Patagonia Inc. is aiming to restore 15 million acres of grassland in its namesake region, and bring a new line of sustainable merino wool products to consumers, through a partnership with the Nature Conservancy and Argentine rancher network Ovis XXI.
The groups say the goal is to reverse overgrazing by implementing a sustainable sheep-grazing protocol and by attracting additional partners and buyers.
Under the partnership, The Nature Conservancy will provide scientific expertise and monitoring to ranchers. Patagonia Inc. says its purchase agreement — the company is the first to sign on and buy wool — encourages ranchers to raise and graze their sheep in a way that supports the long-term health of the region.
The company’s sustainable wool product line will be available in the fall. Beginning then, every single merino baselayer style by Patagonia Inc., including all merino socks, will be made with wool sustainably sourced from the Patagonia grasslands on ranches using the Grassland Regeneration and Sustainability Standard (GRASS), which includes conservation goals and land management protocols agreed upon by The Nature Conservancy and Ovis XXI.
The new protocol mimics natural grazing patterns for wildlife. Rather than graze sheep in one place continually, the sheep will be moved in and out of different pastures depending on the conditions of the grasses, encouraging more diversity of native grass species and higher ground coverage.
The Argentinean portion of Patagonia spans 400 million acres, and sheep herding is its principal economic activity. It is also the area’s biggest environmental threat, due to overgrazing and subsequent land erosion and desertification. Unsustainable grazing has already turned 20 million acres into desert-like lands, according to The Nature Conservancy.
In 2012 Patagonia became the first company in California to elect to be a benefit corporation. The legal status affords a company’s directors legal cover to consider environmental and social benefits over financial returns.
Also last year, Patagonia, along with Starbucks and General Electric, was among the 23 companies named for six years running to Ethisphere’s Most Ethical Companies list.