Patagonia's environmental mission hasn't just been good for the planet - it's also boosted the bottom line

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patagonia hatsAP Photo/Bebeto Matthews

  • Outdoor apparel company Patagonia's new mission is "We're in business to save the planet."
  • Its founder Yvon Chouinard has dedicated the company to environmental causes from the beginning, and they have attracted both customers and employees.
  • The new mission bolsters existing initiatives overseen by CEO Rose Marcario, who has quadrupled revenues over her 10-year tenure.
  • This article is part of Business Insider's ongoing series on Better Capitalism.

When Yvon Chouinard founded his outdoor apparel company Patagonia in 1973, he wanted to build a business that attracted people who shared his interest in exploring and protecting nature.

In 1986, he committed either 1% of sales or 10% of profits, whichever was greater, to environmental activism, and in 1996, he had Patagonia switch to only organic cotton.

Patagonia was always ahead of corporate social responsibility trends. Now, we live in a time where consumers and employees both demand more from the companies they support and work for, and are savvier about seeing through advertising. So, to stay true to form, Chouinard, as chairman, decided to take his company's commitment further, and in December declared that its new mission would read: "We're in business to save the planet."

While it is public now, Patagonia has spent the past year moving toward this mission, to ensure it's more than just a slogan managers can repeat at meetings.

CEO Rose Marcario is fully aligned with Chouinard's vision. This fall, she dedicated Patagonia's $10 million in tax cuts to environmental charities in protest of Trump's tax bill and supported two US senate candidates on account of their conservation stances.

Earlier this year, Chouinard decided that, "Whenever we have a job opening, all things being equal, hire the person who's committed to saving the planet no matter what the job is," he told Fast Company.

The mission realignment is also streamlining its focus on which foundations it supports, homing in on those that are taking a big picture outlook on, as stated in its new mission statement, addressing "the causes, and not just the symptoms, of global warming."

This would all seem more primed for a nonprofit than a business, if it were not for the fact that taking these public positions has boosted sales.

Over Marcario's 10-year tenure, Patagonia's revenues have quadrupled, according to Fast Company, and during this time she has taken Chouinard's vision to new levels through sustainability and activism programs. The nonprofit B Lab grants B Corp certification (the B stands for "benefit") to companies that have aligned their missions to the benefit of employees, customers, communities, and the environment, and in the last seven years, its rating has increased by 41%, making it by far one of the highest rated B Corps of the 2,600 around the world.

Patagonia has proven that it can draw in new customers by taking stances millions of consumers are passionate about, and these stances in turn attract talent that further ingrain this approach.

As a company that caters to lovers of the outdoors, Patagonia is, of course, in an unusually beneficial position to link its business goals with environmental ones.

"Staying true to our core values during forty-plus years in business has helped us create a company we're proud to run and work for," its new mission statement reads. To stay in business for at least forty more, we must defend the place we all call home."

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