NEW YORK ― On a cloudy May morning, Rose Marcario, the chief executive of outdoor retailer Patagonia, stared out a second-story window of a Manhattan restaurant, watching construction workers jackhammer the street below. The workers made her think of her grandfather, an Italian immigrant who, after making it through Ellis Island in the 1920s, got his first job digging the streets of this city. He earned 10 cents a day and had to bring his own shovel. People regularly spat at him and sneered at his broken English.
“He’d tell me, ‘I didn’t mind that, because I knew that someday in the future, you were going to have a better life,’” she recalled.
His sacrifice has been weighing on Marcario lately. She isn’t a parent herself, but she thinks of her young cousins, nieces and nephews. She wants them to inherit a planet with a stable climate and normal sea levels ― a country that still has some pristine wilderness left. Her job ― running a privately held company with roughly $800 million in annual revenue and stores in 16 states plus D.C. ― provides her a much bigger platform to influence their lives than anyone in her family had two generations ago.
It’s also why she’s decided to take on the president of the United States to stop him from rolling back decades of public land protections.
“We have to fight like hell to keep every inch of public land,” Marcario, 52, told HuffPost last month. “I don’t have a lot of faith in politics and politicians right now.”
Ventura, California-based Patagonia has taken on a number of national conservation efforts since environmentalist and rock climber Yvon Chouinard founded it in 1973. In 1988, the firm launched a campaign to restore the natural splendor of Yosemite Valley, which was being destroyed by cars and lodges. The company took on a more consumer-centric approach, launching an ad campaign in 2011 urging customers not to buy its jackets in an attempt to address rampant waste in the fashion industry.
The company was relatively quiet for the first two years after Marcario took the top spot in 2014. But she grew dismayed as environmental and climate issues took a backseat in the 2016 election, despite the stark difference between the two top candidates’ views. She worried the vicious mudslinging of the election would turn off voters.
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The two bluffs known as the “Bears Ears” in the Bears Ears National Monument.
Instead of turning away from political discord, as many corporate giants have, Marcario ran toward it. In September, the company announced plans to spend $1 million and launch a get-out-the-vote tour of 17 states. On Election Day, the retailer completely closed down its operations in 30 stores to make sure employees and shoppers made it to the polls.
Still, Donald Trump’s November victory caught Marcario by surprise. Trump had campaigned on bombastic promises to revive the coal industry, a top source of planet-warming emissions, and vowed to transform the U.S. into a major fossil fuel exporter. Then he named the CEO of Exxon Mobil Corp. as his secretary of state and picked an oil and gas ally to head the Environmental Protection Agency. He nominated Ryan Zinke, a freshman congressman from Montana who questioned the science behind global warming, to head the Department of the Interior, which controls national parks and 500 million acres of land ― or 20 percent of the U.S. landmass.