The Breakdown

Explaining Southern California's economy

A Patagonia jacket that will never pay off its debt to the environment

A colleague here at KPCC passed this full-page New York Times Black Friday ad along to me. It's from Patagonia, and the title says it all. Well, OK, it's not that Patagonia doesn't want you to buy its products. But it does want you to know that the R2 jacket shown is like "all the things we can make and you can buy" because "it comes with an environmental cost higher than it's price." 

What I'm wondering about this conclusion — which Patagonia lays out very convincingly in the ad's copy, confessing to gobbling up 135 liters of water and generating 20 pounds of carbon dioxide creating and marketing just one R2 jacket — is whether Patagonia has done a truly full lifetime analysis of the garment.

And here's why (this is where I go anecdotal): Patagonia products are of ridiculously high quality. Patagonia says the R2 is "exceptionally durable, so you won't have to replace it as often" — and even then they'll take it back and recycle it — but what if you...never replace it? 

That is, as an adult, what if you buy it, care for it, and wear it for 30 or 40 or 50 years? Maybe you even pass it along to a younger family member or send it out into the marketplace for someone else to enjoy, once your number is, um, up.

I have a Patagonia pull-over that's at least 10 years old and showing no signs of retiring. We have a kids jacket that's on child number three. From what I understand, their stuff is of ever higher quality now. And produced with even more mindfulness of environmental impact.

The Don't Buy message is admirable. But is it really as radical as it could be? Almost everyone could probably use a good jacket. But what if you buy that jacket and...never buy another one? I know that flies slightly in the face of Patagonia's brand identity, which is all about the kind of rugged outdoor activity that really tests a garment.

But if all you're doing is taking long walks on cold days, you could do far better than being a Don't Buyer — you could be a Buy Oncer!

I should say that I'm somebody who has the personality for this kind of consumer behavior. Some people like to buy new things, even if they're environmentally costly. I only like to buy new things when the old things have completely fallen apart. And I try to make sure that the old things don't fall apart until they're really, really old. I fully understand that this could lead to a very un-contemporary look. Might not be a lifestyle for everybody.

So what do you think? Should we take Patagonia's advice and avoid buying what they sell, following the dictates of their Common Threads Initiative and "reimagine a world where we take only what nature can replace?" Or should we not worry about nature when we buy stuff, but cover our obligations to the planet by making good consumer decisions that will in the end lighten our loads?

Follow Matthew DeBord and the DeBord Report on Twitter.

blog comments powered by Disqus

Enjoy reading The Breakdown? You might like KPCC’s other blogs.

What's popular now on KPCC