Yvon Chouinard: The Billionnaire Who Delivered On His Promise

Highlights :

  • Yvon Chouinard, founder of Patagonia, donated all the stock in the company
  • Patagonia donated over $140 million in cash and in-kind donations to domestic and international grassroots environmental groups
Yvon Chouinard: The Billionnaire Who Delivered On His Promise

Yvon Chouinard, an American Billionaire and founder of outdoor clothing and gear retailer Patagonia has been in the news for giving away his fortune. Chouinard gave away all the stock, and ownership in the company to a Trust and a nonprofit in September 2022. With an open letter on Patagonia’s website announcing, “the earth is now our only shareholder,” the former billionaire gave up his lifetime empire for the sake of the environment.

The letter further stated the voting stock of Patagonia would be transferred to the Patagonia Purpose Trust, which was created to protect the company’s values. While non-voting stock now goes to a nonprofit working to combat the environmental crisis.

The Trust & The Non-Profit

Last Month, in August, the Chouinards transferred all the voting stock of Patagonia, 2 per cent of the overall shares, into a newly established entity known as the Patagonia Purpose Trust. Sans ownership, the trust will now be overseen by members of the family and their closest advisers. This is a way to ensure that Patagonia will stick to its commitment to running a socially responsible business. 

Now, the family also gave away the leftover of Patagonia, its common shares of 98 per cent, to the nonprofit, the Holdfast Collective. This entity will now be entitled to receive all the profits the company would make and use them toward its endeavours in combatting climate change. Holdfast Collective is expected to focus the profits on nature-based climate solutions such as preserving wildlands.

Patagonia will continue to operate as a private, for-profit corporation based in Ventura, Calif., that sells more than $1 billion worth of jackets, hats and ski pants each year.

It Was Always About the Environment 

Known for founding his apparel megafirm, Patagonia, in 1973, Yvon Chouinard was much more than that. He was a passionate rock climber back in his days. For him, it was always about the environment. Thus, Patagonia also reflected his own idealistic priorities. 

The company has given away 1 per cent of its sales for decades, mostly to grassroots environmental activists. In 2001, it made the donations a formal program called “1% for the Planet Scheme”. In total, the company donated over $140 million in cash and in-kind donations to domestic and international grassroots environmental groups. In addition, the company would also help employees who would work on local environmental projects.

It is noteworthy that Patagonia was among the first companies to become b-Corp. It is a private certification of companies’ “social and environmental performance”. Setting its priority clear, in 2018, the company changed its purpose too – “we are in business to save our home planet”.

…not a businessman, but a man of nature

Yvon Chouinard never valued being a businessman, as his latest actions only cement his environmentalist image further. He was not a mere businessman, but a man of nature.

“I didn’t know what to do with the company because I didn’t ever want a company. I didn’t want to be a businessman. Now I could die tomorrow and the company is going to continue doing the right thing for the next 50 years, and I don’t have to be around,” he said.

The ownership of Patagonia was valued at about $3 billion which the Chouinard family gave away. Yet, for them, it’s not a cause of lament. It’s in line with Chouinard’s love for the environment. Through his gesture, the Chouinard family did their utmost to set an example in the hope to bring about a change in the socio-economic fabric of the world.

“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. We are going to give away the maximum amount of money to people who are actively working on saving this planet,” Yvon Chouinard, 83, said in an exclusive interview with The New York Times

In a world where most billionaires give only a tiny fraction of their net worth away every year, Chounards set the highest bar of selfless charity or service any environmentalist can make.

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Junaid Shah

Junaid holds a Master of Engineering degree in Construction & Management. Being a civil engineering postgraduate and using his technical prowess, he has channeled his passion for writing in the environmental niche.