Yvon Chouinard is an American rock climber, environmentalist, philanthropist, and outdoor industry businessman. His company, Patagonia, is known for its commitment to protecting the environment. Chouinard is also a surfer, kayaker, and falconer and is particularly fond of tenkara fly-fishing. He has written about climbing issues and ethics and on mixing environmentalism and business.
Chouinard is most known for founding the clothing and gear company Patagonia. In 1970 on a trip to Scotland, he purchased some rugby shirts and sold them with great success. From this small start, the Patagonia company developed a wide selection of rugged technical clothing.
Recognizing that the financial success of the company provided the opportunity to also achieve personal goals, Chouinard committed the company to being an outstanding place to work, and to be an important resource for environmental activism. In 1984, Patagonia opened an on-site cafeteria offering “healthy, mostly vegetarian food,” and started providing on-site childcare. In 1986, Chouinard committed the company to “tithing” for environmental activism, committing one percent of sales or ten percent of profits, whichever is the greater. The commitment included paying employees working on local environmental projects so they could commit their efforts full-time.
In the early 1990s, an environmental audit of Patagonia revealed the surprising result (at the time), that corporate cotton, although a natural material, had a heavy environmental footprint. Shortly after, Chouinard committed the company to using all organic cotton. Yvon Chouinard then went on to be the founder of 1% for the Planet, leading to Patagonia becoming the first business to commit 1% of annual sales to the environment.
His efforts continued in the following decade where Patagonia collaborated with Stoecker Ecological to create the advocacy documentary film DamNation, aiming to change the American attitudes towards its 80,000 dams. Chouinard was the executive producer of the film, and he was also featured in the film commenting about dams. A few years later, in acknowledgment that sustainability and responsible practices are core to Patagonia, Yvon Chouinard was recognized with the Sierra Club’s top honours: the John Muir Award.
Finally, in 2022, Chouinard donated ownership in Patagonia to a trust to ensure profits are used for addressing climate change. The unusual move came at a moment of growing scrutiny for billionaires and corporations, whose rhetoric about making the world a better place is often overshadowed by their contributions to the very problems they claim to want to solve.
“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,” Mr. Chouinard, 83, said in an exclusive interview. “We are going to give away the maximum amount of money to people who are actively working on saving this planet.”
He added: “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.“
Chouinard’s act sends a profound message in the business world and society at large, one of hope for our future and the resiliency of our planet.