Patagonia Outdoor Co. Photo by Shutterstock.com Patagonia Outdoor Co. Photo by Shutterstock.com

Long known for its environmental and social responsibility, outdoor apparel and gear giant Patagonia raised that bar a little higher with the announcement that it has hired a dedicated environmental advocate, the first-of-its-kind position in the industry.

A veteran environmental lawyer, Avi Garbow was the longest-tenured general counsel at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency when he held the role from August 2013 to January 2017, according to his LinkedIn profile and a Patagonia statement announcing his hire. Garbow spent four years as deputy GC at the agency before ascending to the top lawyer spot.

After leaving the Obama administration, he was a partner in the Washington, D.C., office of Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher, where he engaged in high-stakes environmental litigation.

Citing the fact that environmental activism, engagement and advocacy are “at the core of what the company is about,” Garbow said in an interview that he is joining what is in many respects “very fertile territory for environmental protection.”

In December 2017, Patagonia took an arguably unusual move for a for-profit company and sued the Trump administration over its decision to eliminate large parts of Bears Ears National Monument, as well as Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument, two national monument sites in Utah.

“Patagonia’s business relies directly on public lands, like Indian Creek in Bears Ears, which hosts world-class climbing,” Patagonia president and CEO Rose Marcario said in a statement at the time. With Hogan Lovells representing Patagonia, that litigation is pending in U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, according to online court records.

While acknowledging that his experience will prove helpful in his new role, given that much of the administration’s environmental agenda will require, among other things, “a legal lens to challenge and attack,” Garbow said it’s too early to say whether his hiring signals ramped-up litigation efforts by Patagonia.

“This is a renewed expression of the company’s interest in aggressively addressing our environmental challenges, many of which, day by day with this administration, become more critical,” he said. “We are now reaching a point in this administration when a lot of these attempts to roll back protections and regulations will themselves become ripe for challenge, but whether it’s Patagonia or other interests, you can expect more litigation to come once this administration finalizes its planned retreat.”

Not all of Patagonia’s advocacy and activism work is legal, though, Garbow said, noting that “part of what we’re trying to do is to not merely shine a spotlight on what is going wrong but to offer solutions to our environmental problems.”

Many of his duties can be accomplished, Garbow said, given his “geographic perch” in the Washington metro area, though he said he also plans to spend a considerable amount of time at Patagonia’s Ventura, California, headquarters.

In his new role, Garbow said he hopes to bring some strategic vision “to make the great work of the company and its people even more effective”; elevate Patagonia’s voice; and work with leadership and various teams motivated by helping to save the planet.

“Of all the tools we have, and with all the very important issues, where can Patagonia’s voice be the strongest, and where can we have the greatest influence and impact?” Garbow rhetorically asked, adding that identifying the answer to that question is part of his new position.

He added of this move: “Personally and professionally, this company and the opportunities I have been given align extremely well with my passions, interests and experience.

“For those of us who care about our institutions of government, who care about science, who care about the rule of law and the progress we have made in the past, we are really coming into a crucial period in the administration when those of us who have experience and have a voice need to speak up.”

Garbow earned his law degree, as well as a master’s degree in marine affairs, from the University of Virginia, his LinkedIn profile said.