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More than five years ago, President Barack Obama nominated a new general counsel for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. Avi Garbow had been a federal environmental crimes prosecutor, with decades of experience tackling the most critical threats to air, water, and land. In total, Garbow spent seven years with the EPA, making him the longest-serving leader in the agency’s history. When Donald Trump took office, Garbow went to work for a major international law firm’s environmental practice
Strengthening its commitment to protect our home, Patagonia just hired Garbow to its senior management team to fill the new position of environmental advocate.
Outside Business Journal caught up with Garbow earlier this month to talk about his new mission under Patagonia: being in business to save the planet.
What will you bring to this brand new position?
Patagonia has already made great strides. The notion is that I bring some different experience based on the role that I played in the Obama administration and my decade of environmental advocacy and lawyering. It’s really a great opportunity for me and for the company, particularly at this time, to think a little more strategically about whether we can be even more effective than we already have been in addressing some of the critical environmental and public health issues. I’ll be working with company leadership and a number of teams. My hope is to integrate with them and hopefully add my own talents to the successes that they’ve had in the past.
Patagonia is already doing a lot. What more can we expect?
Any good leader who cares deeply about anything should always ask themself, can we be better? Can we do more? Can we be more effective? Are there changes that we can either make or people or processes that we can consider adding to take what we’ve got, however effective it is, and make it more so? When you’re dealing with something like the health of the planet—which I think we can all agree ought to be among our foremost concerns given that it’s our home—it’s reasonable for a company doing so well and investing so much to challenge itself. In many ways, these are difficult and challenging times, both politically and otherwise. I think the company and its leadership saw an opportunity in me, and me in them, to see if we could elevate our gain even more.
The willingness of Patagonia to create this position and to have me fill it in many ways sets it apart from others in the industry. I hope we can be a model for other companies who one day decide to create environmental advocacy positions as Patagonia has done.
What do you think about our current government? Do you predict any road blocks in the work you’ll be doing?
I think I’d be remiss if I didn’t talk about climate change. I was fortunate to serve in an administration under President Obama that from the government standpoint, probably did more to seriously address our changing climate than any other administration before it. I think in many ways, this country and the world had at least a road map that we could continue to follow to address this issue. We’re now two years into the Trump administration, which has sought to take us back in terms of acknowledging the science of climate change, understanding the severity of it, and more importantly, dealing with it.
Our current government is failing to deal with what many think is an existential threat and Patagonia is willing to take that issue on and look for solutions. For example, one of the things that we at Patagonia feel strongly about is the solution to the agricultural sector can play in terms of a changing climate. When you think about things like regenerative agriculture, it’s not only something that can ensure a more nutrient rich food supply for us and something better for our environment, but it is also something that has enormous potential to address our changing climate.
How does Patagonia align with your values?
You only have to look at its mission statement to understand that when it comes to environmental protection and why it is in business, it is qualitatively different than virtually every other company out there. At a time when the government under this administration in full retreat when it comes to protecting our health and environment, finding a company like Patagonia in the private sector to fill that void and propel us forward was something I was greatly interested in. For somebody like me who has tried to build a career on environmental advocacy and protection, this is a fantastic opportunity to join a great company and a great team.
Where’s your favorite place to explore outside?
I grew up in Virginia and as long as I can remember, I have felt the most peaceful and the most comfortable in the outdoors. I spend time in the Shenandoah Mountains and on the Appalachian Trail. I find my greatest solitude in nature and being at a company like Patagonia, whose founders probably would say much the same thing, is quite an alignment.