Patagonia's billionaire founder gives away company to save planet

The Chouinard family will no longer receive money from the company but will stay on the board

Yvon Chouinard, founder of  outdoor retailer Patagonia. AFP
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The founder of outdoor retailer Patagonia, known for his environmental stances, announced on Wednesday that he has given away his company to do even more for the planet.

Yvon Chouinard, 83, could have sold the brand — valued at $3 billion, according to The New York Times — or taken it public.

Instead, he, his wife and their two children agreed to transfer all of Patagonia's voting shares, or stock that gives the holder voting rights, to a trust in charge of ensuring the brand's environmental values are respected.

All of Patagonia's non-voting shares have been transferred to a non-profit organisation dedicated to fighting climate change and for nature protection and conservation.

Company profits will also be donated to that organisation.

"Earth is now our only shareholder," Mr Chouinard wrote in an open letter posted to Patagonia's website.

"I never wanted to be a businessman. 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."

Founded almost 50 years ago, Patagonia quickly became committed to conserving nature, by carefully choosing its raw materials and donating 1 per cent of its sales each year to environmental NGOs.

But Mr Chouinard has decided this is no longer enough.

One option was to sell Patagonia and donate the money.

"But we couldn't be sure a new owner would maintain our values or keep our team of people around the world employed," Mr Chouinard said in the letter.

Taking the company public would have been a "disaster", he said.

"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."

Patagonia will remain a company that cares about its financial health and will operate with a board of directors and chief executive.

The Chouinard family will no longer receive any money from the company but will stay on the board, and oversee the trust and guide the non-profit's philanthropic work.

Updated: September 15, 2022, 6:01 AM