Patagonia’s founder gives away ownership to help fight the climate crisis

Yvon Chouinard, the eccentric rock climber who became a reluctant billionaire with his unconventional take on economics, has given away Patagonia 50 years after it was founded. Mr. Chouinard, his wife, and two adult children have transferred their ownership of Patagonia, valued at approximately $3 billion, to a specifically constructed trust and a nonprofit organization rather than selling or going public. They were established to preserve the company’s independence and that all of its income — approximately $100 million per year — are spent to combat climate change and protect undeveloped land worldwide. The unexpected move comes at a time when billionaires and businesses’ rhetoric about improving the world is frequently eclipsed by their contributions to the very problems they claim to want to solve. At the same time, Mr. Chouinard’s decision to give up the family money is consistent with his persistent contempt for business rules and his lifelong love of the environment. “Hopefully this will influence a new form of capitalism that doesn’t end up with a few rich people and a bunch of poor people,” Mr. Chouinard, 83, said in an exclusive interview. “We are going to give away the maximum amount of money to people who are actively working on saving this planet.” Patagonia is taking significant steps to lessen its environmental effect. A large majority of its products, including polyester, nylon, and wool, are created from recycled fabrics. Most importantly, Patagonia’s business model is unique: it rejects quick fashion by producing high-quality, long-lasting goods and providing a repair and reuse program. Patagonia has also performed studies on the impact of microplastics in collaboration with industry organizations.

It even discourages customers from purchasing too many of its products. The brand’s “Don’t buy this jacket” campaign was created to address consumerism head on. Patagonia recognizes that one of the most important steps shoppers can take to lessen their personal environmental footprint is to buy less, stating, “It would be disingenuous for us to strive for environmental change without urging customers to think before they buy.” That is a message we can support.

Patagonia is rated “Good” for the environment because of these fantastic activities, but there is still much more it can do to get the top ranking. While the company has adopted greenhouse gas emissions reduction measures throughout its supply chain to lessen its environmental effect, no indication is found that it has a policy in place to avoid deforestation in its supply chain. That if Patagonia is tackling this issue is unknown, but strongly recommend that it puts its commitments and actions on the public record for that final push in this category.

Patagonia’s animal welfare policies have also improved, moving from “It’s a Start” to “Good.” It now has a formal animal welfare policy that is linked with the Five Freedoms and specific implementation methods. Patagonia employs leather and exotic animal hair, and claims to use wool from non-mulesed sheep. Patagonia’s down is Responsible Down Standard certified, and the company does not use angora, fur, or exotic animal skin.

Patagonia has previously been called out by the global animal welfare organization Four Paws for its brutal treatment of birds, but the brand was quick to response. It currently collaborates with the organization to promote humane practices throughout the industry.

Now that the future of Patagonia’s ownership is clear, the firm must live up to its ambitious objectives of running a profitable corporation while addressing climate change.

Some experts warn that if the Chouinard family does not have a financial stake in Patagonia, the company and its connected entities may lose focus. While the children will continue to be paid by Patagonia and the elder Chouinards will be able to live well, the company will no longer distribute earnings to the family.

However, For the Chouinards, it answers the question of what will happen to Patagonia after its founder dies, ensuring that the company’s income would be used to protect the world.

“I feel a big relief that I’ve put my life in order,” Mr. Chouinard said. “For us, this was the ideal solution.”

By: Yimeng CHEN

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