"Don't Buy This Jacket!"
As part of the network's strategic planning approach, there are a number of fundamental questions that arise from participants, such as this one: "Which criteria should we use to measure the performance of cooperatives?" An extremely relevant question that is very appropriate in any other kind of enterprise, cooperative or otherwise. How should we measure business success? Patagonia, an outdoor clothing and equipment company still doesn't have a clear answer, but it does have the courage to broach the issue honestly.

Patagonia just launched a communications campaign aimed at redefining the company's success. It does not want to measure its own success by the ever growing number of items sold, and it is asking consumers to refrain from purchasing items they don't really need. To help get their message across, it is devoting its marketing function to raising awareness and to education. Certainly surprising! But one thing is sure; the company is the subject of many conversations these days, and for good reasons.

Every year since 2006, US retailers join forces in a wide-ranging marketing campaign that encourages consumers to conduct their shopping online en masse on one special day called 'Cyber Monday'. However, this year Patagonia is going against the grain and defying this Cyber Monday monster of conspicuous consumption. Such commercial effervescence goes against any kind of good sense, stated the company.

Patagonia launched its own marketing campaign: "Don't buy this Jacket". The ad features one of its best selling clothing items. Obviously this is just a lark: Patagonia is still selling its popular jacket! However, the ad tells us that it contains 60% recycled polyester, it manufactured according to high standards to last a long time and the company takes it back at when its active life cycle is over to recycle it once again. Despite all of this information, manufacturing this jacket, which we can agree is sustainable, requires some 135 litres of water (enough to meet the daily needs of 45 individuals), transportation of the item emits almost 10 kilos of carbon dioxide (20 times more than the weight of the finished product) and it leaves behind two-thirds of its weight in non reusable waste when it is recycled.

Patagonia emphasizes that the jacket, like all of the items it sells, also comes with an environmental and social cost that is much higher than its market value. One bit of truth that we often forget. The company wants its customers to think about their purchases. In the end, excessive consumerism doesn't make anybody happy, instead it makes us "addicted, just like a drug", stated Vincent Stanley, Patagonia's Vice President of Marketing. Hence the urgency to find other means to measure a company's success that would have a greater connection with people's welfare.

Think twice before purchasing an item: Do you really need it? This may seem like a silly question coming from a company right? But think about it. For us who live in a cooperative world, cooperation is to provide its members with the products and services they need, and not to make them spend as much as they can! In fact, that's the basis on which we can argue that the agri-environmental expert consultants 'associated' to a cooperative are not a threat to the quality of professional services provided to cooperators. In fact it's quite the opposite, in La Coop network, the true employer is ultimately our member-farmers. We owe them our loyalty. And it is their success that we seek to achieve.

So how should we measure the success of our network's cooperatives? Let's consider their participation in the social fabric and their occupation of the land in rural regions, in creating quality jobs, and in how they contribute to the economic vitality of collectives and to protecting agriculture on a humane scale. These are extraordinary contributions that help maintain a stimulating living environment that is a pleasure for all of us. Think about it, isn't this what is truly important?

Colette Lebel, agr.
Director Cooperative Affairs
La Coop fédérée
Email: colette.lebel@lacoop.coop
Fax: 514 850-2567


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