Patagonia Action Works


Clothing company integrates activism with business

Patagonia has announced that they will refuse to sell corporate logo vests to companies that do not prioritize the environment. The fleece vest has become a corporate wardrobe staple of Wall Street and Silicone Valley firms. The change in Patagonia’s distribution policy came to light when the CEO of the financial communication PR firm Vested applied for, ironically, branded vests. According to an email from an unidentified supplier:

“Patagonia has nothing against your client or the financial industry, it’s just not an area they are currently marketing through our co-brand division. While they have co-branded here in the past, the brand is really focused right now on only co-branding with a small collection of like-minded and brand aligned areas; outdoor sports that are relevant to the gear we design, regenerative organic farming, and environmental activism.... Due to their environmental activism, they are reluctant to co-brand with oil, drilling, mining, dam construction, etc. companies that they view to be ecologically damaging...”

Patagonia has a long history of environmental activism. In 2018, CEO Rose Marcario announced Patagonia was going to give back the $10 million tax cut to grassroots organizations focused on environmental conservation. Until recently, the company mission was “Build the best product, cause no unnecessary harm, use business to inspire and implement solutions to the environmental crisis.” The slogan was changed in December, however, to something more akin to a call to action: “Patagonia is in the business to save our home planet.”

The change has impacted more than just the company letterhead, however. In an order to the company HR department, founder Yvon Chouinard requested that throughout company hirings - regardless of department - experience being equal, the candidate who is the most committed to environmental conservation should be hired. According to a report published by Fast Company, Chouinard has said the change has “made a huge difference in the people coming into the company.”

In addition to mottos and missions, Patagonia has a long history of supporting organizations dedicated to outdoor activities and environmental initiatives. The company has a history of awarding 900 grants per year to various organizations. Recently, the company has become much more selective in the grant allocation process, choosing to focus on three key areas: agriculture, politics, and protected lands. In an interview with Fast Company, Chouinard provided an example of this increased selectivity:

“We give out about 900 grants a year to different activist organizations… We’ve given money to an organization that repairs people’s bicycles. Well, they’re not going to get any money anymore.”

Chouinard has a long personal history of environmental activism, both within and outside the company. In 1986, Chouinard dedicated 1% of total Patagonia sales, or 10% of profits (whichever was higher) to environmental activism and initiatives. In the early 1990s, an environmental audit of the company revealed that the source of their cotton – although ethically farmed – had a large associated environmental footprint. The use of pesticides and insecticides were responsible for a vast amount of the environmental damage associated with cotton production. In response, Chouinard ordered the company to switch cotton sources to those that were certified organic. Although the move was valiant, it almost resulted in the bankruptcy of the company. Sales plummeted 20% due to supply chain issues, and it took Patagonia a total of three years to train and certify the cotton farmers. After the cotton supply issues were remedied, however, sales improved to a steady rate, and have been increasing ever since.

The action taken by Patagonia to not only combat ecological damage, but also enforce environmental proactivity through selective partnerships, is a wonderful example of using corporate influence for the betterment of society. Acta non verba. Social corporate responsibility is a topic too often tackled by words, rather than actions. 

Patagonia has taken corporate responsibility several orders of magnitude beyond the industry standard; hopefully firms will take after their lead, and alter their own internal policies accordingly.


Halifax Passes Motion to Ban Plastic Bags


Does it really change that much?

The majority of us probably have, at some point or another, started accumulating a stash of plastic bags in a forlorn corner of our room or house. Those stashes may soon be a thing of the past if Nova Scotia follows Halifax’s lead in implementing a ban on plastic bags.

The Halifax regional council has recently passed a motion to work with the other nine Nova Scotian municipalities to draft legislation that would ban single-use plastic bags by the end of 2019. This move comes despite staff recommendations that the municipality start with voluntary or phase-in measures. Halifax’s ban follows in the footsteps of other cities such as Montreal and Victoria, who have implemented bans and subjected stores to fines if they’re caught using plastic bags.

One big issue with Halifax’s proposed ban is the inability translate it to a province-wide effort. While close to 15 mayors or wardens in the Nova Scotia Federation of Municipalities, which represents approximately 75% of Nova Scotia, are willing to take Halifax’s proposed bylaw back to their communities, the province has been reluctant to get involved. According to the Chronicle Herald, environment minister Margaret Miller has stated that the province is satisfied with municipal efforts, despite acknowledging the fact that a province-wide initiative could help resolve patchy and confusing bans implemented across different municipalities. Even though fellow Atlantic province PEI implemented a province-wide ban on plastic bags, Nova Scotia seems willing to sit this one out.

Trying to reduce the number of single-use plastic bags is nothing new either. Businesses have been charging for plastic bags for a couple of years and promoting the use of reusable bags by selling them in store. Costco stands out at the most prominent example, requiring any customers to bring their own boxes or bags when shopping there. These initiatives by private companies are helping reduce the number of plastic bags being used or at least making customers think twice about if they need a bag. Perhaps bans from municipalities like Halifax are playing catch-up with the private sector’s initiatives.

