prAna puts sustainability theory into practice at HQ

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A tour of prAna’s headquarters

A universally known event among all prAna’s employees is the gong. At 3 p.m. every day, the gong rings throughout the building. For those who aren’t within an earshot of the physical gong’s reverberations, the sound can be heard on the telephone intercom. This signals for everyone to stop working and take a one minute meditation break to connect to something outside of work, and reset their intentions for the afternoon. The more-than-10-year-long ritual is one of many daily reminders about the company’s manifesto of SEVA or “selfless service.”

There are more reminders at every corner of the workplace culture. The company’s commitment to recycling and sustainable materials in its products are present in the building itself. Graphic rows of wood beams throughout the office were reclaimed from a dismantled barn and all steel and metal hardware were upcycled. To throw anything away, employees have to walk over to one of the communal recycling and garbage bins, which strive for a zero waste goal.

We caught up with prAna’s Social Responsibility and Traceability Manager, Brianna Kilcullen to gain more insight on practicing sustainability within the company culture, and how that translates to production and partners on a larger scale.

prAna’s Social Responsibility and Traceability Manager, Brianna Kilcullen.

What does it mean to be a company that prioritizes sustainability? What are some examples of these choices you have to make?

Kilcullen: To be a company that prioritizes sustainability means to 1) have buy-in from executive leadership and the company as a whole, and 2) apply a regenerative mindset in every decision made from designing product to responsible purchasing practices, and 3) recognizing that we operate in imperfect conditions and working within those conditions will only move the needle closer to setting the pace for a more realistic environment for the industry.

What are the most common misconceptions that the public has about what it means to be a sustainable company?

Kilcullen: A lot of times people think sustainability = green, i.e. recycle / composting, which it does!  But it is much more than that — especially at prAna.  Sustainability applies to everything we do. From our social compliance program with our suppliers in sourcing regenerative/recycled/Bluesign fabrics to the highest standard, to implementing a zero-waste trash can system at HQ, to the packaging of our products (only using recycled paper and soy based ink), to practicing SEVA [selfless service] in our communities, to ensuring responsible sourcing and production within our supply chain.

prana office tour

On February 16 & 17, 2016, prAna SEVA volunteers united with the San Diego Canyonlands organization to restore and clean the Gonzales canyon in an effort to make them healthy, safe places for the community to enjoy. Image courtesy of Prana.

What are some examples of SEVA? How does your executive leadership practice sustainability and educate their teams about it?

Kilcullen: The leaders of prAna have made it a goal to help build great people, not just great employees. We have incorporated many benefits to give employees a life/work balance. A beautiful garden outside to eat lunch, a gym to work out in, we are given two days a year to skip work and participate in some form of community service and there is an internal committee dedicated to improving the company perks (Party Planning team, Sustainability team and a SEVA team).

The Sustainability team has recently incorporated new trash cans made with sustainable materials into the office along with composting bins and they perform yearly trash audits to encourage employees to put trash/recyclables in the right place. They also made a garden at our HQ where compost from the HQ is taken.

The SEVA team organizes work community service opportunities. We partner with a variety of local organizations to give back. Some organizations we have worked with include Outdoor Outreach, Casa De Amparo, and Outdoor Foundation!

What are the most common misconceptions that new manufacturers, for example, a start-up brand might have about what it means to be sustainable?

Kilcullen: I think the most difficult challenge for a start-up brand is to define and prioritize the value of sustainability within the organization.  Are you going to define sustainability in the development of your raw materials, like fabrics and trims?  Are you going to define it in a recycling program at the office?  Are you going to define it by your partnership with external organizations such as Fair Labor Association, Fair Trade, OIA?  All of these things are important but if the company’s foundation is not grounded in sustainability, then prioritizing which ones resonates internally and with the consumer — and honing in on it — could not only be more impactful, but could potentially allow for exploration into future initiatives regarding sustainability down the road.

More About prAna’s Sustainable Supply Chain: Sustainability Best Practices Part 2 | Responsible Sourcing

What are a few examples of projects in which Prana is working towards a sustainable model?

Kilcullen: Nicole Bassett, our previous director of sustainability, built a great sustainability program and we are currently working on building off that and fine tuning current initiatives. We are almost 80% poly bag free in our product line but are still using poly bags for our swimwear product that requires to be separated so now we are exploring biodegradable bag options.

We are also meeting monthly as a supply chain department and ensuring the product we are currently developing is aligned with the most sustainable fabrics and we are hitting internal goals as a company to ensure we are growing styles with sustainable attributes each season.

 

prana office tour

Instead of using plastic bags to package its garments, Prana ties them with raffia. The company is currently 80% poly bag free. Image courtesy of Prana.

How do you measure your ROI on implementing these sustainable initiatives?

Kilcullen: That’s a really tough one to answer.  We do not currently have a system/tools to calculate ROI because the calculations to determine it vary for each aspect of the sustainability program. For example, we are working on pulling numbers of dollars that prAna micro-financed to organic cotton farmers in India and the overall impact on the farmers’ lives. For example, [the absence of] insecticides and pesticides, which can then be correlated to the total fabric cost we pay per garment. This data will help demonstrate that choosing organic vs conventional is not only better for the environment and workers lives, but is also a more cost efficient solution for the business. But to be honest, we are only rolling this out in one or two cases this year, until we have a system in place that allows us to report off of the data.

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