Yvon Chouinard, the founder of Patagonia, is widely regarded as a pioneer in the outdoor apparel industry. He is not just a reluctant businessman but a passionate environmentalist who has dedicated the rest of his life to preserving the planet.
In September 2022, Yvon Chouinard, his spouse and two adult children transferred ownership of the entire company, worth $3 billion, to a purpose trust and 501c4 to fight climate change. The company expects to contribute about $100 million a year to combat climate issues.
Yvon Chouinard said, “While we’re doing our best to address the environmental crisis, it’s not enough. We needed to find a way to put more money into fighting the crisis while keeping the company’s values intact.” This is the story of how Yvon Chouinard did exactly that.
Yvon Chouinard was born in 1938 in Lewiston, Maine. He was raised in Southern California and fell in love with the outdoors at a young age. As a high schooler, he found joy being in the wilderness and helped found the Southern California Falconry Club, which he wrote was the most formative time of his life. In the late 1950s, he began big-wall rock climbing in Yosemite Valley. Chouinard started making his own climbing gear because he was dissatisfied with the equipment available at the time. This led to the founding of Chouinard Equipment, which later became Black Diamond Equipment.
In 1973, Chouinard founded Patagonia, an outdoor clothing and gear company. He started the company with the goal of creating high-quality products that would stand up to the needs of climbing. As the years passed and the realities of the environmental cost of apparel production became more apparent, the company dedicated itself to finding better ways of making quality products. Chouinard has always been vocal about his commitment to the environment and has used his platform as a businessman to advocate for environmental causes. He’s a leader and visionary that we should all aspire to be.
Yvon Chouinard’s commitment to the environment goes beyond just creating eco-friendly products. He believes that businesses have a responsibility to protect the planet and has taken steps to ensure that Patagonia does just that. Since 1985, Patagonia has pledged 1 percent of sales to the preservation and restoration of the natural environment, and in 2002, Yvon Chouinard and Craig Mathews of Blue Ribbon Flies founded “1% for the Planet” an organization whose members donate at least 1% of their annual revenue to environmental causes. Since then, the company has donated over $140 million to environmental organizations. In 2018, the company launched Patagonia Action Works, an effort to mobilize its customers, employees and community to organizations near them working on finding solutions to the climate crisis.
Patagonia has various programs aimed toward reducing the environmental impact of its products. The company has a program called “Worn Wear,” which encourages customers to repair their old Patagonia products rather than throwing them away. Patagonia also uses recycled materials in its products and has reduced its carbon emissions by using renewable energy sources.
Yvon Chouinard says, “Earth is now our only shareholder. If we have any hope of a thriving planet—much less a business—it is going to take all of us doing what we can with the resources we have. I never wanted to be a businessman. I started as a craftsman, making climbing gear for my friends and myself, then got into apparel. As we began to witness the extent of global warming and ecological destruction and our own contribution to it, Patagonia committed to using our company to change the way business was done. If we could do the right thing while making enough to pay the bills, we could influence customers and other businesses, and maybe change the system along the way. Patagonia started with products using materials that caused less harm to the environment. We gave away 1% of sales each year. We became a certified B Corp and a California benefit corporation, writing our values into our corporate charter so they would be preserved. More recently, in 2018, we changed the company’s purpose to: We’re in business to save our home planet.”
In a sea of company growth options, Yvon Chouinard looked to the future and considered the following possibilities for the future of his company:
1. Sell Patagonia and donate all the money. But Yvon Chouinard and his team couldn’t be sure a new owner would maintain our values or keep the Patagonia team of people around the world employed.
2. Take the company public. However, Yvon Chouinard considered this the wrong move saying, “Even public companies with good intentions are under too much pressure to create short-term gain at the expense of long-term vitality and responsibility. Truth be told, there were no good options available. So, we created our own. Instead of “going public,” you could say we are “going purpose.” Instead of extracting value from nature and transforming it into wealth for investors, we’ll use the wealth Patagonia creates to protect the source of all wealth.”
“Going purpose” for Yvon Chouinard and the Patagonia team meant enshrining the company’s guiding principle of environmental responsibility through a purpose trust and executing a long-term mission that distributes money to organizations and groups working to find nature-based solutions to save the planet. This is a model of business for all corporations to adapt. This is the way forward.
Yvon Chouinard’s process for saving the planet is unique compared to other business growth models. He believes that businesses need to move away from a growth mindset and instead focus on responsibility and longevity. Yvon Chouinard has spoken out against the idea of “growth for growth’s sake,” and instead advocates for a more holistic approach to business.
One of the ways Yvon Chouinard has implemented this approach is by prioritizing the environment over profits. Patagonia has turned down potential profits by refusing to sell products that are not environmentally responsible. Yvon Chouinard believes that this approach is necessary to protect the planet for future generations.
Yvon Chouinard has also encouraged other businesses to adopt sustainable practices. He has written a book called “The Responsible Company,” which outlines the steps businesses can take to become more environmentally friendly. Yvon Chouinard has also spoken out about the need for systemic change in the way we think about business.
Yvon Chouinard prioritizes the environment over profits. This approach is unusual in the business world, where profits are often seen as the most important metric of success. Yvon Chouinard advocates for a more holistic approach to business. He believes that businesses have a responsibility to protect the planet and the notion of maximizing profits is quickly draining the planet of resources and leading to larger and larger wealth gaps.
Yvon Chouinard’s commitment to corporate responsibility is not just lip service. He has implemented various initiatives within Patagonia to reduce the company’s environmental impact, such as using renewable energy and recycled materials. Patagonia’s “Worn Wear” program also encourages customers to repair and reuse their products, rather than buying new ones.
Yvon Chouinard’s approach to business has had a significant impact on the outdoor industry. Patagonia’s commitment to sustainability has set it apart from its competitors and has inspired other companies to adopt more environmentally friendly practices.
Yvon Chouinard’s advocacy for environmental causes has extended beyond his role as a businessman. He personally helped fund conservation projects in South America, including the recent protection of the Mitre Peninsula in the Patagonia region. Yvon Chouinard’s activism has made him a leading voice in the environmental movement and has inspired others to take action.
Yvon Chouinard’s commitment to environmental responsibility is a shining example of what businesses can achieve when they prioritize the environment over profits. As consumers, we have the power to support companies like Patagonia that prioritize purpose over profit.
By choosing to buy products from environmentally friendly companies, we can help create a demand for more sustainable practices in the business world. It is up to all of us to take action to protect the planet for future generations, and Yvon Chouinard’s example shows us that it is possible to do so while still running a successful and profitable business.
As companies think and act like Yvon Chouinard we can all understand that businesses of our time can help save the planet and also be profitable.
SOURCE AND IMAGES: patagonia.com
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