Yvon Chouinard and his family put stocks into trust and collective to fight climate change
Patagonia founder and owner Yvon Chouinard and his family have given away their $3 billion, Ventura-based company to fight climate change.
Mr. Chouinard — an 83-year-old entrepreneur who climbed El Capitan and, in the beginning, supported himself by selling climbing pitons out of his car — explained the donation at patagonia.com.
“We’re in business to save our home planet,” Mr. Chouinard wrote, citing the slogan his nearly 50-year-old company adopted in 2018.
He said all of the outdoor apparel company’s voting stock will be transferred to the Patagonia Purpose Trust and that all the nonvoting stock will go into the Holdfast Collective.
“Earth is now our only shareholder,” Mr. Chouinard wrote.
The plan is for profits that aren’t reinvested to go to climate change efforts.
Mr. Chouinard, his wife and two adult children agreed to donate the entire company to the battle for climate change. Patagonia expects to contribute about $100 million a year, but that could vary according to its profits.
Patagonia is well-known as the apparel company that campers, hikers and mountain climbers turn to, with everything from coats to flannel shirts.
“I never wanted to be a businessman,” Mr. Chouinard, known for his lifetime of climbing mountains, wrote on the Patagonia website. “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,” he said. “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.
“We started with our products, using materials that caused less harm to the environment,” Mr. Chouinard continued.
But he said Patagonia’s efforts haven’t been enough.
Mr. Chouinard said he could have sold Patagonia and donated all the money, but the company wasn’t certain a new owner would continue the firm’s values or keep its people around the world employed.
He also said taking the company public would have proven disastrous because of the pressure for short-term gains.
“Truth be told, there were no good options available,” he said. “So we created our own.
“Instead of ‘going public,’ you could say we’re ‘going purpose,’” Mr. Chouinard said. “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.”
Mr. Chouinard noted Earth’s resources are finite and that humanity has exceeded them. But he also praised the planet for being resilient. “We can save our planet if we commit to it.”
Mr. Chouinard was born Nov. 9, 1938, the son of a French-Canadian handyman, mechanic and plumber. He and his family moved from Maine to Southern California in 1947.
The Patagonia founder has had a lifelong love for nature, and that led him upward — as in mountain climbing. He was known as one of the leading climbers of “the Golden Age of Yosemite Climbing.”
His ascents included a famous, steep site for Yosemite National Park climbers: El Capitan.
In 1964, he took part in the first climb of the North America Wall with Tom Frost, Royal Robbins and Chuck Pratt. They succeeded — without ropes.
Mr. Chouinard made other climbs around America, as well as climbs in the European Alps and in Pakistan.
Patagonia has long been based in Ventura, but expanded its facilities in 2018 by purchasing the former Brooks Institute of Photography campus, located on Ventura Avenue in Ventura. (Before Brooks took over the site, it was a movie and TV studio.)
An earlier Patagonia headquarters in Ventura, which this writer visited in the 1990s, was a brown building nestled in the midst of tall trees in a setting that well suited Mr. Chouinard’s love for nature.