How Sustainable Is Patagonia? All You Need to Know

How Sustainable Is Patagonia? All You Need to Know

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Dennis Kamprad

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Active people like you are taking a serious look at your athletic wear since the apparel industry contributes 10% of global emissions and is the second biggest polluter of our environment. One outdoor apparel brand that is often talked about as being sustainable is Patagonia. So we had to ask: How sustainable is Patagonia?

Patagonia is more than a sustainable apparel company. They wear sustainability in everything they do. In fact, if all product manufacturers were doing as much good for the planet as Patagonia does, we would take a big step toward becoming a sustainable society.

Ok, we’ve already given you the overall summary of Patagonia’s sustainability. But there’s more to it. Let’s have a look at the whole life-cyle of their products, from production to usage to end-of-life. And at Patagonia’s involvement in sustainability-promoting organizations. But let’s get started with the big picture first.

Here’s How Sustainable Patagonia Is

The first thing you see when visiting Patagonia’s website is a message about living sustainably or how to help support our ecosystem. In fact, it took a minute to realize we were on an e-commerce site. But that’s okay. The menu quickly reminds us of their product offerings, including their used apparel.

Sustainable: The ability to be maintained at a certain rate or level | Avoidance of the depletion of natural resources in order to maintain an ecological balance”

Oxford Dictionary

To make sure Patagonia really is as sustainable as they say we need to look at their manufacturing and see if they are reducing their impact on the planet. We need to look at:

  • The information they share,
  • data they report to third parties for external review, 
  • their ratings and reviews, and 
  • what sustainable organizations they belong to. 

And to understand the sustainability of Patagonia, we must assess their products’ life-cycle and each stage’s sustainability. This life-cycle assessment (LCA) is a method to evaluate the environmental impacts of products and materials. Over the years, companies have strategically used LCA to research and create more sustainable products. So, let’s have a look at the LCA of Patagonia.

The product life-cycle stages Each stage’s sustainability
Production Materials: 87% of Patagonia apparel contains recycled material. Their organic cotton comes from regenerative farming practices. They’re using factory floor-cutting scraps for a number of their products.
Manufacturing: They require their supply chain to follow a strict Code of Conduct and they visit them to make sure. Over 80% of their sewing is done through Fair Trade and a higher percentage of workers make a living wage, as compared to other apparel companies.
Packaging: Patagonia promotes recycling of their plastic packaging used to protect garments during shipping. Their distribution center sends them to be turned into plastic lumber. 
Usage Lifespan: Patagonia products are considered slow fashion that lasts long. Their Worn Wear program extends the life of their apparel by two years.
Quality reviews: Overall reviews on the quality of their apparel is good. The durability and sustainability of their products has earned them a loyal customer base.
End-of-life Circularity: Patagonia promotes buying used and their Worn Wear program keeps refurbished and slightly imperfect apparel in their product offerings.
Recycling: They make every effort to reuse their textiles to make more products and avoid landfills.
Waste: Patagonia uses recycled textiles and factory floor cuttings in their products to avoid wasting materials.

How Sustainable Is the Production of Patagonia Products

To determine if Patagonia’s products are sustainable we have to look at how they are made. Are factory emissions monitored and actions taken to reduce them? Does Patagonia keep material waste at a minimum? Do they use non-toxic chemicals that don’t damage the environment? We need to know these to determine how sustainable Patagonia really is.

Patagonia goes out of their way to explain how they use eco-friendly materials and fight to reduce their manufacturing impact on the earth, even though they don’t have to share this information since they are not a publicly-traded company.

Patagonia is a privately held company so they aren’t required to share information on their manufacturing, but they do. 

When it comes down to transparency Patagonia is ranked well on the 2021 Fashion Transparency Index which gave them an overall transparency rating of 51-60% which is higher than the majority of fashion companies rated in this index compiled by Fashion Revolution. They also ranked 71-80% on their policy and commitment to sustainability.

How Sustainable Are the Materials That Patagonia Uses for Their Products

Most athletic and outdoor wear contain cotton, polyester, vinyl, nylon, rubber, and plastic. Cotton is the only one of these that doesn’t come from fossil fuels. So we need to look at what types of materials are used to make Patagonia’s apparel and how they source them.

Since 87% of Patagonia products are made with recycled materials, and they continue to improve on this and their transparent about it, it’s pretty easy to call them one of the most sustainable outdoor apparel brands when it comes to their materials.

