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For Patagonia the word "sustainability" does not exist

"Why? Because we recognize we are part of the problem"

For Patagonia the word sustainability does not exist Why? Because we recognize we are part of the problem

These days the COP 26, the United Nations Conference on the climate crisis, is being held in Glasgow. Activists around the world, and especially those of Greta Thunberg's Fridays for Future, called the conference a political event only, in which problems are discussed without really solving them – a concern that even Patagonia, one of the most eco-conscious outerwear brands on the market, shared in an open letter signed by Beth Thoren,  environmental action & initiatives director of the brand for the EMEA area. The main purpose of the letter is simple, and it is to ask political leaders to «set global standards for carbon accounting and offsetting» and brands to «[cut] through the blah, blah». Referring then to the problem of fashion pollution, which is «it’s wild out there, with a lack of clarity that just feeds greenwashing and delays meaningful action», Thoren explains:

«At Patagonia, we don’t use the word “sustainable.” Why? Because we recognize we are part of the problem. Previously, we set ourselves the target of carbon neutrality by 2025. But purchasing offsets to get us there doesn’t erase the footprint we create and won’t save us in the long run. We must first put the weight of our business behind drastically cutting emissions across the full length of our supply chain».

Words as honest as they are harsh – which are very reminiscent of the statement We are not a sustainable brand published by Noah in 2019 for the same reason, that is to denounce the greenwashing widespread almost everywhere in the fashion industry. The most recent and striking case exploded thanks to TikTok concerned for example Coach, whose employees had received the order to damage unsold bags then found in the trash to obtain, according to Anna Sacks, tax exemptions – scandal that led the brand to post official apologies on its Instagram page. On the other side of the spectrum, however, there is Chloé, a brand that has fought greenwashing by undergoing the B Corp certification procedure, very strict and above all expensive, but which eliminates any shadow of doubt on greenwashing through accountability. In fact, B Corp certification is considered reliable because it relies on numerous fully quantifiable standards – it is no coincidence that in Patagonia's open letter the B Corp movement is mentioned as one of the two solutions to greenwashing along with direct and public appeals to politics.

In general, reading between the lines in Patagonia's letter, the many references to the unsubstantial statements of many brands and the complete unruliness surrounding the issue of emissions would seem to point to the blame for the pollution caused by fashion in overproduction. Thoren says: «The biggest problem here is that 95% of our emissions come from our supply chain, and we are a minor player on this stage. We produce in shared factories, often alongside much larger brands». A few lines above that the open letter mentioned «moderating growth and cutting the breadth of our product line» as a solution to the carbon emissions problem. The big elephant in the room is therefore excessive production: too many collections, too many brands, too many products poured from week to week on the market. All this becomes even more paradoxical when you think about how sustainability has become a selling point as well as a moral justification for producing other clothes, other sneakers. It is not only the production of clothes that pollutes, but also their transport, their packaging, shipments and, in short, their very existence: as the country coordinator of Fashion Revolution for Italy, Marina Spadafora, told nss magazine last September, «the most sustainable item of clothing is the one that is already hanging in our closet».