IIn December 2018, Patagonia Inc., best known for its outdoor apparel, changed its mission statement to something unmistakably clear: “Patagonia is in business to save our home planet.”
In March 2019, Patagonia put those words into action by hiring Avi Garbow ’92 to be the company’s first environmental advocate. It is believed to be the only company in the industry to create such a position.
One could also judge how seriously Patagonia takes environmental advocacy by looking at Garbow’s credentials. From August 2013 to January 2017, he was general counsel of the Environmental Protection Agency, holding that post longer than anyone in the agency’s history, and was the EPA’s deputy general counsel for four years before that.
In his new role, he will work with Patagonia’s CEO, and General Counsel Hilary Dessouky ’97 and other company leaders, to plan and execute the company’s overall environmental advocacy strategy.
“I have the enviable task of just focusing on the core mission of the companies and making sure that we are thinking about, and doing, the right things when it comes to saving our planet, and effectively wielding whatever influence we can when it comes to broader environmental and conservation issues, like climate change,” he said.
Patagonia has had a reputation for environmental activism since its founding. In the past 34 years, it has awarded more than $89 million to grassroots environmental organizations through the industry group 1% for the Planet, which it helped found. It also started Patagonia Action Works, which connects customers with environmental activists. And it has given $10 million of the money it has saved through tax cuts to organizations fighting climate change.
Garbow shares the sense of urgency that has been expressed by the company’s leadership when it comes to the state of the environment and the health of the planet. “We are in one of the most difficult and damaging times in U.S. political history when it comes to environmental protection and conservation, and that requires that we act — strategically, effectively and forcefully,” he said.
A Virginia native, Garbow earned his undergraduate degree from the University of Michigan before coming to UVA, where he earned a master’s degree in marine affairs at the same time he was attending law school. He worked on the Virginia Environmental Law Journal and even helped take out recycling from the vending machines. At graduation, Garbow was awarded the Robert F. Kennedy Award for Public Service.
He started his career in the EPA’s Office of Enforcement and Compliance Assurance, later spending five years at the Justice Department prosecuting environmental crimes. After six years in private practice handling international human rights cases and other civil litigation matters, he returned to the EPA at the start of the Obama administration.
So far, the jump from the public sector to a private company has been smooth. His new job at Patagonia, Garbow said, “is so focused on the issues that led me to law school and to a career primarily in public service — the protection of our planet. Patagonia is a such a remarkable company, with a mission and a vision that aligns so well with my life’s pursuits, and it is an honor to serve as its first environmental advocate.”