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January 29, 2009

Walking the Green Talk = Smart Business? [Patagonia cut product line 30%]

Two styles of ski pants may be ‘all anyone needs‘…it may be the noble, right thing to do, to cut your line 30%…it may engender loyalty in consumers, as it has with me…but is walking your green talk really make for good business?

Excerpt critical of Patagonia:

…via Kelly Spors, I read this essay at GreenBiz.com by Joel Makower, author of one seminal book for the current “green” movement, The Green Consumer. His argument, as I understand it, is that the “going green” business practice needs to be more than just putting out environmentally-friendly products and making those products in green-conscious ways. It also needs to take on the problem of what Makower sees as excessive consumption: people buying too many things.

Encouraging your customers to buy less stuff? Seems paradoxical, but Makower gives an example of something Patagonia did recently: it cut down on 30 percent of its clothing line, deciding that, in the words of Patagonia founder Yvon Chouinard, “two styles of ski pants are all that anyone needs.”

For me, this is where the whole “going green” mantra goes off-course. It’s one thing for businesses to offer products that cater to consumers’ desire to be kinder to the environment.  That is simply what good entrepreneurs do: they see something that people want, and they provide it for a price. And running your business in an energy-efficient way is, again, just a smart business practice.

But it’s quite another thing for businesses to take it upon themselves to diminish the “problem” of a materialist society.

First, this has problems as a business practice. This is pretty much the exact opposite of “the customer is always right.” The customer wants ten different styles ski pants? Sorry, buddy–Yvon Chouinard knows exactly how many you need. But, of course, there’s nothing stopping the customer from going to the next guy…

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