• 02.22.16

Why Patagonia Is Taking Its Tools For Grassroots Activism To The Masses

The brand has published a new book and podcast series to take lessons from its longstanding activism conference to a wider audience.

Why Patagonia Is Taking Its Tools For Grassroots Activism To The Masses

For more than 20 years, Patagonia has hosted its Tools For Grassroots Activists Conference to train, inform, and inspire those working at the local level to influence environmental issues. Speakers like Terry Tempest Williams, Bill McKibben, Annie Leonard, and more gather to talk about what environmental activists need to attract members, publicize issues, communicate to donors, and inspire people to take action. Now the brand is taking these lessons far beyond the conference with a new book, Tools for Grassroots Activists, and podcast series featuring talks from past conferences.


Patagonia’s campaigns and advocacy director Hans Cole says this is the perfect time to spread these ideas as widely as possible, and the idea that a grassroots movement is an important aspect of how to change the world for the better and make a difference is really having a renaissance right now.

“Through campaigns we’ve seen, whether it’s what’s been done around the Keystone pipeline, efforts to stop drilling in the Arctic, the climate march in New York, or something like COP 21 in Paris, these movements are just people on the ground using tools like these to make a difference,” says Cole. “This approach and the power of the grassroots movement, we’re seeing it come to life now more than ever and having a resurgence in the environmental sector.”

The book is a collection of essays written by presenters from past conferences, offering up advice and best practices for grassroots advocacy, fundraising, marketing and communications, campaign strategy and social media, among other critical areas.

Patagonia has long been involved in grassroots activism, and in the past year says it identified 741 local grassroots environmental groups in 18 countries, donating $6.2 million in cash to promote sustainable agriculture, prevent extreme resource extraction, protect endangered wildlife and habitat, and mitigate the effects of climate change. But over the last couple of years, the brand has been increasingly using its marketing muscle to link this grassroots involvement even closer to its branding, through initiatives like its New Localism campaign, documentary films, and more.

Photo: Tim Davis

Cole says it all ties back to the brand strategy at the core of Patagonia. “This multi-pronged, multimedia approach is something, whether through the videos and New Localism campaign, through projects like Worn Wear, or something like this book that goes into a great deal of depth, this approach is powerful in that it gives people a variety of ways to interact with this message,” he says. “The cool thing about it is, rather than feeling scattershot, it all really ties back to this core strategy we have to support the grassroots, where so much of the real change happens, and to share the message of what’s happening at that grassroots level as far and wide as we can. It all comes back to that core of what our brand is all about.”

Participants from the 2015 Tools Conference. Fallen Leaf Lake, California.Photo: Amy Kumler

While the next Tools Conference isn’t until Fall 2017, over the next few months the brand is holding “mini Tools” sessions at several Patagonia retail stores, including Portland, Ventura, Palo Alto, Denver, Vancouver, Washington, D.C., and New York City. The events will pair presenters from recent conferences with a member of Patagonia’s environmental team to talk about lessons taken from grassroots campaigning with local nonprofit groups supported by Patagonia’s grant program.

About the author

Jeff Beer is a staff editor at Fast Company, covering advertising, marketing, and brand creativity. He lives in Toronto.