I would like to focus on the opportunities to build more responsible supply chains by shifting consumer demand, focusing on enhanced brand reputations, and scaling up positive impact through industry collaboration. Let's take a look.
Mr. Chouinard believes that consumers have the power to force change - and "start being citizens" - by voting with their dollar. He also believes "fashion is a very powerful force." Consumers could help make irresponsible behavior unfashionable.
Unfortunately, consumers are neither making responsible production practices a priority nor fully understanding the issues and possible solutions. Patagonia does not wait for their customers to lead the way - they are way ahead of the consumers. Mr. Chouinard shared that "saving the planet" was ranked number 41 in a recent poll of U.S. citizens' concerns, quite a contrast to the company whose mission statement says, "[b]uild the best product, cause no unnecessary harm, use business to inspire and implement solutions to the environmental crisis."
Mr. Chouinard views the new millennium generation, consisting of 13 to 20 year olds, as being very different. They have enough information about the state of the planet to be concerned. They will demand authenticity and can see through fake efforts. They have a significant ability to shame or reward brands through social media.
Without pressure from consumers most brands are unlikely to take it upon themselves to understand and lessen their impacts in meaningful and authentic ways. Patagonia is not like most brands. Mr. Makower noted that Patagonia has built a relationship with customers that other brands have not achieved. And, even more favorably, Mr. Makower observed that authenticity is a term closely associated with Patagonia, while other brands suffer from consumer distrust.
Patagonia hardly advertises. Yet they are a coveted brand and enjoyed a 25 to 30 percent growth each year during the recession while other brands struggled. Patagonia provides a perfect example of what I have been promoting for quite some time: communicate to consumers (and other stakeholders) at the brand level - not at the product level. A brand name holds the most value for any company, not individual product names.
I believe that while sustainability can strengthen the brand (consumers will want to support a responsible brand), it will not sell products. The fit, fashion, color, and, yes, cost will. Take Patagonia. If you see that name on a shirt, jacket or wetsuit, you know it was produced responsibly without needing any additional product-specific detail. Because that is what Patagonia does, as a brand and an organization: ensure that all products are produced responsibly.
Even the most progressive and responsible companies cannot change entire industries. Mr. Chouinard shared that Patagonia was instrumental in helping WalMart, an unlikely partner, convene apparel companies in an effort that led to what is now the Sustainable Apparel Coalition. The Coalition consists of over 60 companies representing 35 to 40 percent of the world's apparel and footwear makers, along with other stakeholders. The Coalition has even developed a common performance index to align industry members' efforts on agreed upon priorities.
If we wish to scale up change we will need to collaborate with likeminded companies to leverage resources, establish and drive common priorities in the supply chain, and measure and communicate progress using consistent metrics.
Collective, consistent, and committed action is needed at all levels. Consumers must send clear messages that they demand responsible products. Brands must take responsibility and use their influence to drive sustainability down their supply chains. Industry can drive change across entire sectors efficiently and consistently.