Given that the Ecology Action Centre collected nearly 2,500 signatures in favour of the ban, the societal shift away from plastic bags may already be here. The question is, how many businesses and individuals will follow through with their support of a ban when their bottom line may be affected, or they realize how often they get plastic bags regularly for the sake of convenience?

Another issue the plastic ban ignores is what to do with all the bags currently in circulation, sitting around our houses, or in landfills. There are many people already trying to repurpose plastic, whether it be making baskets, using them for small household garbage cans, and more. Yet, there seems to be little initiative addressing how to reuse or repurpose plastic bags by municipalities, which could be a lucrative project as we move towards a greener society.

Causing an uproar over banning single-use plastic bags seems a bit ludicrous when you put it into context with all the other single-use plastics or containers not being banned. Whether it’s straws, Styrofoam takeout containers, or the plastic packaging used in shampoo bottles, there are a lot of plastic and other harmful materials being put in landfills. Understandably, banning some items like straws can be detrimental for individuals who rely on them for accessibility reasons or may not be able to afford the alternatives; however, if Halifax and Nova Scotia want to really make a positive environmental impact, they should be considering a larger scale ban on other single-use plastics or excessive packaging as well.

Even broader still, climate change and the environment should be policy areas that we take more seriously. Just this January, Halifax became the second Canadian city to declare a climate emergency. Moreover, in 2018, the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change gave a gloomy world forecast if we are unable to prevent warming the globe by another degree Celsius, meaning harsher cuts to greenhouse gas emissions and far-reaching changes across many sectors are likely in our future. In that sense, while smaller actions like banning plastic bags are good, perhaps there should also be a focus on how to tackle the big issues of climate change that can and do have devastating consequences.

Halifax, along with the other Nova Scotia municipalities, has taken a good step in drafting legislation to ban the use of plastic bags by the end of this year; they should keep in mind what other big picture measures they can take alongside the plastic bag ban so we can avoid pushing our planet even further past the environmental tipping point.


Charging Stations on Campus for Electric Vehicles


Electric vehicles’ charging stations $1 per hour now functioning

Two electric vehicle charging stations in the Bloomfield Centre rear parking lot and one in the J. Bruce Brown Hall parking lot installed on November 20, 2018 are now functioning. 

Faculty Management’s Energy & Utilities Supervisor Kevin Latimer, leader of these installments, said the stations are part of the Mulroney Hall project. The charging stations earned Mulroney Hall points to qualify as a Gold building on the LEAD (Leadership Energy and Environmental Design) ranking. 

At the cost of $1 per hour, an electric vehicle hooked at a charging station on campus will get its battery charging and the payment is easily processed through the FLO app. 

When asked about profitability, Latimer commented “It isn’t profitable at a buck an hour. A buck an hour will recover our energy cost. Three units cost close to $25 000.”

“I was talking to Kevin Latimer about stations since I got the car. Some charging stations are free,” Frank Comeau said referring to the stations at Halifax Library, Dalhousie University and Saint Mary’s University. “I was arguing with Latimer to make them free.”

Comeau added, “There’s no point in charging my car here because it costs me two to three times more than it costs at home. For that reason, I don’t use them that much.”

Comeau was the first user of the charging station at J. Bruce Brown Hall. Comeau and I did the math to compare the charging and fueling costs between our vehicles. Comeau’s Volt travels 60 kilometers for $1.5 to $2.5 while my Grand Prix travels the same distance for $8 to $8.25. 

As part of the Maritime Link Project, Nova Scotia is shifting from 28% renewable energy to 40% renewable energy. Latimer notes, “Nova Scotia Power has promised to have 40% renewables by 2020. When that happens, electricity will be more environmentally friendly than gas. Right now, electricity in Nova Scotia is close to breaking even with gas in terms of carbon footprint.” 

Latimer started fidgeting with his safety glasses when he mentioned, “We could easily go to 50% renewable energy, but Nova Scotia is going to sell 10% for profit to the States where energy will go at a much higher rate.” 

Comeau, electrical engineer and professor at StFX, questioned the research that concludes electric vehicles have a similar carbon footprint as gas vehicles, “Studies have shown that electric vehicles in Nova Scotia emit the same carbon footprint as gas cars and other studies have shown that it’s about half of the carbon footprint. I can’t seem to get to the bottom of this. If we had 100% renewables, it’d be better.” 

Comeau has been fascinated with renewable energy since he was a youngster, “I’ve been interested in electric cars since the oil crisis in the 1970s. There were big, long, lineups at gas stations and people started thinking about renewables then is what I remember.”

 “I have plans to put solar power on my house to charge my car,” Comeau asserted. Solutions to the carbon footprint issue seem to be generating electricity with renewable energy sources like solar panels, windmills, or hydropower instead of mining lithium. 

Comeau is one of two professors at StFX who have electric vehicles. Few students, if any, have electric vehicles. Latimer hopes that tourists visiting campus with electric vehicles this summer will increase the use of charging stations. 

Electric vehicles will have to be actively charging at the station on campus or they will get a ticket, and they can stay charging in the station for up to four hours per parking session. Electric vehicle charging symbols will be painted in the designated parking spots this spring.