Is Patagonia Sustainable?

Patagonia's logo stitched onto one of its signature quarter zips

Patagonia’s brand is quite literally built on sustainability. But there have been plenty of brands who’ve made bold promises and haven’t delivered. Let’s dive in to see if Patagonia lives up to the hype.

Sustainability of Renewable and Recycled Materials

A big part of Patagonia’s sustainability strategy is its recycling program, “Worn Wear,” which encourages people to buy and sell used Patagonia gear.

In 2022, Patagonia recycled over 1 million pounds of clothing through the Worn Wear program. This saved over 10 million gallons of water and prevented over 100 million pounds of waste from going to landfills.

Customers generally say the condition of clothes is excellent, and have tons of great things to say about how well-run the program is. I’d go so far as to say it’s one of the best recycling programs out of any clothing brands, let alone among the bigger ones.

The materials Patagonia uses for its clothes is another big part of the picture. Luckily, Patagonia lists out all the materials used in production. There’s also a nice little description of each material, and each has specific goals that the brand is trying to meet for it.

This is a nice touch, and more than most big clothing brands do- so kudos there. Still, there’s no emission breakdown per material. It also just states it wants to move away from the especially “bad” materials like Polyester- but there isn’t really a plan shared anywhere.

Overall, Patagonia has said it wants to be carbon neutral and use 100% renewable or recycled materials in its products by 2025. It’s an ambitious target, I’ll give them that. Much more ambitious than similar clothing brands are willing to set.

I’d like to see some more accountability here. There hasn’t been an update since they announced that goal, and there’s no way to track progress.

Sustainability isn’t everything! Check out our Patagonia Brand Ethical Overview that looks at ethics, worker welfare, animal treatment, and more.

A branded image featuring a man hiking in the mountains for the clothing brand Patagonia

Environmental Causes

Patagonia donates 1% of its annual sales (not profits) to environmental causes. It has a section on its website dedicated to activism where it spotlights a few organizations and causes, which is pretty cool.

Patagonia was one of the earliest companies to become a B corp, which means they submit some paperwork every year to meet certain environmental standards. It’s not perfect, but it’s a decent signal that Patagonia is on the right track.

In fact, in 2022, the founder gave away the company to a nonprofit collective- which basically takes in all of Patagonia’s profits and uses them to fight climate change. Notably, this was structured in a way that the family didn’t receive any sort of tax benefits. The CEO says the nonprofit’s focus will be on nature-based climate solutions such as preserving wild lands.

Patagonia’s Overall Sustainability Score

Look- the elephant in the room here is that Patagonia is trying to solve a problem that it helped create. I mean, Patagonia is the one that sells millions of plastic-made clothes each year. Does it really matter that they’re trying to make the materials more sustainable? It’s kind of unsatisfying that the most sustainable thing to do would be to not actually sell in the first place.

And it’s something they’ve admitted:

Each piece of Patagonia clothing, whether or not it’s organic or uses recycled materials, emits several times its weight in greenhouse gases, generates at least another half garment’s worth of scrap, and draws down copious amounts of freshwater now growing scarce everywhere on the planet.

“Don’t Buy This Jacket, Black Friday and the New York Times”

Its defense that this is okay because “everyone’s paycheck relies [on it selling clothes]” is a pretty weak one.

Still, sometimes it’s tempting to judge without looking at the bigger picture. Ultimately, Patagonia has put forth a pretty solid effort in its sustainability efforts.

Sustainability Score:

7.5/10

BUT this doesn’t mean Patagonia is a “good” company. Sustainability is just one piece of the ethics puzzle. We did the research and created a complete Patagonia Ethical Overview that looks at worker welfare, animal treatment, and more.

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