Speaking of transparency, outdoor-sportswear maker Patagonia has pulled back the curtain on the environmental effects and manufacturing processes behind some of its clothes with a cool new web feature.
The Footprint Chronicles tells the life story of five Patagonia products, showing the path each travels from design through fabric acquisition and processing, and finally to the distribution center. Each stage of the process has a thumbnail photo that you can click on for additional reading or videos on specific factories, sourcing philosophy, etc. And each product’s page details the total distance it traveled, its CO2 emissions, the total amount of waste it generated, and its energy consumption.
It’s a pretty neat tool—it reminds me of Timberland’s Nutrition Facts–esque labels from a couple years ago, only with more detail. (Hmm, I wonder if Patagonia will ever put this info on its labels in some form?)
But I must confess that my first reaction to the data behind the curtain was tinged with disappointment. The Wool 2 Crew sweater, for example, travels a total of 16,280 miles (thanks in part to its wool’s origins in an eco-friendly New Zealand ranch), generating 100 times its weight in carbon dioxide emissions. As the webpage itself states, “This is not sustainable.” And the Synchilla vest, which is (happily) made from all recycled materials and is itself recyclable through Patagonia’s Common Threads program, still generates 44 times its weight in emissions, despite the fact that its mileage figure of 5,150 is significantly less than the crew’s.
First reaction aside, though, I applaud Patagonia for launching the Footprint Chronicles and being willing to give us the straight dope. That in itself speaks volumes about the company’s ethos—clearly, it’s genuinely interested in engaging with consumers on these issues rather than making vague claims of responsibility and then hoping no one asks for elucidation (like some companies). Personally, I’m more likely to buy a jacket whose environmental footprint I can know something about than one that’s shrouded in mystery.
Furthermore, it’s good for consumers to be educated about what a globalized economy looks like. Certain products may be better than others in certain regards, and certain companies may have a higher commitment to lessening their impact on the earth than others, but the fact is that most products zip around the globe, merrily generating waste, warming the atmosphere, and expending energy before they land on store shelves. The more people realize this, the more attention will be paid to making smart choices given the current realities.
One thing I was excited to see, in several of the Footprint Chronicles product pages, was reference to a third-party auditing firm. To get more details, I talked to Nicole Bassett, Patagonia’s social responsibility manager. Turns out Patagonia works with a number of different auditors, not just Global Standards (which is misidentified as Global Solutions on the website). “We want to work with local auditing firms as much as possible because of their knowledge of local law and language,” she said.
So are all of Patagonia’s factories being constantly audited? Not exactly. Bassett herself schedules the audits “when we want to know about a factory’s social compliance.” (I meant to ask how often that happens and what the triggers are, but didn’t). An audit is scheduled for each new facility that the company starts using, Bassett said, and she also checks on factories that have been in Patagonia’s supply chain for years.
While I had her on the phone, I asked why the Footprint Chronicles had such scarce information on the natural-latex components for the Honeydew shoes. The reason is that the shoes are actually made by a company called Wolverine. “We just don’t really have the expertise in shoes,” Bassett explained. “So we license our brand name to Wolverine,” and Patagonia simply hasn’t been able to get all the numbers from Wolverine yet. Bassett said she expects the information to be available on the next version of the Footprint Chronicles, which should come out in April, and should also include four more Patagonia products.