Yvon Chouinard’s Extraordinary Gift

Published: October 7, 2022

By Jim Lichtman
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Photo: Tom Frost, (another legendary climber)

With all the chaos and destruction brought about by Washington and an unprecedented hurricane, one story has received only moderate attention.

Before Yvon Chouinard became the founder and owner of Patagonia, I knew him as a legendary rock climber in Yosemite Valley. At the time, climbing these extraordinary sheer faces of granite was a different and difficult sport that not only required steel resolve, but steel pitons hammered into the cracks and crevices for protection in the event of a fall as you slowly worked your way up the face.

During those early days, Chouinard black-smithed his pitons and began selling them. From there, Patagonia designed and produced outdoor clothing and equipment that sold around the world.

Last month, Chouinard announced that he is gifting the entire company—roughly $3 billion in value—to the planet in a specially designed trust and non-profit organization.

“Earth is now our only shareholder,” Chouinard writes as he describes the deal.

“Here’s how it works: 100% of the company’s voting stock transfers to the Patagonia Purpose Trust, created to protect the company’s values; and 100% of the nonvoting stock had been given to the Holdfast Collective, a nonprofit dedicated to fighting the environmental crisis and defending nature. The funding will come from Patagonia: Each year, the money we make after reinvesting in the business will be distributed as a dividend to help fight the crisis.

“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.

“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.

While eccentric billionaire, Elon Musk continues to flip-flop on whether he’ll buy social media behemoth Twitter, for purposes no one knows, Yvon Chouinard has “set a gigantic standard for others to consider,” former NBC anchor Tom Brokaw writes of his friend.

And here’s another aspect of Chouinard we learn from Brokaw’s 40-year friendship with the Patagonia founder.

“Yvon is old-fashioned and has very strong values that he doesn’t hesitate to expression,” Brokaw writes. “For a long time, I argued that he was too pessimistic. Recently, with the invasion of the coronavirus, the continuing assault on the world’s remaining wild places, and the ever-rising temperatures, I have moved sharply in his direction. I have become impatient, too.”

With the world suffering from climate change, increasing fires, floods, hurricanes, pollution, and misuse of resources, Chouinard’s selfless act of citizenship is both breathtaking and daunting.

How will this play out? Will it stimulate like-minded citizenship? Can we . . . will we all make a serious commitment?

“If we have any hope of a thriving planet . . . 50 years from now,” Chouinard writes, “it is going to take all of us doing what we can with the resources we have.”


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