How Patagonia Became a Pioneer of Corporate Social Responsibility

Over 185 million dollars. That is the amount of money Patagonia donated to nonprofit environmental groups and conservation efforts since the company was founded in 1973. Additionally, 38 million dollars have been invested in socially responsible companies and ventures. This doesn’t even begin to include countless volunteer hours and priceless results of their activism. Corporate social responsibility (CSR) has been built into their DNA since day one.

What a bunch of granola eating hippies, right? As generous as this company is, there is no way that Patagonia is profiting! Actually, this could not be farther from the truth. The company has scaled to nearly $1 BILLION dollars and shows no signs of stopping. Let’s break down some of their social good marketing strategies and why they work.

First and foremost, Patagonia’s CSR efforts are transparent. What good is transparency when it comes sales? It creates trust. If your customers don’t trust you, you don’t have customers.

Corporate Social Responsibility Patagonia Customer Trust

Today’s consumer is well-educated with limitless investigative resources. If they detect that your company’s CSR isn’t all you’ve hyped it up to be, they will not only walk away from you, but they will also be sure to announce it to the world.

How Patagonia Tells The Story of Their CSR Efforts

It is easy to pinpoint Patagonia’s textile mills, factories, and farms, via their FootPrint Chronicles, an interactive map which gives a detailed description of each location. The company also publishes an Environmental and Social Initiative Report, as well as provides an online database which gives the breakdown of grants, campaigns, events, sustainability and fair trade efforts, materials selection, etc.

This gives transparency to Patagonia, but also doubles as creative content and establishes them as an authority on corporate social responsibility; driving people to look at their business for answers. Patagonia has honed in on social media and grown a strong online community to deliver this content. They utilize hashtags, such as #ProtectBearsEars, to create awareness for their company, the activism that they are involved in, and ethics that they stand for.

Corporate Social Responsibility Patagonia Facebook

Rose Marcario, CEO and President of Patagonia, is even engaged in content creation. She writes articles on movements that she is passionate about. This is a brilliant way for their customers to emotionally connect at the highest level of the company.

Telling Customers to Buy Less Drives Sales?

Patagonia has developed their Common Threads Initiative, which promises that they will “make great stuff, fix it when it breaks, and recycle it when you’re done with it” free of charge. Patagonia asks for a pledge in return to “buy only what you need, repair it when it breaks, and recycle it when you’re through.” They started this initiative because they know that by keeping their clothing in use for 9 additional months that they can reduce their carbon, waste and water footprint by 20-30%.

This seems counter intuitive, to ask your customers to buy less of your product, but Patagonia debunked that when they ran their “Don’t Buy This Jacket” campaign around Thanksgiving 2011. The ad prompted consumers to not buy their wares if they truly didn’t need them, then went on to discuss the environmental cost of producing these products. The next year, the company saw its revenue grow around 30%, and an additional 6% in 2013.

It’s All About The Why

Why did this work? It reinforces the fact that Patagonia stands behind it’s product and gives a sense of ease to their customers that if something breaks on their product it will be repaired. After they have received excellent customer service and gotten more usage out of the product, they can turn in their used clothing for credit, to buy more Patagonia product!

Patagonia has done all these things (and many, many more!) while being sincere about their commitment to change. This is the key to corporate social responsibility. Sincerity instantaneously strengthens the connection with customers, as well as global communities. It instills a sense of loyalty and camaraderie. In his TedTalk, Simon Sinek summed this up beautifully:

“People don’t buy WHAT you do, they buy WHY you do it. The goal
is not to do business with everybody who needs what you have,
the goal is to do business with people who believe what you believe”.

Corporate Social Responsibility Golden Circle Simon Sinek

These strategies work because people are willing to pay for a high-quality product that aligns with their values, resulting in an engaged loyal community and repeat buyers. When people rally behind what you sincerely believe in, you can’t fail. How are you communicating the values you believe in?

For more corporate social responsibility marketing strategies check out this ChuckJoe blog post, 11 Awesome Social Good Marketing Strategies!

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  1. […] how a forced relationship with a cause or the lack of genuineness can backfire. Take a leaf out of Patagonia, TOMS and Heineken’s books – all great examples of brands that have successfully delivered […]

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