In the outdoor industry, Patagonia has always been among the more vocal brands opposing the Trump Administration’s effort to roll back environmental protections and undermine public lands. Now, the iconic outdoor company has teamed up with another industry giant, Columbia Sportswear, to throw their support behind an effort to prevent the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) from gutting regulations that would reduce greenhouse gas emissions. For both companies, it’s not only the right thing to do for the planet, it’s also good business.
Last month, the two gear manufacturers joined forces to file an amicus brief, a legal document advising a court of additional considerations in a pending case, in support of a lawsuit by health and environmental groups challenging the EPA’s decision last year to overturn the 2015 Clean Power Plan (CPP) and replace it with the weaker Affordable Clean Energy (ACE) rule. Their brief asks the court to weigh the damaging impact the rule change will have on the $887 billion outdoor industry.
The ACE is a boon for the coal industry in that it curbs the CPP’s ambitious targets to reduce carbon emissions from power plants, the second-largest source of greenhouse gases in the United States. The new rule could potentially increase emissions, and by the EPA’s own estimation, ACE could lead to thousands more premature deaths every year along with a jump in the number of people experiencing respiratory disease.
The suit itself was filed by the American Lung Association and the American Public Health Association in July 2019. It asks the court to invalidate the new rule on the basis that it does not fit with the EPA’s mandate to protect public health under the Clean Air Act of 1970. The case is before the U.S. Court of Appeals in Washington, DC. Climate scientists, health groups, and religious organizations also filed amicus briefs in support of the plaintiffs ahead of last Friday’s deadline.
Patagonia began considering an array of options to join the effort before deciding the amicus brief would be their best route, said Avi Garbow, the company’s environmental advocate and the former EPA general counsel during the Obama Administration. But they weren’t going to do it alone.
“We also thought there would be strength in numbers, figuring out a way of pairing two giants of the outdoor industry to present the viewpoint of the outdoor industry and the private sector would really bolster our case and be very helpful to the court,” said Garbow. “We were delighted to partner with Columbia and proceed as a duo.”
The companies are no strangers to cooperation, but that’s typically been limited to manufacturing issues like sustainability and product regulations, explained Abel Navarrete, Columbia’s vice president for corporate responsibility. And even for two brands that have been active in the political space before, it may seem like a big leap to throw their weight behind a court case like this one. But the issue of climate change is a direct existential threat to their business and the larger outdoor recreation industry, which supports nearly 8 million jobs in the United States.
“It’s not new to have businesses weighing in on big court cases. It’s a little bit new to have them weighing in on the side of the environment and planet,” said Garbow. “If we’re not going to use our voice, our community, and our resources to deal with one of the greatest crises that we face, then we’re not living up to the mission of the company.”
As relaxed emissions standards hasten the pace of global warming, it threatens to destroy outdoor spaces and limit people’s ability to recreate outside. Ultimately, the brief argues, that means fewer opportunities for people to get outdoors, which in turn leads to less money spent on clothing and gear and in recreation-dependent communities.
“As we like to say here, when we wade into a swamp it’s to test our products, but there are some things that are just that compelling that you have to,” said Peter Bragdon, Columbia’s executive vice president, chief administrative officer, and general counsel. “The brief tells the perfect story of what we’re trying to protect here—it’s the consumers, the special places, rural communities. It’s really remarkable that it was ignored by this administration.”