Corporate greed is in the headlines again—wait, did it ever disappear? Not if you follow the 2011 Edelman Trust Barometer where the US is nearly on par with Russia in lack of trust in business and government. But this time, people are taking to the streets in New York and Los Angeles to defy the “ghoulish nature of capitalism” as the Occupy Wall Street movement spreads to other cities. High time for a corporate hero. Enter Patagonia, with their smart, bold “Buy Less” campaign.
“Patagonia’s campaign appears both genuine and borderline heroic,” says author Eric Lowitt for the Harvard Business Review Blog Network. To put its buy-less idea into action, Patagonia recently partnered with eBay to enable consumers to resell their used Patagonia apparel via the Common Threads Initiative within eBay. In addition, consumers will now be able to resell their used Patagonia apparel on a new Used Clothing & Gear Section on their website.
The company wants to influence consumer buying behavior as part of its corporate mission. Patagonia recognizes that individual consumption is a huge threat to already strained natural resources—a trend likely to increase with the world population set to grow by over 9 billion by 2050.
It’s a smart move. Patagonia’s campaign feeds into a growing contingent of consumers, disgusted with waste and overconsumption, who are taking matters into their own hands. The Freecycle Network, a grassroots movement of people who are giving (and getting) stuff for free in their own towns, is now 8 million strong. In hard economic times, reusing and keeping stuff out of landfills makes more sense than ever.
Patagonia gets that. But they get it in a way that makes business sense. Of course they don’t want people to stop buying their apparel. By encouraging people to buy well-made textiles from a sustainability-minded brand, they can charge a premium for their products while giving customers a way to keep discarded fleeces out of landfills and put them into the hands of someone who doesn’t mind a used Patagonia product (or can’t afford a new one).
So maybe the protesters in New York wouldn’t brand Patagonia a corporate ghoul. But one borderline hero doesn’t make a movement. We’ll need more than one company with a human face to get people to believe the corporate world can help solve the problems of over-consumption, not just create them.