Many consumer goods companies have environmental initiatives. Think of Dell’s e-waste recycling program, for example. Or P&G’s commitment to 100 percent renewable energy. Or the Chevy Volt, even.
But, as laudable as these are, you might argue that they are secondary to a larger problem. All these companies still want us to buy more products. If a consumer goods company truly wanted to be sustainable, they might suggest that we consume a little less, or at least price their goods at a cost that reflects their true impact.
Which is a crazy idea, of course. What company would ask us to consume less of their things, and make their stuff deliberately more expensive?
Patagonia, for one. The Californian apparel company last month launched an initiative encouraging their customers to reduce, repair, reuse, and recycle their clothing and equipment. Their ad even features the line: “Reduce what you buy,” in bold caps, much like something out of an anti-capitalism rally.
"We realized that what was really needed was a mutual responsibility between company and customer for the full lifecycle of stuff," Rick Ridgeway, Patagonia’s environment VP. "So we would try to reduce the amount of stuff that people buy, fixing products if they were broken, and asking people to clean out their garages and closets, so that if you have clothes you are no longer using, you put them back into circulation."
As part of its Common Threads scheme, Patagonia offers to repair its clothes (for a “reasonable” fee) on a 10-day turnaround. It also will help you sell its clothes via an eBay channel or at Patagonia.com.
Specifically, Ridgeway points to analysis showing that humanity currently uses natural resources 1.4 times the rate at which the earth can restore them.
"The main thing is that we’re trying to get people to wake up, and we have a lot of loyal customers who appreciate our willingness to initiate dialogue like this," he says.
"We want to challenge other businesses too. The fundamental assumption that we can continue on a growth economy is flawed in the long term. We need to start talking about what we are going to do about it.”
"We don’t want to criticize people. We want to ask them to start thinking about their business practices and create a dialogue. All apparel companies have to ask where they are going to be in five, 10, 20 years’ time, when the natural resources of this planet are in increasingly critical condition."