Patagonia’s Founder is a Devout Environmentalist, Even Down to His Diet
Rock climber by choice and billionaire by chance, founder and ex-majority shareholder of Patagonia Yvon Chouinard has just given away his company to save the planet he loves from the climate crisis. This month, the begrudging business magnate made a historic decision to transfer his ownership of the company to the newfound Patagonia Purpose Trust devoted to upholding the company's values and the Holdfast Collective, a non-profit organization dedicated to protecting the planet.
Chouinard released a statement asserting that he never hoped to be a businessman, but with Patagonia, he attempted to improve how sustainable business could be conducted. Now, 100 percent of the company voting stock (two percent of the company) will be given to the Patagonia Purpose Trust while 98 percent of the company's total stock will be given to the Holdfast Collective to serve the environment.
“Earth is now our only shareholder.” Chouinard wrote in a statement addressing the decision. “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. Truth be told, there were no good options available. So, we created our own.”
From this point forward, Holdfast Collective will receive the company's annual profits, estimated at about $100 million. The organization is dedicated to restoring biodiversity, protecting vulnerable ecosystems, and supporting communities worldwide.
"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," Choiunard's statement continues. "Despite its immensity, the Earth’s resources are not infinite, and it’s clear we’ve exceeded its limits. But it’s also resilient. We can save our planet if we commit to it."
Chouinard Champions a Planet-Friendly Lifestyle
Caring about the environment is nothing new for Chouinard or Patagonia. In 2020, the company launched a statement that urged its customers to "Vote Climate Deniers Out of Office." Since its inception, Patagonia's company model has prioritized the environment, launching several programs designed to improve its production standards. Currently, 88 percent of the company's sourced materials are preferred materials including organic and Regenerative Organic cotton, hemp, recycled polyester, and recycled nylon.
Before the ownership transfer, Patagonia gave away one percent of sales each year, gained B Corp and California benefit corporation certification, and redesigned its value to uplift the planet. But Chouinard believed this was not enough and that Patagonia's brand could better serve the planet. Despite criticism that it is motivated by a tax benefit, Holdfast Collective is a 501(c) (4), meaning it allows unlimited political contributions.
“There was a meaningful cost to them doing it, but it was a cost they were willing to bear to ensure that this company stays true to their principles,” Dan Mosley, a partner at the firm that helped Patagonia design the new structure, BDT & Co., told The New York Times. “And they didn’t get a charitable deduction for it. There is no tax benefit here whatsoever.”
Following the transfer, leadership will remain the same. The new business structure will introduce a new, more environmentally-friendly way to conduct business, redistributing wealth from the executives to the planets. Ryan Gellert will continue to act as the CEO and the Chouinard family will keep their seats on Patagonia's board.
“Two years ago, the Chouinard family challenged a few of us to develop a new structure with two central goals,” Gellert said in a statement. “They wanted us to both protect the purpose of the business and immediately and perpetually release more funding to fight the environmental crisis. We believe this new structure delivers on both and we hope it will inspire a new way of doing business that puts people and the planet first.”
Eating for the Planet
Shifting our food systems to become more sustainable has been increasingly spotlighted as a possible solution to the climate crisis, and Chouinard is on board, eating a plant-forward diet to help save the planet.
Chouinard eats from the organic salad bar at the Patagonia HQ in Ventura, Cali, according to a recent press report from Mountain Outlaw. He "piles veggies onto a plate for lunch," the interviewer witnessed, and "selects spinach, kale, romaine, edamame, radishes, fennel, quinoa, cashews." Then he adds mashed sweet potatoes and black bean patties. She added that he checks out just like the rest of Patagonia's employees. "As founder and owner of the leading outdoor clothing and gear retailer Patagonia, Chouinard pays for his food in the company’s subsidized cafeteria, just like everyone else."
While Chouinard does not eat entirely plant-based, he ensures that everything in his diet is sustainably produced, harvested, or sourced. In 2012, he started Patagonia Provisions which exclusively sells organic grains or sustainably caught salmon products.
“Every business needs to change their mission statement to saving the planet,” he said at the time. “I really believe we need a revolution, [and] the only revolution we’re likely to have is in agriculture. It solves a tremendous number of the world’s problems.”
How Diet Helps Curb Climate Change
Currently, 85 percent of the world is facing a climate crisis, according to researchers from the Mercator Research Center. With heat waves, massive floods, and severe storms threatening millions of lives worldwide, climate action can no longer be delayed. This means that governments will be required to regulate agricultural industries to avoid climate disasters.
Researchers from Oxford University concluded that without meat and dairy consumption we could use around 75 percent less land for agriculture, according to The Guardian. By adopting a plant-based diet, consumers could help reduce greenhouse gas emissions by up to 61 percent.
With the help of ProVeg International, the UN will host a food-centric climate event at this year's COP27 climate change conference. The Food4Climate Pavilion will help educate guests on how to protect the planet beginning with food production reform.
For more planetary happenings, visit The Beet's Environmental News.