Patagonia's work environment pleases workers and the environment.
Thu, Dec 04, 2008 at 02:04 PM
Photo by Nicolas Boullosa/Flickr
What would you be doing today if you didn't have to work? Surfing? Skiing? Maybe riding your bike to yoga class? What if you could do those things and go to work? Not just today, but every day.
This set of perks is daily reality for the folks at Patagonia, headquartered in Santa Monica, Calif. — a green company if ever there was one.
Along with flexible work schedules that encourage employees to take two-hour surfing lunches, Patagonia offers free on-site child care, a cubicle-free work environment, no dress code and even has paid "internships" where employees take two months' leave for environmental volunteering.
Such radical corporate culture may sound embellished; most companies just don't operate that way. But Jenn Rapp, director of communications for Patagonia, insists her employers are the real deal.
"This is just a really homey, balanced workplace where people are energized and psyched to work and psyched to play," Rapp says. She and her husband (a product designer) both work for the company.
The Rapp family, complete with two children, drives to work together each morning and joins other employee families for lunch each afternoon in the on-site organic cafeteria.
Rapp continues by noting the philosophy of Patagonia founder Yvon Choinard, saying, "He believes that if people have the freedom and ability to judge the best way to manage their time and the best way to do their job, they're going to feel really empowered and respected and give that back to the company. And it's true."
Choinard, who began Patagonia in the late '50s selling reusable pitons from the trunk of his car, has always wanted to create the best gear and clothing for climbing and outdoor activities.
In treating his employees like he would his friends or family, he created a compassionate working environment that seems strange to the rest of the world stuck in the corporate machine.
It's essential to Choinard that Patagonia products are long-lasting.
He and his workers are, above all else, nature lovers looking to take care of the planet.
Each job opening at Patagonia receives more than 900 applicants, and Choinard picks only workers who have experience as hikers, surfers or cyclists.
He believes you can teach marketing skills to a climber, but you cannot teach a passion for climbing to a marketing manager.
The respect for nature comes first.
Patagonia is as dedicated to erasing its carbon footprint as it is to creating gear helping people enjoy the wild outdoors.
The rest of the corporate culture -- including solar-paneled carports, priority parking for hybrids, buildings powered by renewable energy sources and offering only ground shipping for goods -- underscores this mission.
Patagonia doesn't have just a few green jobs. Everyone who works there is a green employee.
In fact, Patagonia donates 1 percent of its annual sales to grassroots environmental initiatives.
Sound too good to be true for a corporation earning more than $270 million a year? It's not.
It's easy to be skeptical that genuine compassion exists in a world of CEO embezzlement and corporate scandals.
But Patagonia is sincere in its triple bottom line: profit and environmental and social responsibility.
The company found that the benefits it offers, even health-care coverage for all workers, are inexpensive considering the low turnover and high value workers place on their jobs.
"In all sincerity, we're all very lucky to work here," Rapp says. "It's a good place. But the model is sustainable and possible in many industries."
The rest of the business world is starting to agree.
Choinard has spoken about organic cotton to corporations such as Wal-Mart, and Patagonia has led by example in offering paternity leave or employee benefits for driving hybrids.
"We try to show other people that you can have these benefits and make good decisions and be profitable," Rapp says. Since the third prong of Patagonia's mission statement is to inspire such change and mindfulness in other businesses, it appears its policies are pointing in the right direction.
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