Patagonia has become the first major apparel manufacturer to track and expose the social and environmental impact of specific garments through The Footprint Chronicles, an interactive website that reveals to consumers the good and the bad involved in manufacturing outdoor clothing such as Synchilla fleece vests and rain shells.
Patagonia said it is determined to be candid and forthright about its impact on the environment and created the site to encourage dialog with its customers who are concerned about the environment.
"We believe that to avoid complacency, we must constantly examine our internal processes to improve upon the positive and mitigate the negative," said Casey Sheahan, president and CEO of Patagonia. "The Footprint Chronicles allows us to do this publicly - sort of learning out loud."
He points out that the idea behind the website is to encourage thought and discussion. Each season the site will examine new products, so that the more that is exposed, the more harmful practices the company can change. Five new products will be added on Earth Day, 2008.
"Our customers are scientists, activists, professors, doctors and more - they have the collective experience and knowledge we're looking for," said Sheahan. "We're highlighting exactly what happens in the manufacturing process and asking customers for their suggestions and help in efforts to find solutions to our less sustainable practices. It's a unique dialogue to engage in - but one that will ultimately allow us to cause less harm to the planet."
According to Jill Dumain, Patagonia's director of environmental programs, the research involved in developing the Chronicles has proved to actually drive major business decisions at Patagonia. "The Chronicles revealed that transportation makes up only about 1 percent of our overall energy use," she said. "Had we listened to the current media buzz touting transportation as the largest factor in energy consumption, we might have greatly misplaced our efforts by making strides to geographically shorten our supply chain - which would have massively impacted our business financially, logistically and perhaps even effected product quality - and we would only have reduced our energy savings by 1 percent. Instead, we are focusing our energy on areas where we can truly make a difference - right in the heart of the manufacturing process."
The launch of The Footprint Chronicles puts into practice a prototype that they hope will inspire other companies to increase their transparency, and at the very least, raise awareness.
"We've been in business long enough to know that if we can reduce or eliminate a harm, other businesses will be eager to follow suit," said Sheahan. "Many companies will be pleasantly surprised that when they delve into their manufacturing processes, they will be able to present a balanced expose of their practices. Customers will appreciate their honesty and reward them for it."
The Footprint Chronicles includes more than 35 filmed interviews and slideshows of factory workers, farmers, owners, designers and third-party auditors to provide an unprecedented level of transparency both internally and externally - from the factories and manufacturing partners that create its products, to the end of the product's lifespan.
For more information, click on to the Patagonia website.