By Marco Passoni
Sustainability has been the hot topic for many brands in the last couple of years – and rightly so. As shoppers become more demanding, all brands are working hard to prove they are leaders in this field.
This means that every few days there is a new “ground-breaking” announcement from a brand looking to prove it is leading the way in making the world better as well as running its business.
Often these announcements are nowhere near as big as they claim to be and the moves are, in some cases, just window dressing to get easy PR. But Patagonia has now changed the game.
The brand has previous for making landmark statements on sustainability. In 2011, it ran a full page advert in the New York Times urging shoppers “Don’t buy this jacket”, as it called on them to only buy what they need in the battle against fast fashion and waste.
But last week, in a stunning twist, Patagonia’s billionaire founder and owner Yvon Chouinard gave the company away to a charitable trust which will invest any profit into fighting climate change.
He declared “Earth is now our only shareholder”.
This move does not just lay down a gauntlet to other brands, it sets a bar for sustainability and corporate responsibility claims – and it is a bar that many cannot match. Across the world now, companies who call themselves leaders in these fields have to re-address their efforts and ask one simple question: Are we doing all we can?
The game has changed now. Packaging which is more recyclable is no longer innovative and using recycled plastic or removing cellophane no longer counts as leadership. For a long time we have all been saying that shoppers are more informed than ever before and are expecting more from brands. So many companies have talked about having ESG at the centre of their identity and plans. Now we will see who is just talk.
But Patagonia’s move does not just change what people might expect from brands, it changes how they might expect it to be done.
One of the biggest debates over making brands, especially fashion brands, more sustainable is cost. Many point to the added cost of sustainability and the need to pass that onto the consumers.
Companies which call themselves leaders in sustainability must nowre-address their efforts and ask one simple question: Are we doing all we can?
That debate will not hold up any longer. Shoppers will rightly argue that brands which push up prices in the name of sustainability and then announce huge profits are not doing their bit for the cause.
Shoppers have already started demanding transparency from brands and now they have a high bar to measure that up against. But brands should also be doing this themselves. All companies can look to this move – and not all can or should copy it – but all must ask not “what can we get away with doing?” but “what is the most we can do?”
Once you have an honest answer to that it is time to make it happen or shut up and face the consequences.