Patagonia’s Rick Ridgeway Says the Real Message of Transparency Is: We’re All In This Together

Posted on 22. Sep, 2010 by in Business & Policy, Design & Culture, Entrepreneurship, Interviews

Read an excerpt from our interview with Rick Ridgeway, vice president of environmental programs and communication at Patagonia. He talks about how sharing ideas—even with competitors—has helped his company stay at the forefront of the corporate sustainability movement:

When we have an opportunity to inspire other businesses to learn from us, it’s in our best interests to take it, even if on first glance it looks like a potential disadvantage to the business. Here’s an example: About five years ago, Walmart came to us and asked us to share our knowledge about using organic cotton. We’ve been committed to using only organic cotton since 1996, and Walmart wanted to introduce a percentage of it in their products.

At first, there was a pause within our company because, at that time, organically grown cotton was a major differentiator for us in the marketplace. We knew that if Walmart started using it, that differentiation would disappear. On the other hand, Walmart has a pretty major influence in its supply chain, so the upside of getting more farmers to start using organic techniques was huge. So, we shared our knowledge, and Walmart is now the biggest user of organic cotton in the world.

We’re proud of the difference we made, but it did take away something that made our products unique. A situation like that forces us to come up with new initiatives to keep our company out in the lead. The first thing we did was start working on technologies to recycle the synthetic fibers in our clothes in a closed loop. We ramped up those efforts and introduced something that hadn’t existed in the marketplace before. We encouraged our customers to bring in their worn-out clothes so that they could be truly upcycled in a process that captures the petroleum used to make the fibers in a closed loop, and also reduces the energy consumption to make new products by nearly 75%.

It’s an ongoing process and a challenge that never ends. We want companies to follow our lead, and that pushes us forward to the next thing. We’re proud of the change we’ve inspired, and our customers continue to reward us for staying out at the vanguard.

We also inspire other businesses in the way we report on our sustainability efforts, a sitelet on our website called The Footprint Chronicles. Customers can track our products through their life cycle, from design to warehouse delivery to the stores where they are sold. We profile our suppliers in stories, slideshows and videos, and we share both the good and the bad; what works and what doesn’t work. That’s a new concept for most businesses, but we’re beginning to see a shift toward more transparency.

To us, it makes so much more sense than a traditional CSR report. The stories and videos put a face on our supply chain and show customers that these are real human beings trying to do their jobs in a responsible way, and everything isn’t perfect. That’s the key—to not just tell stories, but to tell them fully and honestly, the good and the bad.

That shifts the conversation and sends an important message: We’re all in this together. We’ve got to figure this out together. That’s the real message of transparency.

Written by AHA! for Opportunity Green.

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2 Responses to “Patagonia’s Rick Ridgeway Says the Real Message of Transparency Is: We’re All In This Together”

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    06. Oct, 2012

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    16. Oct, 2012

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