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Take Action: Patagonia Site Connects Consumers to Causes

Patagonia just launched Action Works, a dedicated section of its website that encourages Americans to “Sign Up. Show Up. Take Action” on a variety of environmental issues. Here’s why the outdoor apparel giant believes the time is right to connect concerned consumers to the causes they care about.

It was early December, a time when much of America was focused on scooping up holiday deals and crossing names off their shopping lists. And yet both outdoors enthusiasts’ and Native Americans’ attention was riveted elsewhere; they had suffered yet another assault on one of the remarkable landscapes they treasure so dearly: the largely undeveloped Bears Ears National Monument territory.

Just less than a year earlier, President Obama designated the southeastern Utah landmark as a national monument—and all of the federal protection that affords—via presidential proclamation. But on Dec. 4, President Trump all but reversed that effort, reducing the monument’s protected lands by 85 percent, potentially opening it to drilling for fossil fuels and uranium mining, and igniting outrage across the country on the part of citizens, tribes and outdoor-oriented brands including REI and Patagonia. The latter channeled its outrage into action, filing a federal lawsuit challenging Trump’s actions on top of the 11 environmental and conservationist groups that aligned forces in National Resources Defense Council v. Trump as well as the five Native American tribes that coalesced behind Hopi Tribe v. Trump.

At the time, Patagonia changed its website homepage to read, “The president stole your land. In an illegal move, the president just reduced the size of Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monuments. This is the largest elimination of protected land in American history.”

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Patagonia was fired up, and it wanted consumers to know why.

This isn’t the first time the 44-year-old sustainability-minded apparel maker has been vocal in its fight to do the right thing by the environment and the creatures that inhabit it. In addition to donating 1 percent of its sales or 10 percent of profits (whichever’s greater) to environmentally oriented groups, Patagonia also is active as a founding member of One Percent for the Planet, which Yvon Chouinard—the company’s founder—helped to launch. In 2016, the apparel company took things one step further by donating all of its Black Friday profits—$10 million total—to pro-environment groups.

“The biggest question I get from our community and customers is, ‘What can I do to save the planet?’” said Patagonia president and CEO Rose Marcario in a statement.

Even when it’s called out for questionable practices, Patagonia typically takes swift action to right a wrong and re-stake its claim as a responsible brand. For example, the company shifted wool sourcing from Australia thousands of miles away to Ovis 21 over the practice of mulesing, only for that same controversial technique to crop up at the South American cooperative. Patagonia promptly severed ties with Ovis 21 in 2015 and helped to create the Responsible Wool Standard.

[Read more on responsible sourcing: Argentina Adopts Responsible Wool Standard to Rehabilitate its Reputation]

Clearly, this is at least in part a branding move, in line with its 2011 “Don’t Buy This Jacket” Black Friday New York Times ad. With Action Works, Patagonia is planting its flag in the ground yet again in demonstrating stewardship in activism around environmental responsibility and prompting consumers to visibly support their causes of choice. In recent years, a number of protests—over the Keystone XL and Dakota Access pipelines or EPA scientists prevented from sharing climate-change research at a conference—have garnered significant media and international attention. The Action Works site could increase turnout at protest events by raising their profile to a large and vocal audience.

Patagonia, which has given upwards of $90 million to outdoor causes since 1985, envisions Action Works as the “next chapter” in this history of giving back to the environment. Not only does it practice what it preaches but now the company also is calling for its shoppers and other interested citizens to join its pro-environment “practice,” striving to convert them into stakeholders instead of sidelined observers.

“This platform makes it easy to connect with organizations in your neighborhood who are working every day on local issues,” Marcario said. “We have decades of experience with these groups, and our collective grassroots actions can add up to the change we need to make a better world.”

By giving loyal followers a user-friendly site to search for environmentally-minded events, groups and more nearby, Patagonia is tapping into not only its core base of pro-outdoors fans but also the Millennial mindset that claims an affinity for brands that vote with their values. A Fast Company article last year found that brands performing well with Millennials have a “clear mission.”

“Our research suggests millennials care about social issues in much greater numbers than older generations,” according to Sebastian Buck of branding company Enso. The company’s World Value Index is based on a survey of Americans’ view of brands and their purpose. “Sixty-eight percent of millennials say creating change in the world is a personal goal that they actively pursue, while a minority of boomers do (42%).”

Despite the Bears Ears controversy erupting just more than two months ago, given the lightning speed of today’s news cycle—and a seemingly endless onslaught of breaking-news headlines, each more alarming than the one before—it’s all too likely that Trump’s land grab has faded from memory for many consumers. Action Works quietly presents a meaningful way to shine the spotlight yet again on that action while bringing much-needed attention to many other causes.

After all, if the unspoiled outdoors isn’t around for consumers to enjoy, to whom will brands like Patagonia sell all those moisture-wicking base layers?

“With the threats we face,” said Mercario, “we need everyone in this fight.”