In 2005, Patagonia launched the Common Threads Recycling Program. The goal was to reduce the number of products Patagonia customers purchased through a two-fold effort.
The first part was to encourage customers to fix damaged clothing. Patagonia began publishing do-it-yourself repair guides to assist customers in repairing their clothing. To provide an alternative for customers who were unable or unwilling to repair their clothing themselves, Patagonia charged an affordable fee to have garments shipped to their repair facility.
The second aspect of the Common Threads program was to create a second-hand market for Patagonia garments that did not fit or that were no longer worn.
Patagonia collaborated with eBay to develop a storefront and also created an online marketplace on its main website. Patagonia also offered to cover the shipping costs for garments that were beyond repair, which Patagonia would then break down and repurpose. To promote its Common Threads initiative, Patagonia created “Worn Wear,” a program that highlights thousands of videos and pictures from customers around the globe who treasure their worn, patched-up Patagonia garments with pride. While most companies would encourage customers to repeat their purchases, Patagonia prides itself and its customers on waste-free purchases.
Patagonia’s next step was to launch a campaign in 2011 to dissuade customers from purchasing clothing that they did not really need. On the busiest weekend for retailers in the US, a 2011 New York Times ad from Patagonia featured a picture of one of Patagonia’s highest grossing fleece jackets below the words: “DON’T BUY THIS JACKET.” Underneath was a detailed description that defended Patagonia’s rationale based on the negative environmental impacts caused by consumerism.
Despite Patagonia’s efforts, sales increased by approximately 30% in the nine months following the ad. The case concludes with the business dilemma facing Chouinard: What should Patagonia do?
The specific learning objectives can be summarized as follows:
- Distinguish sustainability innovation from traditional innovation.
- Build a framework for the different levels of sustainability innovation.
- Emphasize that sustainability is an ever-evolving journey.
- Prioritize sustainability objectives over profitability.
- Explore whether a company can include a challenge to consumerism in its sustainability strategy and remain profitable.