- Patagonia CEO Rose Marcario is one of Business Insider’s 100 People Transforming Business.
- Marcario has grown Patagonia’s sales while doubling down on activism, which she said is in response to what employees and customers demand.
- This article is part of BI’s ongoing series on Better Capitalism.
- Visit BusinessInsider.com for more stories.
Rose Marcario is a CEO with a vision that goes beyond the bottom line. Yes, she’s helped apparel company Patagonia reportedly quadruple its revenue — but she’s also steered the popular brand onto a world-changing mission.
"I don’t think it’s a conflict of interest to say that you can make money, and have a prosperous and successful business, and you can also do good in the world," Marcario told Business Insider in an interview for our 100 People Transforming Business list.
Marcario joined Patagonia in 2008. As COO and CFO, she was the numbers guru supporting founder Yvon Chouinard, who’d always known his company stood for more than jackets and pullovers (in 1985, for example, he began dedicating 1% of sales to grassroots environmental groups). Marcario succeeded in optimizing not just the business’ financials: She took Chouinard’s environmental vision to new levels.
"I think that companies are realizing that their customers and their employees expect them to take a stand," Marcario said. "You can’t live in the gray area anymore. There’s too much at risk right now."
Marcario had Patagonia sue President Donald Trump’s administration in 2017 after it reduced the size of the Bears Ears National Monument in Utah, claiming the move was illegal (the company had earlier led a successful boycott of the Outdoor Retailer trade show in Salt Lake City after Utah’s governor urged Trump to make that reduction). For last year’s midterm elections, Patagonia teamed up with Levi’s to launch the nonpartisan Time to Vote initiative, which led to 400 companies granting time off to employees on voting day.
More recently, Marcario announced that Patagonia would only take on new corporate clients for customized Patagonia gear — including its fleece vest, beloved by the Wall Street and Silicon Valley sets — if that company has a significant sustainability plan as part of its mission.
These decisions are good for business because they’re good for the planet. Customers and employees now demand more from corporations that are part of their lives, she said.
"Everyone that I work with, from CEOs of big public companies to private companies, recognize things need to change," she told us. "And capitalism needs to evolve if we’re going to have a healthy planet and we’re going to have healthy people on the planet."
Marcario recognizes that Patagonia benefits from its status as a private company, but it has also inspired and even consulted with large public companies. In 2009 it partnered with Walmart to create the Sustainable Apparel Coalition, which recruited brands like Nike and Adidas. Patagonia has taken the lead in developing and sharing best practices for reducing production and packaging waste, lowering greenhouse gas emissions, and using innovative technologies like turning recycled bottles into polyester.
Marcario is also using her company’s smaller foods division, Patagonia Provisions, as a way to explore and evangelize renewable agriculture.
Under Marcario, Patagonia has become one of the highest-rated B-Corporations. Fellow "Transforming Business" honoree Jay Coen Gilbert coined the B Corp designation through his nonprofit B Lab. The group measures companies on the value they add to stakeholders like employees and the environment, and certifies those with high-enough marks. This led to states passing "benefit corporation" laws that allow companies to legally bind themselves to these ideals. Marcario said she’d like to see more public companies seeking this status.
Marcario is hopeful that there is a coalition of CEOs of public and private companies that take climate change seriously and recognize that sustainability initiatives are good for the bottom line.
"I have a high level of optimism that these problems are solvable. I like to solve problems and I feel like we can get there. We have all the tools to get there. We have the technology to get there. We have the best innovative and entrepreneurial minds here in the United States to help do that," she said.
"I’m excited about it. But I do think that the next five, ten years are the most absolute critical for us to make serious change."
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