What’s going on here?
Yvon Chouinard is an 83-year-old mountain climber who founded Patagonia: the outdoor clothing brand which eventually took him to billionaire status. Last week, Chouinard donated the company to fight the climate crisis.
What does this mean?
Patagonia remains in control by the Chouinard family via The Patagonia Purpose Trust, but it only holds 2% of the total stock. The remaining 98% is owned by the Holdfast Collective, a charity dedicated to fighting the climate crisis. In total, £87 million a year will be donated to climate causes.
Sustainability has always been at the core of this brand, which pledges to go carbon neutral and only use recycled materials by 2050. Chouinard has also openly refuted the terms ‘billionaire’ and even ‘businessman’. His decision to donate rather than sell the company was to ensure it doesn’t fall into the hands of someone with different morals.
Why should we care?
Billionaires are both a symptom and cause of an unjust economic system. Having such huge amounts of wealth owned by just a few people causes extreme inequality. Chouinard giving up his billionaire status is a bold and significant move, one which many are hoping will inspire others.
The fact that all Patagonia’s profits will now go to a good cause is admirable, but it is still a for-profit business, a model which heads for growth. Sales will now fund climate-friendly causes, but the environmental impact of producing clothes and gear in this way is still not great for the planet. There is also a chance that this well-intentioned move by the founder will increase sales.
Others point out that although Chouinard’s actions are undoubtedly positive, they do not encourage systemic change and keep power in the hands of an empowered elite.