'Go Big, Go Green' Shows Sustainability Makes Profits

Patagonia’s Phil Graves

Many critics over the years have argued that environmentally friendly or sustainable business practices just won’t many much money.

However, four panelists Jan. 20 at the Central Coast MIT Enterprise Forum proved the critics wrong, but cautioned that “green” businesses must ride out year-to-year temptations and adapt from time to time just like all successful commercial enterprises.

Panelist Phil Graves told a crowd of about 100 at the Cabrillo Arts Pavilion Center in Santa Barbara that Patagonia has successfully marketed clothing worldwide for 40 years. Patagonia began making recycled clothes in 1993. In 1996, the company started using organic cotton, but later learned it took too much water to grow it.

Graves said Patagonia’s mission is to make jackets, for example, using less water and energy. But it doesn’t stop there. Patagonia is also into “regenerative agriculture,” which is organic farming designed to build soil health or to regenerate unhealthy soils.

Taking it a step further, Graves said Patagonia invests in other sustainable and innovative companies called “B-Corps,” which are for-profit companies certified to meet rigorous standards of social and environmental performance, accountability and transparency. One company recycles nylon fishing nets into skateboard decks.

Another panelist, Mark Heintz, Sonos’s sustainability director, his company has found the definite business benefits of sustainability. For one thing, he said, more employees these days want to work for a sustainable-minded company. Sonos, which has made and sold millions of wireless sound systems, gives its new employees $500 to buy a bicycle and pays them another $5 every time they ride it to work.

Others on the “Go Big, Go Green” panel included UCSB Bren School of Environmental Science Dean Steve Gaines and 2GreenEnergy.com Editor Craig Shields.

Gaines said Bren School offers degrees to students who propose a way to solve an environmental problem and touted the many award-winning student teams that have started new companies and are doing just that.

Shields said consumers have long accepted green products even though the idea started as a small one, as many great ideas do. He noted companies like Volkswagen and Exxon are facing huge problems because of their recent attempts to mislead consumers. VW made devices that hide the actual amount of pollution its diesel vehicles emit. Exxon, after years of research proving climate change exists, tried to hide its findings.