Leading by Example: $3 Billion for the Environment

Leading by Example: $3 Billion for the Environment

On June 5th, we celebrate International Environment Day. It's a great opportunity for people worldwide to make a difference, big or small, to benefit both our environment and ourselves. A remarkable example of environmental stewardship comes from Yvon Chouinard, the founder of Patagonia, and his decision last year was nothing short of extraordinary: he dedicated his company to environmental conservation. 

It was a drastic move: the founder of the successful outdoor brand Patagonia donated his entire company to charitable foundations in 2022. According to reports from the New York Times, the company had a value of about 3 billion dollars. Chouinard pledged all future profits to nature conservation, amounting to approximately 100 million dollars annually. This bold decision was a significant turning point in an entrepreneurial career that began over half a century ago. 

Yvon Chouinard never aspired to be a businessman. 

He loved being outdoors as a child, growing up in sunny California, where he enjoyed fishing, surfing, and climbing. During one of his climbing trips in Yosemite National Park, he was disappointed with the climbing equipment. "I looked at all the tools; they were rough, didn't work well, and were poorly made!" Chouinard decided then and there: "I can do better!" A far-reaching decision whose impact he could not foresee at the time. In 1957, he started learning blacksmithing in his parents' garage, a former chicken coop. Here, he crafted the first climbing tools, initially for himself and his friends. He was so successful that he soon founded his first company: Chouinard Equipment. 

A self-made man on a global success trajectory 

In the early 1970s, Chouinard began focusing on outdoor clothing. He wanted to manufacture robust and durable clothing for those who loved the outdoors. During his climbing trips, he noticed that the fabrics of rugby jerseys were perfect as outdoor materials. With his sturdy blue rugby shirt and distinctive red and yellow stripes, he caught a lot of attention in the climbing circles. At that time, climbing clothing was not colorful and far from perfect. In his characteristic manner, Yvon Chouinard didn't hesitate and founded the company Patagonia. He came up with the name during an extensive journey through the wild and romantic Patagonia region of South America. 

Environmental protection that inspires: 1% for the Planet 

In 2002, Yvon Chouinard, together with Craig Mathews, founded the environmental initiative 1% for the Planet. In this international network, companies support certified environmental projects with 1% of their total annual revenue or 10% of their profits. Over 89 million dollars were raised by 2020, which Chouinard and Matthews donated to 1,539 environmental groups worldwide. The network is constantly growing, and the idea of responsible business practices gains more supporters. Not least, customers can contribute by looking for the 1% for the Planet seal when making a purchase. Through many other initiatives, the Patagonia founder ensured that environmental protection became more prominent in people's minds. Since 2018, the Worn Wear Tour has been launched annually, where people can have their clothing repaired for free, preserving valuable resources and making clothing more durable. 

The vision of a new form of capitalism 

For Yvon Chouinard, environmental protection is intertwined with the economy. In 2013, he made it clear that growth must go hand in hand with considering the social and ecological consequences. He rejects growth at any cost because it endangers the living conditions of all. The successful entrepreneur stated that the Earth's resources are not infinite, and we have long exceeded the limit. Chouinard's great hope is that other entrepreneurs will follow his example. Similar to 1% for the Planet, he sees collective action as the only chance to implement sustainable environmental measures globally. But he aims for more than just alleviating symptoms. The 83-year-old wishes that his actions trigger a rethinking: "Hopefully, this will influence a new form of capitalism that ultimately doesn't lead to a few rich and a bunch of poor people!"