Environmental Activism, the Patagonia Way

Ever wonder how the outdoor clothing company Patagonia become synonymous with environmental activism? The company’s original employees were a ragtag group of surfers and climbers. Founder Yvon Chouinard learned the power of activism in the early 70s after attending a city council meeting in Ventura to preserve their local surf break.

As a company, they began supporting small environmental groups, which grew into their annual grants program. In 1994, Patagonia began their Tools Conference, an invite-only workshop for their grant recipients, where top experts in the field—like Bill McKibben, Wade Davis, Jane Goodall, Annie Leonard, and many more—teach the tricks of the trade for grassroots organizing, lobbying, campaign planning and communication strategy, getting the most out of social media, fundraising, using new technologies and how to work with business.

F%name Environmental Activism, the Patagonia Wayor the first time, Patagonia makes the content of the conference available to the public in a new book Patagonia Tools for Grassroots Activists: Best Practices for Success in the Environmental Movement%name Environmental Activism, the Patagonia Way (Feb. 1, 2016; edited by Nora Gallagher, Patagonia’s enviro editor, and Lisa Myers, Patagonia’s Environmental Grants Manager, with a foreword by Yvon Chouinard).

snake 400x267 Environmental Activism, the Patagonia WayPackaged together with full-color photos, the book also features case studies, inspirational keynotes and “wins,” or uplifting stories of environmental success. The paradox for environmental activists is that in their crusade to save the world from big business, they, in fact, need to run a business.

“While I am often embarrassed to admit to being a businessman—I’ve been known to call them sleazeballs—I realize that many activists could learn some of the skills that businesspeople possess. When I told that first group of activists [at the 1994 Tools Conference] that they were businesspeople, there was some snickering in the group. They all thought business was the enemy. I told them that their little NGOs had expenses, did marketing, and had to follow budgets: they had all the problems of business” says Chouinard in the foreword.

The book is a collection of essays by conference presenters and also features case studies—stories of environmental campaigns in North America that were successful in their efforts to:

  • Prevent the disruption of surf break
  • Protect our state and national parks, and recreational trails
  • Restore salmon and steelhead populations
  • Reduce air pollution from coal plants