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Patagonia: the new frontier of sustainability

The creator of the famous Patagonia outdoor clothing brand, the 83-year-old American Yvon Chouinard has decided to donate his business to an environmental organization and an investment fund that protects nature. Why did he do it?
22 Settembre 2022

Patagonian founder and billionaire Yvon Chouinard has announced he will hand over the entire company to a trust and non-profit company designed to direct all of the company’s profits to fight the climate crisis. 98% of the shares will go to a non-profit organization to protect biodiversity and support the community.

A certainly unusual choice that is nonetheless in full continuity with a sustainable strategy that Patagonia has demonstrated for decades now, allocating 1% of its turnover to environmental organizations every year.

“I didn’t know what to do with the company because I never wanted a company. I didn’t want to be a businessman. Now I could die tomorrow knowing that the company will continue to do the right thing for the next fifty years, without me being there.”

Yvon Chouinard

The environmentalist spirit of Yvon Chouinard

In a letter addressed to his 3,650 employees, the man who “never wanted to be a businessman” declares that “our only shareholder is our home planet”. The environmentalist founder has imagined his own model, ruling out the option of a corporate sale or a stock market listing.

The founder stated that “we weren’t sure that a new owner would keep our values ​​or that we would keep our team of people around the world”.

Yvon Chouinard has always been an atypical entrepreneur. The philanthropist mountaineer with French-Canadian roots developed and refined his environmental ethics within the company.

His ecological commitment materialized in 2002 with the foundation of 1% for the planet. In the following years he explained:

“The purpose of the initiative is to help fund different environmental organizations, so that collectively they can be more effective in solving the world’s problems.”

Yvon Chouinard

The initiative caused a stir, but it was not the only one implemented by the US entrepreneur. For example, Chouinard’s appeal in 2011 on the eve of Black Friday caused a sensation: the founder encourages his customers not to buy new products but to reuse or repair old ones.

Furthermore, in 2016, Patagonia took this initiative to the next level and pledged to donate 100% of the sales generated during Black Friday to environmental organizations, for a total of 10 million dollars.

What the history of Patagonia teaches us

If Chouinard taught us one thing, it’s that a company’s growth should never be measured by its balance sheet alone.

The company’s mission has always been to make the best product, without causing unnecessary damage to nature, developing a business to inspire and implement solutions for the environmental crisis.

The decision to have nature as the sole shareholder (official statement to the Washington Post) is yet another sign of Chouinard’s devotion to environmental protection and his irrepressible desire to surf and climb the most impervious mountains of Wyoming.

“We believe this new facility inspires a new way of doing business and putting people and the planet first.”

Ryan Gellert (CEO of Patagonia)

The unusual move comes at a time of growing global crisis. Despite everything, will it be an example for a new business model?

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