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Patagonia was environmentally conscious long before LEED originated.
Photo: Charlie Johnston (all)
Patagonia’s Reno distribution center is a lot like any other warehouse: it’s home to conveyor belts, loading docks, and tens of thousands of cardboard boxes. It’s also quite different from any other warehouse: its employees get around on bicycles instead of electric carts, the interior lighting is soft and natural instead of yellow and harsh, and all those cardboard boxes, as well as more than 95 percent of all waste, is recycled and composted.
The Ventura, California-based outdoor clothing company has made environmentally responsible practices a priority throughout its more than three decades, from assisting a young biologist to save steelhead salmon habitat on the Ventura River in the early 1970s, to annual environmental-issue education campaigns since 1988. When Reno was chosen as the site for a new distribution center in 1994, the company brought this tradition to Nevada. “We wanted a better, more energy efficient warehouse,” director Dave Abeloe says.
This was about the same time Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design was getting off the ground and almost six years before the LEED Green Building Rating System was born. Without a standard guide, Patagonia still managed to build a warehouse which achieved a 60-percent reduction in energy use, versus a comparable building, through the use of solar-tracking skylights, high-performance insulation, and radiant heating. “The original [warehouse] was ahead of its time,” Abeloe says. When the warehouse was expanded in 2006, LEED certification was a no-brainer. The skylights, insulation, and radiant heating had proved themselves in the original facility and were incorporated into the expansion. A night-flush vent system circulates cool air and eliminates the need for expensive, inefficient air conditioning.
Photo sensors and motion detectors on light fixtures shut them off automatically when they are not in use. Low-flow sinks, toilets, and waterless urinals reduce water use by 42 percent. Extensive recycling results in less than five percent of waste—about two 30-yard compactors full a year—ending up in landfills.
Outside the warehouse, light-colored concrete pavers reduce ambient air temperatures and allow storm water to be naturally filtered before it enters the water table. Native and water-efficient landscaping reduces water use and evaporation and provides habitat for birds, small mammals, and insects. Solar panels on the south side of the facility produce enough energy to power the attached clothing outlet. These measures and steps taken during construction—such as employing regional building materials to cut down on shipping distances and stimulate the local economy—resulted in a LEED Gold certification.
Yet, green building is a relatively small aspect of Patagonia’s commitment to environmental responsibility. The company’s Common Threads Garment Recycling program, started in 2005, aims to reduce waste from its products. Synthetic materials are a large part of most outdoor clothing lines, and these products, such as Patagonia’s Capilene and fleece, are recyclable. Through the program, worn-out garments are collected and transformed into new clothing, such as the company’s Synchilla sweater, made from 86-percent recycled materials. The program also recycles the company’s organic cotton products and by 2010, Patagonia aims to make all of its clothing recyclable.
Employees are given incentives to carpool to work and offered $2,500 toward the purchase of a 45-miles-per-gallon or better hybrid or to convert their diesel engines to run on vegetable oil. Composting reduces organic waste and contributes to a seasonal garden maintained by the employees. Bicycle storage and shower/changing facilities make it convenient for employees to ride their bikes to work. Workers are also encouraged to bring their used paper and cardboard to work, as curbside recycling for those products is not currently available in the Reno area.
While Patagonia is a beacon to all things energy efficient, green, and environmentally responsible, Abeloe points out that it has taken the company decades to get to this point and stresses that LEED certification and expansive clothing recycling programs aren’t the only ways for individuals and businesses to make a difference. “Start small,” he says. “Replace all your light bulbs with energy efficient lighting or start recycling, then go to the next step.”
COMMON THREADS GARMENT RECYCLING
After washing your old Patagonia Capilene, Patagonia organic cotton, or any manufacturer’s fleece, drop the clothing off at any Patagonia retail store or mail it (with as little packaging as possible) to 8550 White Fir St., Reno, NV 89523-8939, Attention: Common Threads Garment Recycling.
8550 White Fir St., Reno