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Patagonia Challenges Businesses to Eschew Lax Textile Standards, Support Regenerative Agriculture

Purpose-driven US outdoor clothing giant Patagonia is calling for business leaders to back regenerative organic agriculture, claiming that certain textile standards are “not going far enough.”

“A growing number of corporations, researchers, journalists and practitioners have also started using the term ‘regenerative’ — as well as ‘restorative,’ ‘sustainable,’ ‘ethical,’ and others — almost interchangeably, without any clear sense of what we’re talking about,” Patagonia president and CEO Rose Marcario asserted in a recent post. “Even worse, we’re increasingly seeing ‘sustainable’ claims combined with conventional (non-organic) farming, which defeats the purpose entirely.”

Instead of tolerating “the watering down of agricultural practices that hold potential for enormous benefit to our suffering planet,” she contends, companies need to avoid perpetuating environmental degradation – not to mention potential greenwashing - by committing to the use of materials created through regenerative organic agriculture, which “includes any agricultural practice that increases soil organic matter from baseline levels over time, provides long-term economic stability for farmers and ranchers, and creates resilient ecosystems and communities.

“Put simply, this approach presents an opportunity to reclaim our farming system on behalf of the planet and human health — while fulfilling the obvious need to feed and clothe billions of people around the world. We can produce what we need and revitalize soil at the same time, thereby sequestering carbon currently polluting the atmosphere and warming our planet,” she says.

Patagonia first developed its organic cotton supply chain in the mid-1990s and now sources 100 percent organic cotton. Organic cotton, however, has failed to grow its share of the global cotton market to any great significance during that time, hovering around the 1-2 percent mark.

“Meaningless terms with little or no concrete definition inundate consumers at every turn (even the label ‘organic’ can be slippery), causing confusion at best,” Marcario said. “Some existing standards don’t go far enough. For example, many companies have signed onto the Better Cotton Initiative (BCI) — a program that includes some important environmental and social provisions but ultimately still perpetuates some harmful conventional practices, including use of synthetic pesticides and GMO seeds.”

Patagonia continues to learn more about organic supply chains and works to integrate regenerative agriculture further into its business. Currently the company is growing a food business, Patagonia Provisions, which requires every product to reflect a commitment to regenerative soil or sustainable fishing practices. Additionally, Patagonia’s in-house venture fund, Tin Shed Ventures, makes investments in new regenerative enterprises.

“The direct benefits of regenerative organic agriculture are extraordinary: better food and higher-quality fibres, as well as an effective means to reduce greenhouse gases — something we sorely need as we face environmental catastrophe,” Marcario said. “In fact, this may be the best shot we’ve got at moving the needle on climate change.”

Patagonia has been challenging business- and consumerism-as-usual for years, and continues to lead the pack when it comes to backing its sustainability talk with action. Its recent foray into the use of closed-loop TENCEL®, made from cotton fabric waste, has earned the company a nomination for the 2017 Circulars.