What types of materials does Patagonia use for their products?

While we didn’t find a list of all the materials Patagonia uses, we did discover that most of their products say they have eco-friendly content. Which is at least a start. However, the materials they talk about the most are polyester, plastics, cotton, wool, nylon, and spandex/elastane.

Are the materials used by Patagonia virgin (new) or non-virgin (recycled)?

87% of Patagonia products are made with recycled materials. In addition, Patagonia recognized long ago how bad polypropylene, a form of plastic, is for the environment. In 1985, it was used in 70% of their garments so they began changing to what they call friendly fibers. So we took a deep dive into what they mean by friendly fibers.

Their Materials page gives us more details on the fibers they use and their strategies to move toward more planet-friendly fibers.

  • In 1993, Patagonia became the first outdoor apparel manufacturer to start making polyester from recycled soda bottles. 
  • In 2021, Patagonia gets recycled spandex/elastane, cotton, wool, and cashmere from factory floor pre-consumer scraps.
    • Most of their products contain 100% recycled plastics and they are working to move away from polyurethane, a form of plastic, which they use for waterproofing.
    • As little as 2% of their nylon was virgin, which is great since nylon is one of the most planet polluting textiles used in the apparel industry.
    • Patagonia uses recycled nylon from post-industrial fibers, discarded scraps, and recycled fishing nets.
    • They are sourcing 12% of their wool from recycled fibers.
  • By 2025, their goal is to be using 100% recycled polyester. However, today they are still using some virgin polyester. Depending on the products, between 50-100% of their polyester currently is recycled.

Is Patagonia part of any organizations to “prove” their sustainability?

It’s not surprising that a number of the organizations that verify the sustainability of apparel companies were spearheaded by Patagonia.

  • Patagonia has been certified as a B Corp company since 2011, which is a certification of their leading “social and environmental performance.”
  • Patagonia led the charge in forming the Sustainable Apparel Coalition (SAC) in 2010. The coalition now has over 250 members in 36 countries and developed the Higg Index, which provides manufacturers tools to measure sustainability throughout the supply chain.
  • They are a member of the Textile Exchange which supports the use of preferred fibers through best practices within the textile supply chain.

It’s clear Patagonia is focused on using eco-friendly materials, so let’s have a look at how sustainable their manufacturing processes are next.

How Sustainable Are the Manufacturing Processes of Patagonia

In the apparel industry, manufacturing is the biggest cause of climate change inducing waste and emissions. From wasted fabric on the cutting floor, to the chemicals used on materials and the carbon output from operations. These all have a huge impact on our environment.

The 2021 Fashion Transparency Index ranked Patagonia at 61-70% on their traceability which means they are pretty good at sharing information on where their products are made and where they source their materials.

Their overall score was slightly lower at 51-60%, meaning that they disclose most human rights and environmental policies, procedures, social and environmental goals and information about their governance and due diligence processes. This score also puts them into the top 10 of all 250 companies on the Fashion Transparency Index.

With their commitment to transparency about where they make their products, how their materials are manufactured, and their efforts to participate in fair trade and pay a living wage, Patagonia’s manufacturing could be a model for other apparel companies.

Where does Patagonia produce their products?

Patagonia works on being transparent about their operations and provides details on their Where We Do Business page of their website. 

  • Currently, Patagonia work with manufacturing partners in 16 countries, which includes the US.
    • You can check out this map with the locations of the factories, farms, and mills they work with
    • This shows more details on these partners such as address, number of employees, and what they make for Patagonia (which would be helpful before buying any product).
  • In addition, they have offices in the US, the Netherlands, Japan, South Korea, Australia, Chile and Argentina.

Patagonia does better than most apparel companies by supporting fair employment and trade in their supply chain. 87% of their products are Fair Trade CertifiedTM sewn, and 39% of their factories are paying living wages. While this may not sound great, Fashion Revolution tells us the average is a mere 2%. They are also an accredited member of the Fair Labor Association (FLA).

While Patagonia doesn’t own all the factories, farms, and mills where their materials are made or grown, they make sure their manufacturing partners follow a strict Code of Conduct (which they call their Supply Chain Environmental Responsibility Program). To make sure this happens, Patagonia sends a member of their social-environmental team to investigate before any orders are placed with a supplier.

What does Patagonia do to reduce their CO2 emissions?

