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Patagonia's Conscientious Response to Black Friday Consumer Madness

<p>The outdoor retailer used a full-page ad in the New York Times this last weekend to offer a few wise words about sustainable consumption.</p>

In the midst of the madness of black Friday, and this weekend of American consumerism run amok, come a few wise words from the outdoor retailer Patagonia.

In a full-page ad in the New York Times, the privately held company asks shoppers to think more carefully about what they purchase, and the real cost of all the things we buy.

The headline: Don't Buy This Jacket

"We ask you to buy less and to reflect before you spend a dime on this jacket or anything else," the company says.

The rest of the ad is worth reading, and thinking about, so I'll copy the text here:

It's Black Friday, the day in the year retail turns from red to black and starts to make real money. But Black Friday, and the culture of consumption it reflects, puts the economy of natural systems that support all life firmly in the red. We're now using the resources of one-and-a-half planets on our one and only planet.

Because Patagonia wants to be in business for a good long time -- and leave a world inhabitable for our kids -- we want to do the opposite of every other business today. We ask you to buy less and to reflect before you spend a dime on this jacket or anything else.

Environmental bankruptcy, as with corporate bankruptcy, can happen very slowly, then all of a sudden. This is what we face unless we slow down, then reverse the damage. We're running short on fresh water, topsoil, fisheries, wetlands -- all our planet's natural systems and resources that support business, and life, including our own.

The environmental cost of everything we make is astonishing. Consider the R2 Jacket shown, one of our best sellers. To make it required 135 liters of water, enough to meet the daily needs (three glasses a day) of 45 people. Its journey from its origin as 60 percent recycled polyester to our Reno warehouse generated nearly 20 pounds of carbon dioxide, 24 times the weight of the finished product. This jacket left behind, on its way to Reno, two-thirds its weight in waste.

And this is a 60 percent recycled polyester jacket, knit and sewn to a high standard; it is exceptionally durable, so you won't have to replace it as often. And when it comes to the end of its useful life we'll take it back to recycle into a product of equal value. But, as is true of all the things we can make and you can buy, this jacket comes with an environmental cost higher than its price.

There is much to be done and plenty for us all to do. Don't buy what you don't need. Think twice before you buy anything. Go to or scan the QR code below. Take the Common Threads Initiative pledge, and join us in the fifth "R," to reimagine a world where we take only what nature can replace.

That's good environmental messaging. But is it good business for a company to urge people to buy less? Moreover, is there a disconnect between this ad and Patagonia's own plans for grow, open new stores and mail out more catalogs?

Patagonia responds in a blogpost about the ad:

The test of our sincerity (or our hypocrisy) will be if everything we sell is useful, multifunctional where possible, long-lasting, beautiful but not in thrall to fashion. We're not yet entirely there. Not every product meets all these criteria. Our Common Threads Initiative will serve as a framework to advance us toward these goals.

Patagonia, to its credit, is pushing us (and its own people) to think about what sustainable consumption might look like.

There's nothing inherently wrong with buying stuff -- without consumption, we'd have no jobs or economy -- but our goal should be to buy stuff with the lowest possible environmental footprint, stuff that is produced and transported using renewable energy and stuff that, when it's no longer useful or needed, can be turned into something else. Consumption, in other words, that is part of a zero-waste, zero-emissions economy.

It's a long, long way from here to there, but we need to start down that path down, and we need visionary companies, as well as visionary environmentalists and politicians, to help us figure out how to get there. In an industry where lots of companies (notably Nike and REI) are thinking hard about sustainability, for obvious reasons -- their business depends on the outdoors -- Patagonia is leading the way.

Meanwhile, if you'd like to become a more responsible holiday shopper, check out the NRDC and its Green Gift Guide (plant a tree in Costa Rica, adopt a wolf in Yellowstone), which features some mildly amusing celebrity videos from people like Kyra Sedgwick and Tony Shalhoub on bad gifts. Worth a look, too, is the Simplify the Holidays challenge from the invaluable Center for a New American Dream which suggests gifts of time or hand-made gifts.

In another bit of encouraging news, those Thanksgiving Day store openings that I blogged about last week [See my blog post Thanksgiving Shopping Madness and especially the comments) have generated more than the usual backlash. Yesterday, the New York Times' James Stewart did a terrific column about Anthony Hardwick, whose petition challenged Target to give workers Thanksgiving Day off.

Then again, there was this:

At a Wal-Mart in Los Angeles, one woman seemed to take her position in line very seriously. Authorities said 20 people at a Wal-Mart store suffered minor injuries when a woman used pepper spray to gain a "competitive" shopping advantage shortly after the store opened on Thursday evening.

Ah, the spirit of the season.

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