In my last post, I wrote about Patagonia and its attempt to encourage more conscious capitalism. I was, admittedly, a little skeptical of its efforts. With justifiable reason. Its recycling program had conveniently led to greater sales of its freshly wrapped, organically manufactured fleece jackets at seven hundred bucks a pop. Which, depending on where you stood, could either be seen as a totally cynical marketing ploy to hook and reel the collective environmental conscience of the world’s self-acclaimed saviors, or an innocent act of environmental responsibility that had serendipitous side effects.
While we have no conclusive evidence either way, what we do know is that since then, Patagonia has upped the stakes. Last month, it launched a campaign called The Responsible Economy, which is nothing less than an attempt to make us reconsider the way we consume everything.
This foolhardy act of corporate quixotism must be applauded, even if it does not go anywhere. To quote its website:
We at Patagonia, like all business people, know that long-term income has to exceed long-term expense. To do otherwise is to go bankrupt, as Ernest Hemingway described, in the usual two ways: “Gradually, then suddenly.”
There is every indication that this approach will not work. People look for deals. Most of us are unable to look beyond our noses at the effect our actions have in the long term. And, of course, Patagonia is for rich people — a tiny percentage of the world’s population and certainly not the biggest culprits in global warming and environmental degradation.
But what if we look at Patagonia from a different angle? What if we didn’t see it as a company trying to reverse the cycle of destructive, zero-sum consumption, and instead thought of it as a university of behavioral change? What if we adopted the marketing principles of the apostles of Jesus in the first century AD?
In approximately AD 52, as far as we know from Wikipedia, St. Thomas the Apostle came to India on a mission to reveal the teachings of Jesus Christ and convert the country to the faith we now call Christianity. The interesting aspect of his strategy was that he chose to go for status over quantity, converting the higher caste Indians — the priests and warriors.
Why, you may ask? Because it was aspirational. Because converting the upper classes, as abhorrent as it may sound in our politically correct times, was the most efficient way to convert others and preserve and nurture the religion. Today, there are at least 100 million Christians in India, but, more importantly, in a world riven by ethnic hatred, the Christians have by and large been accepted and assimilated, even admired.
What are the principles of the gospel of Patagonia? Founder Yvon Chouinard, explains: “Can we even imagine what an economy would look like that wouldn’t destroy the home planet? A responsible economy? During the next two years, Patagonia will try to face and explore that question. We’ll use real-world examples, not a lot of pie-in-the-sky theories. Most of all, we’re going to feel our way into how this question affects how we do business. It is the most ambitious and important endeavor we have ever undertaken.”
The company notes that, every year, humans use the earth’s resources at a rate nearly one and a half times faster than nature can replace essential “services” such as clean water, clean air, arable land, healthy fisheries, and the stable climate all businesses and societies depend on.
In order to reverse the insistence of growth-dependent capitalism, Patagonia will promote the concept that everyone must learn to consume less and use resources far more productively – as well as innovate as quickly and ingeniously as possible to reduce adverse human impact on the natural systems that support all life.
Let’s hope the Brahmins who can afford those fleece jackets evangelize the word.