This ballot brings greenbacks for green groups

In an interesting mix of promotion, raising ecological awareness and giving away cash, the outdoor clothing manufacturer and retailer Patagonia is asking customers to vote on which environmental group gets one of its next grants.

At stake is $4,000, which is walking-around money for big nonprofits but significant for smaller groups like the five finalists at Patagonia’s St. Paul store. Each group gets a week’s worth of time to run an information table at the Grand Avenue shop and convince patrons they are worthy grant-getters.

“The idea was to localize where the grant was going,” said store manager Ellen Grady. “My staff had a big powwow and selected the five groups.”

All but one of the 26 Patagonia retail outlets around the country are sponsoring their own programs (a Colorado store previously did it as part of its grand opening). You have to come to the store to vote, and the store manager hopes you spend a few greenbacks along with your green ballot.

“We give out a lot of grants anyway,” Grady said. “This is a chance to engage our customers in how we spend our money.”

The five groups are Great River Greening, Alliance for Sustainability, Midtown Greenway Coalition, Transit for Livable Communities, and Community Design Center of Minnesota. Voting runs through July 19 with the results announced at a reception on Aug. 6.

Grady said grants from the St. Paul store typically run from $1,500 to $2,000, often for specific projects. Among previous recipients have been Friends of the Mississippi River, Trout Unlimited and Friends of the Boundary Waters.

Patagonia is not a Johnny-come-lately to environmental practices. Founded in 1972 and owned by legendary climber Yvon Chouinard, the company gives 1 percent of annual sales to environmental groups around the world; $31 million in grants have been paid since 1985. The company uses only organically grown cotton in its own brand and has been selling recycled soda bottle-fleece since 1993. Qualified employees can take up to two months off to work for a nonprofit.

“We’ve been there forever,” Grady said. “We are not some green-wash company. If it’s legitimate green and about protecting the environment, bring it on.”

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