Patagonia’s billionaire founder sacrifices ownership of company to fight climate change

Yvon Chouinard

Outdoor fashion retailer Patagonia’s founder Yvon Chouinard says he has given away his company to a charitable trust

Patagonia’s billionaire founder, Yvon Chouinard has announced that he will relinquish ownership of the 49-year-old company. Chouinard, who turned his passion for rock-climbing into a 10-figure-fortune sportswear brand is giving the entire company to a uniquely structured trust and nonprofit, designed to pump all of the company’s profits into saving the planet

“Instead of extracting value from nature and transforming it into wealth, we are using the wealth Patagonia creates to protect the source,” says the entrepreneur. “As of now, Earth is our only shareholder,”

The Patagonia logo stitched onto its famous outdoor jacket

The company’s voting shares are now owned by the Patagonia Purpose Trust, a family-led entity which remains the company’s controlling shareholder but will only own two per cent of its total stock. Patagonia assures that the entity will “enshrine Patagonia’s purpose and values” and “demonstrate as a for-profit business that capitalism can work for the planet.”

Chouinard wrote in an open letter that he considered selling Patagonia and donating the money to charity, or taking the company public, but later realised that both options would have meant giving up control of the business. “Even public companies with good intentions are under too much pressure to create short-term gain at the expense of long-term vitality and responsibility,” he said.

“Hopefully this will influence a new form of capitalism that doesn’t end up with a few rich people and a bunch of poor people,” Chouinard told the New York Times. Once estimated to be worth US$1.2 billion, Chouinard is no longer a billionaire after relinquishing ownership of the company, but he has set an unprecedented example in environmental corporate leadership.

Featured photo by Patagonia/Jimmy Chin