Patagonia marketing executive to speak about sustainability

Feb. 11, 2013

April Wefler
[email protected]

TV, radio, the Internet – advertising tends to be everywhere in a consumer society trying to sell more products. But are they sustainable?

Vincent Stanley, vice president of marketing with Patagonia Inc., will speak Feb. 18 from 5-7 p.m. at University Center Room 302 about this concern.

He will discuss Patagonia, a company attempting to manufacture more ecofriendly products, and how it became sustainable in addition to providing tips on how other businesses can do the same. Students for Environmental Awareness and Sustainability is sponsoring the free event.

The club wanted sponsor Stanley’s visit after watching “180 Degrees South,” a 2010 documentary starring Yvon Chouinard, founder of Patagonia, and Doug Tompkins, co-founder of clothing company The North Face.

While trying to summit a mountain, Chouinard and Tompkins were stranded on Easter Island, or Rapa Nui. The Polynesian island in the southeastern Pacific Ocean is where indigenous tribes competed against one another to create the largest moai, a human figure carved in rock. Trees were used to transport moai until the last tree on the island was cut down.

“They started experiencing mass amounts of erosion, so they couldn’t grow as much food, and the population dropped off significantly,” said Andrea Hassler, co-chair of SEAS and geography graduate student.

“What we learn from Rapa Nui is that if we do not have a sustainable vision of our actions, can we do this in 100 years? Can we keep on doing this? We’ll lose what it is that we value most.”

Hassler explained, “Many indigenous people were being threatened by the introduction of hydroelectricity. What comes along with that is that the landscape that used to be just a river passing through it in a mountain valley is now a lake. You have a loss of certain resources that [were] once there.”

Patagonia employees helped protect an area of land around the Patagonia region in which a hydroelectricity plant was projected to be developed. It is now a nature conservation.

“So not only were they protecting this pristine, natural place, they were also ensuring that the people that lived and depend on those natural systems do not have their way of life compromised,” Hassler said.

“In America, we just like to consume, and it’s what keeps our country going. Patagonia says, ‘OK, that’s fine, we all need stuff to survive, but we don’t need cheap crap.’ We should have a high regard for our material possessions,” Hassler said.

“What they’ve done is remarkable with their fair labor standards,” said Drew Johnson, chair of the Green Action Fund and a senior majoring in business. He added that workers in India and Asia are proud to work for the company because they’re treated well.

Stanley’s visit may draw a mixed audience. “I think it’s for anybody who will be part of an organization, household, government or business. We have choices, and I think it’s applicable for everyone,” said Linda Kogan, Office of Sustainability director.

“It’s a great example for students to see how a business can be profitable but still take into consideration social and environmental issues,” said Tracy Gonzalez-Padron, director of the Ethics Initiative and assistant professor.

She added that companies have been struggling with how to minimize a negative impact on the environment and create social value while focusing on the profit-making objective of business.

“We consider Patagonia a thought-leader in how to do that – setting [a] standard in the industry that others follow,” she said. “Students will come back with an appreciation of what business has been able to do.”