The fact that Patagonia uses factory floor scraps and recycled content is a big way they reduce manufacturing emissions caused by the production of raw materials. They recognize that 97% of their emissions are caused by their supply chain. 

Here are some ways they are continuing to reduce CO2 emissions:

  • In the US, Patagonia uses 100% renewable energy and globally, they use 76% renewables as a source for their electricity.
  • Their use of recycled fibers reduces emissions by as much as 80% compared to virgin fibers.
  • Their denim is dyed with that they call the Advanced Denim technology. This uses 50% less electricity which emits 25% less CO2 into the environment.

With a goal to be carbon neutral by 2025, Patagonia is way ahead of other product manufacturers in fighting to reduce emissions. 

What does Patagonia do to reduce their water consumption?

Some of the more common materials in apparel manufacturing use a lot of water to produce, such as polyester/plastics, leather, cotton and wool. Not using virgin materials cuts down on this water consumption, so Patagonia’s focus on using recycled materials significantly reduces their use of water. 

  • Patagonia’s mission to make products that are durable and last a long time is an important way they reduce their water usage, simply by avoiding the creation of new materials.
  • They also share that their Advanced Denim technology uses 84% less water than the standard methods used to color denim.

What does Patagonia do to reduce their chemical usage?

While chemicals are always involved in making and dying materials, they don’t have to be.

  • Patagonia use 100% organic cotton and are focused on sourcing mostly Regenerative Organic Certified Cotton, which is grown with farming practices that heal the soil and not damage it with chemicals
  • They are a bluesign® systems partner which traces the path of materials and their chemical use and eliminates hazardous chemicals in manufacturing.
  • They are members of Green Chemistry and Commerce Council (GC3) which promotes the use of green chemicals in manufacturing.
  • Patagonia’s Advanced Denim technology uses chemical alternatives for dying denim that is less damaging to the planet.

Which organizations has Patagonia joined to showcase their social sustainability?

They belong to a number of organizations that rate them quite well when it comes to sustainability. 

In addition, Shop Ethical gave Patagonia an overall “A” rating. The only negative being a 56% transparency rating, though they applauded them for their pledge to be more transparent.

While no company is perfect, from what we can tell whenever Patagonia’s supply chain has been pointed at for poor practices their response was to make the required change.

How Sustainable Is the Packaging Used for Patagonia Products

Nearly half of plastics are made for product packaging. And while some packaging is necessary, most of it isn’t. Since plastics are made with fossil fuels, can’t be easily recycled, and take hundreds of years to break down, they are a huge contributor to the carbon footprint and waste caused by product manufacturing.

Patagonia actively works to recycle the plastic bags used to protect their apparel during shipping. Their distribution center recycles through a company that turns them into plastic lumber, and they encourage their customers to also recycle them.

How much packaging do they use?

Because they are conscious of the damage packaging causes Patagonia seems to make every effort to reduce it and use more eco-friendly packaging. They use plastic bags made from recycled materials and ask their customers and distribution centers to recycle plastic bags after use.

How sustainable is their packaging?

Patagonia works to recycle the plastic polybags used to protect products during shipping. 

It looks like Patagonia is doing everything right to make their products sustainable, but we also need to look at how long they last so they don’t quickly end up in landfills.

How Sustainable Is the Usage of Patagonia Products

Having sustainable products also means making them durable. It is estimated that 64% of garments made end up being disposed of in landfills within a year after purchase. So it’s important to know if Patagonia makes their products to last so people keep using them for a long time.

Patagonia’s apparel is so durable, some people refer to them as slow fashion as their products seem to last forever.

What Is the Lifespan of Patagonia’s Products

The lifespan of a product is the period of time from when a product leaves the manufacturer to the moment it becomes obsolete or cannot be used anymore and is thrown out. As much as 95% of textiles that end up in landfills could be recycled, and Patagonia knows it. If you own one of their products you don’t have to throw it away when you’re done with it. 

If you want outdoor sportswear that lasts a long time and doesn’t impact the health of our planet, Patagonia would be a great choice.

Are Patagonia’s products designed to last?

Patagonia products are known to last. That’s also why their products tend to cost more than other brands. 

They don’t support consumer activities like Black Friday, which pushes the buying of more stuff. While some apparel companies may not consider it profitable to encourage less sales, that’s not Patagonia’s business model. Patagonia instead promote long-lasting products that cause minimal impact to the planet because they don’t need to be replaced as often.

