Above: Jim Olson and his wife Judy Bosma pose with Patagonia environmental programs associate Alex Cangialose and environmental grants coordinator Tom Kaheli on the front steps of Patagonia’s headquarters.
Patagonia, the cutting-edge outdoor clothing company with a mission to serve the common good and the planet’s environment, started out as a climbing equipment company in 1973. Since then it has grown into the leading outdoor clothing company on the planet in no small part because of its renowned founder–climber, surfer, kayaking, fly-fishing business entrepreneur, and environmentalist Yvon Chouinard. He may not remember meeting me, but I remember meeting Mr. Chouinard when he spoke in Traverse City more than a decade ago at the request of the Michigan Land Use Institute (now Groundwork).
Writer and outdoor enthusiast Doug Stanton, who’d fished with Yvon in Argentina, called to ask if I could pick up Yvon and drive him to a planned dinner in Leelanau County. It was during the early stages of the citizens’ lawsuit to halt Nestlé’s proposed export of 210 million gallons of bottled water out of the Muskegon River watershed. He was vitally interested and concerned, and shared his own thoughts on the environment, notably (sensing the stress in my voice, I suppose) that if I ever need a mind-clearing retreat, spend some time in Iceland. I have never made it to Iceland, but I took his advice and created moments on the river where I live. Not long after, Michigan Citizens for Water Conservation – the citizen’s group leading the local fight against Nestlé, received a donation from Chouinard to cover some of the scientific expert expenses.
No wonder that Patagonia is known as an unconventional activist, environmentally minded company — a company that has integrated business with care for the planet and the common good. It was the first company to pioneer and push the clothing industry into organic cottons, other fabrics, and now a hemp-cloth line of products. More recently, Patagonia has fostered public lands protection, promoted the protection of Europe’s last wild rivers, supported the New Green Deal, and announced that it would donate the $10 million it received from the Trump corporate-tax cut for the good of the planet.
Patagonia has blessed our work at FLOW
Since 2013, FLOW and Patagonia have partnered to bring knowledge and power to citizens to stand up for the Great Lakes. It started with a telephone call to gauge Patagonia’s interest in protecting the Great Lakes from a catastrophic oil spill from the aging pipelines located in the open waters of the Straits of Mackinac. Good fortune connected FLOW’s Executive Director Liz Kirkwood with Paul Hendricks in the company’s environmental grant program office. With deep roots in Michigan, Paul immediately understood the global significance and risk, and he invited FLOW to submit our first grant on the Line 5 pipeline. That fall, Patagonia invited Liz to participate in their annual Tools for Grassroots Activists Conference, designed to activate and empower environmental leaders nationwide with lessons from cutting-edge communication and campaign firms, fund developers, writers, and storytellers.
Patagonia’s support in the early years of the Line 5 campaign was truly vital to FLOW’s success and ability to work other partners in the Oil & Water Don’t Mix (O&WDM) campaign, comprised of several dozen environmental and tribal groups, and supported by more than 200 businesses, 70 communities, and thousands of citizens. FLOW produced three expert legal and technical reports that helped shape the statewide conversation about Line 5 and influenced the governor’s task force report and advisory board process.
In tandem with this work, FLOW elevated public awareness of Line 5 through extensive presentations and statewide and some national media coverage, which was still dominated in those days by the Keystone Pipeline controversy. Then in 2015, Paul Hendricks and fellow Michigander and filmmaker, Colin McCarthy, approached FLOW to help produce an outdoor adventure/action-inspired film on Line 5. With funding support from Patagonia, Founders Brewing Co., Cherry Republic, and Moosejaw, we created and released “Great Lakes, Bad Lines” in the spring of 2016. Viewership has reached over 103,000 people online, and thousands more at showings co-sponsored by FLOW and our partners in the O&WDM campaign. Patagonia’s 2016 Vote Our Planet campaign then provided a national platform for Great Lakes, Bad Lines and helped FLOW elevate awareness of the danger posed by Line 5 to the national level. The Patagonia Chicago Magnificent Mile store hosted film screenings to packed rooms, and the staff continued to educate their own teams and customers about Line 5 and its national importance. One sixth-grader was so inspired by this story of Line 5 in the film that she raised over $1,000 to support FLOW’s work. Then Patagonia designer Geoff Holstad, who served as art director for the film, shared his artistic gift with FLOW through a year-long Patagonia environmental internship, branding and launching other FLOW initiatives, most notably our Get Off the Bottle campaign.
Since 2015, Patagonia has allowed FLOW to use its Social Amplification platforms and other tools on specific actions related to Line 5. In 2017, Patagonia featured FLOW as a leading environmental grantee in the Patagonia Environmental + Social Initiatives(see page 94). In 2018, Patagonia launched its Action Works platform to connect expert volunteers with nonprofit organizations, and FLOW participated in a Chicago event featuring this work. In addition, Patagonia employee Kristin Nolet served her environmental internship with FLOW, focusing on increasing communications capacity and reach. Last summer, Patagonia co-sponsored FLOW’s Evening for the Great Lakes featuring Chris Thile, mandolin virtuoso and host of NPR’s Live From Here.
Breakfast at Patagonia
On a recent trip to see our family and grandchildren in Ventura, a quiet coastal city an hour north of Los Angeles, my wife Judy, grandson Jack, and I were invited to breakfast by Patagonia’s corporate grant director Alex Cangialose and associate Tom Kaheli. We met in the company’s cordial, sustainable, health-conscious, and café-styled cafeteria, located in the company’s modest complex of sun-yellow, stucco-and-brick buildings nestled under a canopy of trees on the north end of downtown.
We talked about FLOW’s work on Line 5 and the Great Lakes; the complex issues within the nexus of food, energy, and water, magnified by the effects from climate change; the company’s continual efforts to improve sustainability and its industry’s footprint. This included water conservation, non-toxic materials, reuse and recycling, and the company’s serious search to solve the problem of ubiquitous plastic fibers in water and the environment from materials like fleece. We also touched on the company’s defining approach in supporting the tying together of environmental and social justice activism with strong science, law and policy, and communications.
The morning flew by. After breakfast, Alex and Tom took us on a tour of the grounds, office complex, innovative materials research and development using recycled clothing and materials, and the on-site store of its enticing lines of clothing and products. My wife Judy, a small-child educator, was particularly interested in the pre-school facility and playground that delivers free day care and work-day visitation for parents who work at Patagonia.
While we didn’t buy out the store, we left with gifts for the three newest grandchildren in the family – a two-year old, one-year old, and a newborn with a due date this month. But mostly, we went away with a good feeling and appreciation for Patagonia and its staff and employees. The most rewarding part about FLOW’s partnership with Patagonia is the deep personal relationships forged between Patagonia employees in Ventura, Chicago, Reno, and FLOW here in Traverse City and the Great Lakes region. We look forward to meaningful opportunities, engagement, and continued worked together to meet the challenges we face in promoting clean water and the common good in the coming decade.