By Barbara Kessler
Green Right Now

What if your bank notified you it was lowering your mortgage rate to help secure your family’s future?

Or your health insurance company called to say it was sending a rebate and a free fitness center membership.

You’d be darn suspicious of these maneuvers.

Patagonia promotes sustainability in a breakthrough campaign (or comes up with the sneakiest way ever to get your email. Time will tell).

So it will take you a minute to wrap your mind around this: Picture a big name clothing and outdoor gear store that wants you to quit shopping so much.

That’s right, this company wants you to tame your consumerist tendencies, use what you’ve got for a little while longer and quit racing around mindlessly accumulating so much STUFF.

Believe it? Believe it. There is such a firm.

Patagonia, the environmentally conscious clothier based in Ventura, Calif., has begun a startling campaign to stop the consumer madness.

It kicked off the drive with a full page ad in The New York Times, featuring its popular R2 fleece jacket. The headline: Don’t Buy This Jacket. (Ad Week noticed and dubbed it the Ad of the Day.)

The ad went on to explain that our “culture of consumption” is using natural resources faster than they can be replenished. (Amen.)

“We ask you to buy less and to reflect before you spend a dime on this jacket or anything else.

“Environmental bankruptcy, as with corporate bankruptcy, can happen very slowly, then all of a sudden. This is what we face unless we slow down, then reverse the damage. We’re running short on fresh water, topsoil, fisheries, wetlands – all our planet’s natural systems and resources that support business, and life, including our own.”

Yes, someone from the world of the free markets is finally speaking up, instead of just raking profits off the top and encouraging more spending.

Were this another company, I would be leery. I would strongly suspect this is just another marketing gambit disguised as green stewardship. But this is Patagonia, which has a long history of concern for the environment. I can believe this is a sincere attempt to lead people to another way of thinking.

The ad continued by detailing the water (135 liters), carbon pollution (20 pound of emissions) and waste (two-thirds of its weight) generated in producing one R2 jacket.

“And this is a 60 percent recycled polyester jacket, knit and sewn to a high standard; it is exceptionally durable, so you won’t have to replace it often.”

This is as close as the ad comes to pitching Patagonia, and I can live with it, because it raises a legitimate issue about durability. Buy sturdy goods, and you’ll save in the long run on resources and cash. To further the spirit of sustainability and consumer prudence, Patagonia’s campaign asks customers to join its Common Threads pledge, in which the clothing company promises to make lasting products and the consumer promises to buy only what he or she really needs. (I took the pledge, to see if it required my email, and it did. We’ll have to report later on what type of marketing this generates.)

Marketing issues aside, the idea of changing our buying to change the world is worthy, and yet gets so little traction. Listen to the debates in the U.S. about how to re-kindle the economic fires and you’ll hear from all sides about how we need consumers out there making it happen. The idea, as David Byrne once said, is the same as it ever was. Buy stuff, produce profits, and everyone goes home happy.

Except it can’t last. (And it doesn’t make us happy, but that’s another story.)

We’ve been running the U.S. economy this way for so long that today many working people cannot even afford to buy the well-constructed clothing or other durable goods that represent a strong value, because they are living week to week on stagnant salaries. The pockets of the masses have been emptied as any Occupier knows. It’s no secret that our throwaway culture has grown up alongside the increasing disparity in wealth and income in the U.S..

But in a more perfect world – the one we’d better start envisioning and building quickly if we want to have any freshwater or forests left – we would get rid of the junk, replace it with lasting goods that are recyclable and then step everyone back from the edge of the cliff. We would de-leverage consumers, corporations and the planet.

That seems impossible. But it’s still the dream of environmental true believers who want to halt the global destruction derby driven by mammoth companies combing the planet for ever cheaper natural and human resources. And consumers can have impact. They can use their albeit dwindling dollars to slow down this foot race to cheap.

So Patagonia has got it right. We need to reflect more and spend less. We need to reduce, reuse and recycle.

That doesn’t appear to be what’s happening, given last week’s reports of a Wild West and record-setting Black Friday.

But those of us who stayed home didn’t make the news.

Copyright © 2011 Green Right Now | Distributed by GRN Network