Can Patagonia’s products be considered fast fashion?

The concept of fast fashion goes against everything that Patagonia stands for which has been proven by their actions since the beginning of the company. In fact, we found that you should rather consider Pagagonia proudcts slow fashion.

How Is the Quality of Patagonia’s Products Rated

When a product is rated as being high-quality it reflects on it’s durability and lifespan potential. If it is made poorly or from inferior materials, it is not likely to last or be rated very well by consumers. Patagonia has always focused on simplicity and utility in their products. Their top priority has always been to make their apparel durable.

While we did find some negative reviews about their customer service, the majority of reviews about their products were quite positive. People like that Patagonia products are made to last.

How do users rate the quality of Patagonia’s products?

There have been times in Patagonia’s history when they decided to make changes to their products in order to be more sustainable. And some of these changes actually hurt their profits. But their loyal customers who love their products stuck with them and they were able to survive.

We found that Patagonia products are popular with their customers, but we also want to know what they do with them when they are done using them.

How Sustainable Is the End-of-life of Patagonia Products

It’s important to look at more than how their products are made, we also need to determine what happens to them when they reach their end-of-life.

They not only make apparel that is known to last a long time, but they say their Worn Wear used apparel program extends the life of their garments by about two years.

How Circular Are Patagonia’s Products

Waste is a key impact to climate change. Every material we use needs to be reused or it will end up in a landfill. This is why it’s really important for product manufacturers to consider what happens to their materials after people are done with them.

We have yet to find an apparel company that promotes recycling of their products as much as Patagonia. While selling used and recycled garments can be less profitable for a company, this doesn’t matter to them. They care about doing what’s right for the planet.

Circular economy: A circular economy within the textiles industry refers to the practice of clothes and fibers continually being recycled, to re-enter the economy as much as possible rather than ending up as waste. | A circular textiles economy is in response to the current linear model of the fashion industry, in which raw materials are extracted, manufactured into commercial goods and then bought, used, and eventually discarded by consumers.”

Wikipedia

There aren’t a lot of apparel companies that work as hard as Patagonia does to make sure their products are recycled so the materials can be used again.

Are Patagonia’s Products Made for Recycling

Natural fibers, like cotton, are usually the easiest to recycle as they can be taken apart and reused as thread or yarn to make more material. Synthetics, on the other hand, aren’t easy to take apart for reuse. So, the types of materials Patagonia’s products are made from make a difference as to how easily they can be recycled.

Patagonia seems to make every effort to recycle their materials. More importantly, they also use recycled materials whenever possible, which promotes their circularity.

One link we see all over Patagonia’s site is Browse Used, which takes us to their Worn Wear page that offers both a Recrafted Collection, made from reused clothing material, or their Seconds Collection of apparel that have slight imperfections. The page also tells us how to trade in used Patagonia apparel and get store credit which can be used to buy either new Patagonia apparel or used and retracted. They even provide an estimated trade-in value.

Of course, Patagonia can’t prevent consumers from throwing old garments in the trash, but they seem to be doing everything they can to prevent this.

Will Patagonia’s Products Go to Waste at Their End-of-life

No matter how durable a product is, it will one day no longer be useful. When it comes down to apparel it is becoming critical to avoid having it end up in landfills, which reports say is where nearly 80% of our clothing eventually goes, meaning that only about 20% get recycled.

Through their Worn Wear program, Patagonia is doing everything they can to keep their products out of landfills.

Throughout their product pages, Patagonia tells us that 87% of the items they produce use recycled materials. Their Worn Wear program is said to extend the life of textiles by about two years, reducing the amount that end up in landfills.

Moving forward Patagonia continues to look for ways to encourage the recycling and reuse of their materials

Is Patagonia Involved in Any Charities Promoting Sustainability

Through their 1% Earth Tax Patagonia supports environmental non-profits focused on healing the planet. To date, they have donated to over 1,000 organizations.

Social and Environmental Justice organizations they support:

Support to reduce plastics pollution:

Organizations fight for our wilderness and wildfire relief:

These are just a few of the organizations that have benefited from Patagonia’s self-imposed 1% Earth Tax.

If you’re interested in living sustainably, we encourage you to visit the Patagonia Action Works page to find ways to get involved and fight climate change.

