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Patagonia and the Challenge of Good Growth

Patagonia "Don't Buy This Jacket" Advert

Article contributed by James Rutter, Director of Brand & Strategy at COOK, one of the first B Corporations in the UK. The article was first published on James' personal blog.

A recent New Yorker article  on Patagonia raises the question of whether there is such a thing as "good growth" for a business so focused on minimising its environmental impact. By expanding rapidly, as Patagonia has been, does it contradict its own marketing pitch: using up the earth's scarce resources in its drive to grow.

The New Yorker describes some of Patagonia's recent marketing campaigns as an "anti-growth" strategy. Telling consumers: "Don't buy this jacket" on Black Monday. Setting up a service to repair and recycle its clothes. Sending a bus around the US offering to mend tired Patagonia clothes.

This is clever brand positioning and messaging. If it is "anti" anything, it is against the disposable consumerism that has flourished in the past 50 years. The underlying message is: buy less; buy better; make it last. And if you're doing so, buy it from Patagonia. Because Patagonia is a business. And businesses need to grow.

But Patagonia is also a business with a purpose beyond profit: to protect the planet and its scarce resources. Its challenge is therefore to expand in both realms simultaneously.

This is a new paradigm for capitalism. The economic system that has been the most successful in history in terms of raising standards and quality of living globally need not implode as a result of its own inherent excesses.

So "good growth" is part and parcel of "good business". And it boils down to the idea that business can exist in more than a single dimension - that of profit maximisation. That a business can therefore grow while acknowledging all the unpleasant by-products of its activities - the negative externalities, in the jargon - and can endeavour to account fully and clearly for its impact all-told.

This is what the B Corporation movement is all about. Business growth. Social progress. Hand-in-hand. There needn't be a contradiction. Although, as with any paradigm shift, this will remain nigh-on incomprehensible for those who uphold the status quo.


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