Don't Buy This Jacket

patagonia logo

This was the headline on a full-page ad by Patagonia that appeared on Black Friday in the New York Tines (and I imagine other papers). It is not a spoof, but, rather, a reaction to the consumerist frenzy of Black Friday. You can see my earlier thoughts about Black Friday in a post of a few days ago. The ad started with this message:

It’s Black Friday, the day in the year retail turns from red to black and starts to make real money. But Black Friday, and the culture of consumption it reflects, puts the economy of natural systems that support all life firmly in the red. We’re now using the resources of one-and-a-half planets on our one and only planet.

Because Patagonia wants to be in business for a good long time — and leave a world inhabitable for our kids — we want to do the opposite of every other business today. We ask you to buy less and to reflect before you spend a dime on this jacket or anything else.

And ended with:

There is much to be done and plenty for us all to do. Don’t buy what you don’t need. Think twice before you buy anything. Go to patagonia.com/CommonThreads or scan the QR code below. Take the Common Threads Initiative pledge, and join us in the fifth “R,” to reimagine a world where we take only what nature can replace.

Patagonia has been a leader ever since the idea of greening businesses began. The company has a huge advantage over most companies in going green. It is privately held, mostly, if not entirely, by its founder, Yvon Chouinard. It can do whatever Chouinard wants without worrying about the impact on its stock price. He has been concerned about the environment even before he founded the company. Chouinard was a professional mountaineer who started making his own equipment and turned this into a very successful company.

I was reading the blog of Greenbiz as I do most everyday and saw a story about this ad. The reporter raised a question about the wisdom of their action.

That’s good environmental messaging. But is it good business for a company to urge people to buy less? Moreover, is there a disconnect between this ad and Patagonia’s own plans for grow, open new stores and mail out more catalogs?

I don’t know what Patagonia’s current business strategy is, but their first green move some years ago was to set a limit on the growth, close a few stores, and cut the number of items in their catalog. They hired a good friend of mine to create an environmental strategy. They were an early user of life cycle assessment to understand the impacts of their products. They were a pioneer in the use of organic cotton. The ad they ran has environmental impact information for the jacket they are telling us not to buy.

The stark headline doesn’t tell the whole story. The ad also says don’t buy this unless you really “need” it and have thought carefully about its environmental implications. If they didn’t want anybody to buy it, they would have simply withdrawn it from their line of jackets. Patagonia is still a business that must sell its goods to survive, but they are quite clear about how they want to earn the right to continue to operate. I continue to admire their stance and commitments. As my loyal readers know, I often rail about consumerism. Consumption, per se, is an integral part of the economic structure, is unavoidable, and has the positive side of creating jobs. Black Friday is a metaphor for consumerism, an ideology. Patagonia’s message is about a kind of consumption far from its related, runaway ideological manifestation. Messages like the one they sent out can contribute to the dimming of consumerism, a bad idea for humans and the environment, and return consumption to a process that is consciously and, hopefully, wisely practiced.

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