Here’s How Sustainable Patagonia Says They Are

Founder, Yvon Chouinard, developed a love for rock climbing at the age of 14. As a young man, he started making pitons (spikes for climbing) in his parent’s backyard to sell to his friends. 

  • In 1965, Yvon and a friend started a climbing equipment business called The Great Pacific Iron Works Company which then became the largest climbing gear company in the US.
  • In 1970, they realized their pitons were damaging the rocks. In the company’s first environmental action, they minimized their piton business and converted to selling aluminum chocks that could be wedged by hand and do not cause damage. 
  • In 1970, during a visit to Scotland, Yvon discovered how durable rugby shirts could protect his neck from climbing ropes.
  • In 1973, the company chose the name “Patagonia” for its new clothing line and also opened its first apparel retail store.
  • Nowadays, Patagonia is a privately held company headquartered in Ventura, CA. They have around 2,500 employees and more than 70 stores around the globe. 

In addition to outdoor clothing and sportswear, Patagonia now sells rain and bivouac gear, and have a publishing division selling books.

What Is the Sustainability Strategy of Patagonia

When you sign up to receive Patagonia’s emails the first link in their initial message takes you to their Core Values which include do no harm and use business to protect the planet. They refuse to be bound by convention, which fits the employee demographics of mostly outdoors people, like climbers and surfers. 

What Sustainability Marketing Messages Does Patagonia Share

Every page we visited on Patagonia’s website talks about sustainability. The buttons at the top point us to their four areas of focus: Shop, Activism, Sports, and Stories.

  • The Activism link shows us how Patagonia goes above and beyond to fight climate change and encourages visitors to do the same by providing actions to take. 
  • The Stories link tells about outdoor living and people making a difference for the planet.
  • When you scroll down on their main page the first product link you find is the Browse Used option, which takes us to information on buying used and refurbished products. 
  • When you sign-up to receive their newsletter you get more than deals, you also get updates on Patagonia’s environmental efforts, stories about activism, and ways you can help fight climate change.

Greenwashing: behavior or activities that make people believe that a company is doing more to protect the environment than it really is”

Cambridge Dictionary

Neither Patagonia’s homepage nor all the information from our in-depth research below feel like greenwashing. This is also further supported by their self-imposed earth tax where they give 1% of all sales to non-profit environmental groups. To date, Patagonia has donated $89 Million to these causes.

How Does Patagonia Compare to Their Competitors

Outdoor brands that are considered competitors to Patagonia are Adidas, Columbia, Nike, The North Face, and Timberland. When it comes down to supporting a better planet none of these appear to be doing as good as Patagonia. Their Core Values put the environment first, and when they say they know no boundaries they specify this means doing business in ways that won’t hurt the planet.

Patagonia isn’t perfect and still has work to do to become a fully sustainable, carbon-neutral brand, but they’re way ahead of other companies in the apparel industry and are continually working to do better. 

How Can You Buy More Sustainable Sports Products

As a consumer, you’d want to verify what the company says on its website about their sustainable practices. Yet, you have to watch out for the companies that use marketing buzzwords to sound good but don’t stand behind those claims. Here are some organizations that certify companies as sustainable and provide ways to research them.

With all these resources and a few minutes of your time, you can quickly check how your next purchase will be eco-friendly.

Final Thoughts

While it’s easy to be skeptical that Patagonia really is planet-friendly, especially since most of the information we found is provided by them, there is no way to deny that they put their money where their mouth is. Their activism and proactive approach to sustainable manufacturing is clear and, frankly, very exciting. 

One reason we believe Patagonia is one of the most sustainable brands in all the write-ups about it, like this Fast Company interview with founder Yvon Chouinard called Patagonia the ultimate do-good-and-do-well company.

In fact, we believe that if all product manufacturers were doing as much good for the planet that Patagonia is, we could win the war against climate change.

Stay impactful,



Sources

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Dennis Kamprad

Dennis is the founder of Impactful Ninja and passionate about enabling you to make a positive impact on the world & society. He started his professional career as a Sustainability Consultant and has worked on several social projects around the world. Outside of work, he is a passionate salsa dancer, fast runner, and multiple Ironman finisher.

Did you know that the internet is a huge polluter of the environment? But fortunately not this site. This site is powered by renewable energy and all hosting-related CO2 emissions are offset by three times as many renewable energy certificates. Find out all about it here.

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