business news in context, analysis with attitude

• The New York Times reports this morning on how several outdoor and clothing equipment retailers, including REI and Patagonia, are challenging a plan announced by the Trump administration “to slash the size of two national monuments in Utah by some two million acres.” President Trump said this week that he plans to shrink Bears Ears National Monument by 85 percent, and another monument, Grand Staircase-Escalante, by half.

Patagonia, for example, sent an email to people on its mailing list in which it said the following:

“The president stole your land. In an illegal move, the president just reduced the size of Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monuments. This is the largest elimination of protected land in American history.”

Indeed, Patagonia said that it plans to file a lawsuit challenging the Trump administration’s plans. The company’s general counsel, Hilary Dessouky, tells the Times, “The administration’s unlawful actions betray our shared responsibility to protect iconic places for future generations. We worked to establish Bears Ears National Monument and will now fight to protect it.”

REI, the Times reports, “said it would continue to pursue bipartisan support to protect public lands and ‘prevent death by a thousand cuts’.”

Other companies, including North Face and Canada-based Arc’teryx, said they plan to donate hundreds of thousands of dollars to support pro-national monument education and legal challenges to the government’s plans.
KC's View:
The Times story makes the point that taking political positions can be problematic for businesses, and points to how “LL Bean, the retailer known for its winter boots, faced a boycott from its liberal customers after Mr. Trump tweeted his thanks to a member of the Bean family who had donated to a political action committee that supported his presidential campaign.”

I think this is an apt observation - when retailers take political positions, they run the risk of alienating half their customers.

But … I don’t necessarily agree with the LL Bean comparison, because it actually misses the point of the boycott. The Bean customers who got upset were the ones who felt that Trump’s approach to things like the environment was at odds with their own priorities, and not in synch with what they perceived LL Bean’s priorities to be. (I’m sure it isn’t an accident that, best I can tell, LL Bean hasn’t taken a public position on the new Trump moves. No sense in going down that road again.)

In this case, it seems to me that what Patagonia and its brethren are doing is right in synch with their public images, corporate priorities and general value propositions - most of their customers won’t be surprised by this particular stance.

And, Patagonia has been consistent. When the governor of Utah did not oppose the administration’s plans, it successfully pushed for an outdoors trade show to be moved to another state.

When I got the Patagonia email today (I am a regular customer), I was only a little surprised by the vehemence of the statement, “The president stole your land.” It is all black-and-white - no gray here, and no vacillation. But I was not surprised by the position the company is taking.

For the record … Ryan Zinke, the Trump administration’s Secretary of the Interior, challenged the companies’ perspective on the move, and said that “it’s shameful and appalling that (Patagonia) would blatantly lie in order to gain money in their coffers.”

I’m not sure that this is accurate; the money that Patagonia is raising appears to be going to the legal challenge, not into the company’s coffers. As for whether Patagonia is right or wrong, Zinke will have an opportunity to find out - he is named in lawsuits that are fighting the administration’s decision.