Ground zero for sustainable company values: a tour of Patagonia headquarters in Ventura
Yvon Chouinard’s 2006 book, “Let My People Go Surfing: the education of a reluctant businessman” has become a bible for young companies aspiring to build sustainable businesses in the company’s footsteps. In addition to Patagonia’s history and philosophies on product and financials, Chouinard writes about flex time, maternity leave, and benefits—all of which earned the company a reputation for attracting and retaining the most devoted employees.
A recent visit to Patagonia’s campus in Ventura reflected these philosophies are alive and well. From wetsuits drying in the parking lot, to a line of employees waiting to buy fresh bread from a baker selling it out of her truck, the all-encompassing nature of merging personal and professional life is something the company executes well with its staff.
The on-campus farmers market allows employees to get locally grown, organic food during their workday rather than having to travel to a store for these items.
Inside resembles the interior of a ski lodge with its dark wooden stairs and living-room style aesthetic. Parents play with toddlers in the day care center while others munch on subsidized organic meals in the cafeteria. The atmosphere is relaxed, evidenced by a woman wrapped in a blanket returning from the beach, a dog nestled next to its owner’s desk, and even a bare-footed person walking casually across carpeted floors.
This friendly, airy vibe translates to work space through open, cubicle-free offices encouraging collaborative work, and an open door policy to CEO Rose Marcario’s executive office. We toured the campus to find out more about why Patagonia’s headquarters is ground zero for its company values, which have a clear ripple effect throughout the rest of the organization.
The first introduction to visiting Patagonia’s front desk is being offered a beverage or meal in your cafeteria. Why is organic food education and access to organic food important to a sustainable business model?
Corey Simpson, PR Coordinator: Our farmers market, bread deliveries, and food education classes are all part of the overall effort to provide the highest quality food made in the most sustainable ways available to our employees. The on-campus farmers market allows employees to get locally grown, organic food during their workday rather than having to travel to a store for these items. Our food education program helps teach our employees the value of using and enjoying local and organically grown food and how utilizing regenerative agricultural processes encourages healthy soil and water use.
We noticed the solar panels in the parking lot. How much energy do the solar panels provide to the office?
Paul Hendricks, Brand Responsibility Metrics Analyst: The solar panels on the Ventura campus provide 10-15% of power to our campus. In the coming months we have plans in place to increase that number.
A lot of your R&D and quality control repairs happen here in Ventura, particularly on Patagonia’s consumer and ambassador wetsuits. Why are these repair programs important for sustainability?
Simpson: The greenest thing you can do is to buy quality goods and keep them in use for a long time. Our Ironclad Guarantee ensures everything we make for the lifetime of the product. Our repair programs are a crucial component of keeping clothes in use for as long as possible. Wetsuits live in a harsh environment; sun and saltwater. When we launched our wetsuit program in 2006 we established our wetsuit repair program to keep these suits in use for as long as possible. Our Worn Wear program has had amazing support, feeding the requests from our customer base about how to repair and keep your gear in use for years and years.
How does your surfboard program practice sustainability in the materials?
Simpson: When we started making surfboards in 1996, our goal was to find stronger, safer, and less toxic materials without sacrificing performance. Along with a group of friends who all surfed and shaped, the crew proceeded to lay up and destroy hundreds of test panels in search of a less harmful way of building boards. The material they settled on was a type of extruded polystyrene, which we’ve been using to make our blanks since 1999. It has a consistent density and is extremely light, giving FCD boards excellent flex and strength in the water. And with no VOC emissions, it’s easier on the environment than conventional surfboard foam. Bottom line: the longer a board lasts the better it is for the environment.
How is child care and maternity and paternity leave policies part of a sustainable business model, and how do you measure the ROI on those programs?
Simpson: Many benefits of our on site child care and maternity and paternity leave policies are highlighted in [this article recently published in Business Insider]. Overall, the combination of on-site care and well supported maternity and paternity leave policies create a supportive and encouraging environment for parents during the crucial time after birth. The combination of paid family leave and on-site care promotes our “family first” ethos, providing a peace of mind for working mothers and fathers.