Patagonia Founder ‘Donates’ Company — Altruism or More Billionaire PR?

Yvon Chouinard got tons of glowing praise, but is there more to the story?

Mitchell Peterson

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Photo by Malik Skydsgaard on Unsplash

Last week, Patagonia founder Yvon Chouinard made headlines by transferring his company to a trust that will reportedly use the profits to fight climate change. Naturally, such a move got a lot of very positive coverage on social media and from places like the NY Times and the Guardian. At first glance, it seems like wonderful altruism from an eccentric self-made billionaire who cares deeply about the planet and should be applauded and used as a benchmark for the rest of the uber-wealthy.

But I’m a little reluctant to quickly tweet my thumbs off heaping praise. A deeper look shows that it might not be as selfless as the headlines make it out to be. I hate to be utterly cynical, but questions need to be asked about the nature of the ‘donation,’ and what mechanisms are in place to ensure the promises are kept.

As with most charitable billionaire stunts, there are perks and undisclosed elements that muddy the ‘insanely rich guy gives crazy amount of money to help the world’ articles that are being written.

On the surface, Patagonia is surely one of the better companies out there, and in interviews, Chouinard comes across as authentic, but further research confirms my initial hesitancy to bust out the ribbons, red carpet, and saint candles in homage to the unbound generosity.

“As of now, Earth is our only shareholder. ALL profits, in perpetuity, will go to our mission to ‘save our home planet’.” — statement from Patagonia

I’ve heard podcast interviews with Yvon Chouinard and, as I said, he seems like a genuinely nice guy. Like many ‘dirtbag climbers,’ he was poor in his 1960s younger years, kept it minimal living in his car, and spent all his time in nature.

Then in the early seventies, he started making climbing gear and clothes for his friends, founding Patagonia in 1973. It eventually grew into a $3 billion brand, and Chouinard reportedly still keeps it simple, doesn’t have a computer or cell phone, and says he doesn’t drive a Lexus.

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Mitchell Peterson

Freelance writer who spent nine years outside the US, currently in rural America writing the Substack bestseller 18 Uncles.