Overview:

Yvon Chouinard, who runs the Patagonia apparel company, is giving the company away. To planet Earth. This is the height of ethical capitalism.

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The owner of outdoor clothing and equipment company Patagonia, Yvon Chouinard, is giving the entire company away to support the environment and fight climate change devastation, something that many in the humanist community interested in helping our planet, will laud.

Yvon Chouinard, a self-described “existential dirtbag” who dislikes the label “businessman” he accidentally acquired, drives a beat-up Subaru with a surfboard on top and doesn’t even have a savings account. He certainly disliked being called a billionaire by Forbes. Chouinard told the New York Times: “I was in Forbes magazine listed as a billionaire, which really, really pissed me offI don’t have $1bn in the bank. I don’t drive Lexuses.”

He’s come a long way from setting up a blacksmith’s forge in his parent’s chicken coop in their California backyard to make pitons—spikes used by climbers to stick into rock as rope holds.

The particular way they have set up the organization was found to be the only way they could guarantee a continuation of the company’s mission and values. This looks to turn traditional models of capitalism on their heads.

After wearing a striped rugby top while on a climbing trip in Scotland in 1970 because the collar protected his neck from rope and equipment, American friends back home asked where they could get one. So he started importing them as Chouinard Equipment. Now as Patagonia, the company has hundreds of stores in over ten countries across five continents.

Patagonia is seen as an “activist company” (and a Certified B Corporation), giving 1% of its total sales to environmental causes, boycotting Facebook and Instagram advertising for their lack of curbing hate speech, and aims to become carbon neutral by 2025. In 2016, it gave 100% of sales from Black Friday to environmental organizations, totaling $10 million. In 2017, it sued Trump and the government for reducing protected land. In 2021, Patagonia recognized the threat to voters’ rights and pledged $1 million to the activist groups Black Voters Matter and the New Georgia Project.

It also looks after its employees.

In short, as far as companies go, Patagonia is an ethical one, and one that would garner most humanists’ seal of approval.

And now, the owner is putting his money where his mouth is. As The Guardian reports:

Chouinard, 83, worked with his wife and two children as well as teams of company lawyers to create a structure that will allow Patagonia to continue to operate as a for-profit company whose proceeds will go to benefit environmental efforts.

“If we have any hope of a thriving planet – much less a thriving business – 50 years from now, it is going to take all of us doing what we can with the resources we have,” said Chouinard in a statement. “This is another way we’ve found to do our part.”

The complicated change has seen the Chouinard family give 2% of the stock to a trust as well as all decision-making authority. The rest of the stock will go to the Holdfast Collective, a non-profit. In a statement, it is said that the collective “will use every dollar received to fight the environmental crisis, protect nature and biodiversity, and support thriving communities, as quickly as possible.”

The particular way that they have set up the organization was found to be the only way they could guarantee a continuation of the company’s mission and values. This looks to turn traditional models of capitalism on their heads.

“Instead of exploiting natural resources to make shareholder returns, we are turning shareholder capitalism on its head by making the Earth our only shareholder,” he wrote in an open letter. As he describes in the letter:

Here’s how it works: 100% of the company’s voting stock transfers to the Patagonia Purpose Trust, created to protect the company’s values; and 100% of the nonvoting stock had been given to the Holdfast Collective, a nonprofit dedicated to fighting the environmental crisis and defending nature. The funding will come from Patagonia: Each year, the money we make after reinvesting in the business will be distributed as a dividend to help fight the crisis.

It’s been nearly 50 years since we began our experiment in responsible business, and we are just getting started. If we have any hope of a thriving planet—much less a thriving business—50 years from now, it is going to take all of us doing what we can with the resources we have. This is another way we’ve found to do our part.

There can be no better example in the corporate world of humans going about trying to solve human problems. The world’s problems are, after all, more often than not both for and by humans.

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Jonathan MS Pearce

A TIPPLING PHILOSOPHER Jonathan MS Pearce is a philosopher, author, columnist, and public speaker with an interest in writing about almost anything, from skepticism to science, politics, and morality,...