Ventura, CA, 1,400 Employees

BY THE BOOK: Founder Yvon Chouinard's manifesto Let My People Go Surfing says it all. The outdoor-apparel icon's HQ is connected via a run/bike path to some of SoCal's best waves, and the 434 employees here are encouraged to take advantage of them. The company also walks its well-known eco-talk, with Chouinard's leadership in 1% for the Planet, a dedication to wind energy and recycling, and an on-site organic café.


Patagonia is a designer, distributor, and retailer of high-quality, technical outdoor clothing, lifestyle clothing, and travel gear for men, women, and kids. We use environmentally preferred fabrics—such as recycled polyester, organic cotton, hemp, and organic wool—and seek to serve as a model of sound environmental and business practices. Patagonia Inc. is privately owned by Yvon and Malinda Chouinard.

Patagonia allows employees to compress their weeks on an as-needed basis to help maintain the work-life balance. For example, an employee may work late one day so as to leave early on another. Many of our employees leave early on Fridays to get a jump on the weekend and make up the time earlier in the week. Our compressed workweeks are not so much a formal option, but they fall into our unique flex-time policy.

In our Ventura offices, we have a basketball court, volleyball court, yoga studio, weights and aerobic equipment, an organic cafeteria, and on-site showers. We offer yoga, aerobic, and Pilates classes, and we are located next to one of California's best surfing spots via a bike and running path. Our Reno Customer Service Center is within close proximity to the Sierra, leading to all sorts of outdoor activities such as climbing, kayaking, fly-fishing, and backcountry skiing.

Employees have the opportunity to take a fully paid leave of up to two months to work full- or part-time for a nonprofit environmental group of their choice. We also have Conservación Patagonica, a program that sends employees from all parts of the company to travel to Estancia Valle Chacabuco, a 173,000-acre sheep ranch in the heart of Chile's Patagonia region.

We recycle everything we can. All employees have paper-recycling bins beneath their desks. Our bathrooms are equipped with recycling containers for used paper towels, which are made with 100 percent post-consumer recycled paper, and we purchase recycled paper. We also recycle our polyester and organic cotton T-shirts, and are working to expand that to 100 percent of our products. At present, approximately 67 percent of our styles for our fall 2008 line contain efiber (recycled polyester, organic cotton, hemp, and chlorine-free wool). Our Ventura campus is mostly powered by wind energy, and in addition we have a 66-kilowatt solar installation that generates part of our energy for one of our buildings. Our Reno Distribution Center has a 20-kilowatt solar array on their campus that generates a small portion of the energy used at the facility. In addition, we purchase renewable-energy credits (RECs) from Bonneville Environmental Foundation, Environmental Grants Program, Employee Match Program, 1% for the Planet, the Conservation Alliance, and Clothing Donations.

Individual efforts of our employees are acknowledged in a variety of ways. Some examples include gift certificates for meals or travel, departmental or company-wide parties, and public recognition at company meetings. We award $1,000 after ten years of employment, and $2,500 after 20 years, and we have parties to celebrate these anniversaries. This past year, we've celebrated 26 ten-year anniversaries, nine 20-year anniversaries, and one 30-year anniversary! We also offer discretionary bonus payouts from time to time. Events are sometimes marked in unusual ways. For example, when we installed an array of solar panels at company headquarters, we brought in a Ben & Jerry's ice cream truck to distribute their new flavor, "Fossil Fuel," to all employees during an educational presentation about solar energy.

We know employees are proud to work here; when asked what they do for a living, they often reply, "I work at Patagonia!" They don't say they're an accountant or a sales rep; their reply denotes the respect they feel as individuals in this community that is known worldwide for its commitment to its employees' growth and development. Our owner and founder, Yvon Chouinard, recently wrote a book entitled "Let My People Go Surfing," a great metaphor for the company's general philosophy of, and commitment to, achieving good balance between work and life. It is culturally accepted for employees to take time off during their workday to pursue that balance, whether it is to take time off to spend with their children, go surfing or running, or participate in one of the company's on-site sponsored exercise classes. We trust employees to figure out a schedule that allows them to get their jobs done and also take care of themselves and their families. We also have a Traveling Parent Support Program, whose intent is to provide an avenue for parents to feel comfortable being able to balance the needs of their families with the requirements of their professional position, especially when they are the person solely responsible for the child's care. Accordingly, the company will pay for expenses incurred by a non-employee caregiver (spouse, parent, etc.) or a company caregiver as they accompany the employee parent and their children on business-related travel. By offering a program such as this, it extends a helping hand to our employees to help them truly balance work and life challenges. Our four-month leave-of-absence policy is also available to employees who may want to pursue a personal endeavor such as a multi-month climbing expedition, a surf trip to an exotic locale, or providing extended care on-site care to a family member. Knowing their job is being held for them and receiving their medical benefits gives many employees the freedom to follow their dreams or responsibilities in a way they never thought possible.

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