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Category winner: Patagonia’s Sustainability Strategy:
Don’t Buy Our Products

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This case won the Economics, Politics and Business Environment category at The Case Centre Awards and Competitions 2019.
The case

Yvon ChouinardWho – the protagonist

Yvon Chouinard, Patagonia CEO.


Patagonia is a popular designer of outdoor clothing and gear for the silent sports.

Founder and CEO Yvon is a sustainability pioneer and was one of the first of a group of CEOs to commit 10% of their companies’ profits, or 1% of their sales (whichever was greater), towards charitable and environmental initiatives.


Patagonia placed an advert in The New York Times. It was a picture of one of Patagonia’s highest grossing fleece jackets, with the headline 'DON’T BUY THIS JACKET.' To reinforce this message, Patagonia detailed precisely why consumers should make smarter buying decisions to purchase only what they need in order to decrease the impact of consumerism on the environment.

Remarkably, their sales increased by 30%.


Patagonia is a North American company. Its founder Yvon was known for his rock climbing feats across the continent in the 60s.


The New York Times ran the advert in their Black Friday edition in 2011.

new york timesKey quote

“Because Patagonia wants to be in business for a good long time – and leave a world inhabitable for our kids – we want to do the opposite of every other business today. We ask you to buy less and to reflect before you spend a dime on this jacket or anything else.” – and excerpt from The New York Times advert.

What next?

Despite making great strides, how could Patagonia truly achieve the goal of curbing consumerism to decrease the negative environmental footprint to which it contributes?

Interested in finding out more?

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Patagonia’s Sustainability Strategy: Don’t Buy Our Products
Ref IMD-7-1735
Teaching note
Ref IMD-7-1735-T

The authors

Francisco Szekely and Zahir Dossa

Francisco discusses sustainability leadership, the ‘art’ of asking the right questions and shorter cases.

Sharing ideas

Francisco said: “I am very honoured to receive another award from The Case Centre, and to know that through this award our ideas about business sustainability are being shared with many other fellow faculty and students around the world. This is particularly important today in which business must step up its commitment to build a sustainable society.”

A case of sustainability A case of sustainability

Francisco continued: “Patagonia is a case of Sustainability Leadership. The vision of the founder of Patagonia is that through his business he can service the needs of his customers, make a profit and protect the planet.

“But not necessarily through growth…his idea “don’t buy my product…unless you really need it” is innovative and challenging. Mainly because he does not just promote consumption but also smart and ecologically minded-consumption. He is an example to follow.”

Asking the right questionsAsking the right questions

He added: “A lot has been documented about Patagonia and its founder Yvon Chouinard. What was needed was to write the story in a short and provoking fashion and formulate key questions from which students can think, debate and learn about a different way of thinking. The most important aspect of a successful case is the questions designed for the students. To craft good questions is ‘an art’.”

A different approach

He explained: “The case creates substantial debate.

“For too long many business students and business executives have identified business success with growth. Growth at any cost.

“Patagonia provides a different approach. They sell a product and reclaim it to improve it, or resell it, instead of suggesting to customers to buy the newest products. And their approach makes economic sense!”

Less is more

Francisco commented: “In my experience, long cases are less successful because it defeats the purpose of a case which is: a short story with provoking ideas and a new way of thinking, and good questions to make people think, debate and learn.

“Long cases are difficult to manage in class and provide too much information. Also, when a case is about a real-life story, participants become very engaged. When it is a fictitious situation…participants lose interest.”

Benefits of the case method

“I believe the case method is a fantastic tool to disseminate ideas and allow people to learn.

“The case method also provides faculty with an opportunity to synthesise his/her ideas and to make an effort to communicate clearly and succinctly with the purpose of providing learning opportunities for others.”

About the authors

Francisco Szekely is Adjunct Professor of Leadership and Sustainability at IMD business school.
e francisco.szekely@imd.org

Zahir Dossa was a postdoctoral research fellow at IMD business school when he wrote the case. He is now CEO of Function of Beauty.


View all the 2019 winners