A director of Patagonia, the first runner of the environmental management, talks “The reason why we chose ECOPET®”.

Patagonia, which produces clothes with high functionality and the durability, has been continuing to work on the environmental problem with its original stance. This company adopts ECOPET® as recycled textile to reduce the environmental impact.

We interviewed Robert Naughter, director from Material Innovation division at Patagonia Inc., about the reason why they select ECOPET® and their philosophy concerning the environment.

– What is Patagonia’s sustainability policy?

“We are in business to save our home planet.” We aim to use the resources we have—our business, our investments, our voice, and our imaginations—to help improve the state of the environment. We have Core Values to keep us on track:

Core Values

Our values reflect those of a business started by a band of climbers and surfers, and the minimalist style they promoted. The approach we take toward product design demonstrates a bias for simplicity and utility.

Build the Best Product
Our criteria for the best product rests on function, repairability, and, foremost, durability. Among the most direct ways we can limit ecological impacts is with goods that last for generations or can be recycled so the materials in them remain in use. Making the best product matters for saving the planet.

Cause No Unnecessary Harm
We know that our business activity—from lighting stores to dyeing shirts—is part of the problem. We work steadily to change our business practices and share what we’ve learned. But we recognize that this is not enough. We seek not only to do less harm, but better.

Use Business to Protect Nature
The challenges we face as a society require leadership. Once we identify a problem, we act. We embrace risk and act to protect and restore the stability, integrity, and beauty of the web of life.

Not Bound by Convention
Our success—and much of the fun—lies in developing new ways to do things.

– Patagonia did a survey about the environmental footprint in 1991. Why did you pay attention of textile’s environmental footprint at that early stage?

In 1991 Patagonia conducted a survey about its environmental footprint. The overall objective was to “methodically evaluate the effect of Patagonia’s fabric choices, product development and manufacture have on the environment, with a view to mitigating such impacts, step by step over time.” We assessed the 4 most used fibers in our product, polyester, wool, nylon, and cotton. Each of the fibers were evaluated for life-cycle environmental risks. Patagonia’s interest in understanding the environmental impacts of doing business was the motivating factor behind the assessment.

– Let me know about recent situation about carbon neutral.

Patagonia knows that action on climate is critical to the health of the planet and is an essential part of being a responsible company. Part of that action is understanding our carbon footprint. We have measured our carbon footprint and know that at Patagonia, approximately 95 percent of our carbon emissions come from manufacturing and transporting the clothing we sell. To reduce Patagonia’s impact on people and the planet, we are working toward becoming carbon neutral across our entire business. That said, carbon neutrality is very challenging to achieve and requires that we reduce emissions in all aspects of our business. This includes using renewable energy in our owned and operated facilities, using materials that have lower carbon emissions and partnering with our supply chain to reduce energy use and use renewable energy.

– What is Patagonia’s action for environment? How does those actions affect to customers?

Measuring our carbon footprint helped us identify the various actions we need to take to reduce our environmental impacts. Once we completed our companywide carbon assessment, we were able to identify the parts of our business that have the highest environmental impacts. We have learned that making brand new products drives environmental impacts from our business. To reduce those impacts, we have focused on using preferred materials such as recycled PET, recycled nylon, organic cotton, regenerative organic cotton, recycled cotton, and recycled wool. These fibers have lower carbon footprints than their conventional versions. We also have an internal Innovation team focused on identifying lower carbon footprint materials to replace fossil fuel-based materials commonly used in the textile industry. In addition, we have worked to grow our Worn Wear program that focuses on extending the useful life of every product we make. Through this program Patagonia provides garment repair, used garment resale and garment recycling services to customers. In addition, since 1985, Patagonia has pledged 1 percent of sales to the preservation and restoration of the natural environment. Since then, we’ve awarded over $140 million in grants to grassroots environmental groups worldwide that are making a difference in their communities.

– What is Patagonia’s goal of using polyester?

The goal isn’t just to reach 100% recycled polyester but to continual improve and reduce the impact of the technologies that allow us to reduce our dependency on fossil fuels.  Our research shows over 86% of our company’s carbon footprint on the environment comes from our supply chain.  This is one of the major reasons we are so focused on recycling and using recycled inputs like ECOPET®.

That means focusing on both mechanically and chemically recycled polyester solutions targeting all industries and uses including but not limited to, both pre-consumer and post-consumer sources including bottles from high impact regions, textile cutting scraps, and End of Life Garments destined for landfill or incineration.  In addition to focusing on the source of this polyester, we are also using it to build the longest lasting product we can and designing future garments with recycling in mind from the beginning.

Our most important goal is to inspire the industry to not only use more recycled polyester, but to show you can make business more sustainable and be profitable, because we can’t save the planet on our own.

– In your products made of polyester, what percentage do you use recycled polyester – not only ECOPET® but also any other recycled polyester? If you use virgin polyester for some products, please let us know the reason.

Patagonia is using over 50% recycled PET in 2020, with a target of 100% by 2025.  Any virgin PET that remains will have to prove that product is doing less harm before adopting into our line.  Some will be challenging, especially that last % which could be novel PET fibers and yarns more difficult to replicate or produce.

– When and why did Patagonia start to use ECOPET®?

Patagonia first started using recycled PET back in 1993, long before it was the trendy thing to do. We began using Teijin’s ECOPET® in the early 2000’s, and in fall of 2005, Patagonia partnered with Teijin to launch the Common Threads Garment Recycling program. This program invited customers to return used-up Patagonia clothing and in turn, Patagonia committed to recycling those garments. As part of the recycling program, Patagonia partnered with Teijin’s recycling facilities in Japan to take back worn-out Capilene baselayer to be made into new yarns using Teijin’s ECOCIRCLE® fiber-to fiber recycling system.

The Common Threads initiative was built 5 key principles; REDUCE what you buy, REPAIR what needs fixing, REUSE product that you no longer need, RECYCLE worn out gear to give it new life, and REIMAGINE the future of our world where we partner with suppliers and other brands to use only what we need from the lowest impact materials.

Today we are marching Patagonia toward using 100% Recycled PET.  Teijin’s ECOPET® has been crucial leader in transforming discarded plastic PET bottles, clothes, and fiber waste not only for Patagonia but for the whole apparel industry.  ECOPET®’s high quality polyester allowed Patagonia to make the same great products our company has been known for, without sacrificing performance, durability, hand feel or design aesthetic.

– Are there any demands for ECOPET® from employee or customer? What Patagonia expects on ECOPET® for future?

Patagonia’s customers expect us to build the best product and do the least amount of harm.  More recently our mission changed to be even broader and bolder.  “Save our home planet.”  We have expanded our view of success and need suppliers like Teijin and more yarns like ECOPET® to have any hope of accomplishing this difficult goal.

As apparel and textile manufacturers we also must think about what happens to a product or textile at the end of its life.  If the answer is, “we don’t know”, then maybe we should not make the product until we do.  Polyester is a fantastic material and has changed how we live our lives, but we don’t want to simply burn it or bury it when we are done.  That isn’t being a responsible manufacturer or consumer.

Patagonia hopes Teijin’s ECOPET® will continue to evolve its technology and inputs to include textile waste and PET waste that has been collected from communities that are in the early stages of developing waste and recycling infrastructure.

Interviewee: Robert Naughter