Angry masses of young people weren’t the only ones protesting climate-change inaction on Friday. Several brands and retailers, including Allbirds, Burton and Patagonia, temporarily shut their doors in a show of solidarity.
Allbirds, the B Corp shoemaker beloved by Hollywood A-listers and Silicon Valley types alike, said it did so to allow employees to participate in the strikes and “truly embody the ethos of the Allbirds brand,” which imposed a “carbon tax” on itself in April in a bid to become 100 percent carbon neutral by the end of the year.
“The environment is one of our most important stakeholders, and as we grow in size and influence, we have an opportunity—a responsibility—to use our voice to speak out against inaction in the face of dire consequences of climate change,” Joey Zwillinger, co-CEO and co-founder of Allbirds, said in a statement. “This is a moment to demand action from our leaders in ensuring there is a healthy planet for future generations.”
Burton, which makes snowboarding apparel and equipment, froze its digital storefront, redirecting its website instead to the Global Climate Strike homepage. It also made its global flagship stores available to the public as community gathering spaces before and after nearby marches.
Part of this is a matter of self preservation, said Jenn Swain, the company’s global senior sustainability manager. “For Burton, there isn’t a choice to take action,” she said. “The climate crisis significantly impacts our communities around the world—from the beginning of the supply chain to outdoor recreation.”
In addition to pausing operations at its stores and offices, Patagonia launched a campaign featuring the photos of youth activists—with the words “facing extinction” splashed across their faces—along strike routes and across print, digital and social-media platforms.
“We all must make it clear to our elected leaders that there is no room in government for climate deniers, and their inaction is killing us,” Rose Marcario, president and CEO of Patagonia, said in a statement. “We need our leaders to act on the science and follow the market forces—do their jobs and create policies that protect our planet and our communities. Our customers are demanding we act—this generation of youth is not backing down and neither should we.”
So how much did striking for the climate cost businesses? The short answer: It’s hard to quantify, and Allbirds, Burton and Patagonia declined to disclose specific figures. The point, they say, is moot; some things are more important than numbers in a ledger.
“When we decided to close our stores and support the Youth Climate Strike, the question was never about how much we would lose in sales, but about how much we all stand to lose if we don’t take action and save our planet,” John Collins, vice president of sales at Patagonia, told Sourcing Journal.
“There may be a small impact on sales in terms of lost revenue, but I don’t expect it will be major,” added Neil Saunders, managing director of GlobalData’s retail division. “The brands participating in the climate strike are those whose values are very much aligned to taking action, and as such they will win some sympathy and applause from their core customers.”
But as counterintuitive as it may sound, closing up shop can actually boost business, especially as millennials and Gen Z-ers, who are known to be more socially and environmentally conscious than their forebears, come into their full spending power.
In 2018, outdoor equipment retailer REI raked in $2.62 million in sales—a 2.5 percent uptick from the year before—despite giving its employees Black Friday off for the fourth consecutive year. Patagonia famously took out a full-page advertisement in the New York Times in 2011, urging Black Friday deal-seekers not to buy its jacket—or any of its products, really—unless it was with a sizable helping of forethought and consideration for the planet.
Later, in 2016, Patagonia declared it was donating 100 percent of its Black Friday profits to grassroots environmental organizations. The outdoor-wear brand expected to sell $2 million in merchandise; instead, it whizzed past $10 million. None of this—not even shuttering its stores nationwide on major election days so employees can vote—has stopped the company from generating nearly $1 billion in annual sales.
Businesses that prevaricate on the sidelines, on the other hand, stand to lose more than their good names.
“We can expect the retailers that don’t participate in supporting a better future to come under scrutiny,” said Kayla Marci, a market analyst at Edited, a retail decision platform based in New York, San Francisco and London. “The ones that do will earn the trust and potential business from the Gen-Z customers who are leading the movement.”
Still, brands and retailers that employ this strategy should make sure they’re doing it for the right reasons—shoppers can smell a rat from a mile away.
“As this next generation of influencers and spenders emerge, brands and stores can play the caring card as long as they are real,” Marshal Cohen, chief industry analyst for retail at market-research firm NPD Group, said. “Consumers look to blow the whistle on the ones that are less than authentic.”
And the truth of the matter is that doing nothing about climate change could cost companies more than a few days of lost revenue. For fashion businesses, extreme temperatures, catastrophic weather patterns and biodiversity loss could threaten the supply of raw materials their bottom lines depend on, like cotton, wool, leather or wood for rayon and other cellulosic fibers.
The Carbon Disclosure Project (CDP) estimates, in fact, that fallout from climate change could cost the world’s largest companies nearly $1 trillion over the next five years. Heat waves, droughts, floods and other natural disasters may even tank whole economies. A full 7 percent of the world’s gross domestic product could fizzle out by 2100, including 10 percent of all incomes in Canada and the United States, according to researchers.
“Our collective response to climate change is more urgent than ever,” Nicolette Bartlett, director of climate change at CDP, said in June. “It is clear that corporate action cannot be delayed.”