporate social conscious, check out Abe Streep’s story on Outside Online.

Leave a Reply