Elissa Loughman, an environmental analyst for the Ventura-based clothing company Patagonia, spoke about sustainability practices within businesses at the Marshall School of Business’ monthly “Lunch and Learn” series.
Loughman, who has a bachelor’s degree in zoology and a master’s in environmental science and management, focused on the environmentally conscious outfitter’s strategies for sustainability and waste reduction. Eight years ago, when she applied for the company’s internship, Loughman didn’t think she would fit in at a company like Patagonia.
“I’m not a designer,” Loughman said. “I have no fashion sense and I’m not a sales person at all. What would I do for a company that makes and sells clothes?”
As it turned out, Loughman would end up doing quite a lot.
According to Loughman, since the 1970s, the company mission has been to “build the best product, cause no unnecessary harm, use business to inspire and implement solutions to the environmental crisis.”
To build the best product, Loughman says, Patagonia believes in a design that is durable, long-lasting, failure resistant and repairable if necessary. Manufacturing products that can be used for years without wear reduces waste and improves efficiency, she noted. In addition, Loughman helps Patagonia develop products that are earth-friendly and use more sustainable raw materials. Patagonia’s cotton products are USDA-certified 100 percent organic, and the company is pursuing strategies for waterless dying.
The company is also creating initiatives to encourage more environmentalism among its customers. Patagonia began its “Common Threads” initiative, which recycles and converts its customers’ used cotton clothes into usable cotton. In addition, the company partnered with eBay to sell cotton products online, resulting in the company being landfill-free since 2011, according to Loughman.
Yet Patagonia doesn’t rely on internal practices alone to promote its sustainability campaign. The company has reached out to its supply chain in order to implement sustainable solutions to environmental crises, according to Loughman. The company’s webpages, such as The Footprint Chronicles, show customers the process of how their products are made. Patagonia also sells its “1% For The Planet” products, donating that portion of the profit from those products to environmental organizations.
Some students said Loughman’s speech made them optimistic about the shift to a corporate economy. Ian Ritchey, a junior majoring in business administration, believes Patagonia’s ideology is a positive aspect of the company.
“The high price tag deters a large number of consumers, which is counterintuitive as a for-profit company,” Ritchey said. “But they know what they are doing and they are clearly doing [it] well.”
Loughman knows that transforming the way corporations relate to the environment is a long and difficult process. Through her work, however, it is clear that she is fulfilling the goal she set for herself when she applied for an internship with the company eight years ago. Patagonia’s acute focus on environmentalism and customer awareness within their business model reflects Loughman’s greater goals.
“I knew I wanted to do something bigger,” Loughman said. “There is no business to be done on a dead planet.”
The next “Lunch and Learn” will take place in March and will feature Josh Nesbit, co-founder and CEO of Medic Mobile.