It was a fascinating news item. One I almost missed as I began to mentally tune out CNN’s over-the-top coverage of the passing of 96-year-old Queen Elizabeth.
That said, I now have new respect for corgis after learning of the Queen’s lifelong affinity. And I have hope for the future knowing there could be a thaw in the freeze out between Meghan Markle and Kate Middleton.
But I digress.
As my son and I made our way back from a recent drive to Philly, the coverage of the Queen’s passing took a merciful pause. There was “breaking news” in the world of philanthropy: Eighty-three-year-old Yvon Chouinard was giving away the $3 billion company he founded — Patagonia.
Why? To fight climate change. “Earth is now our only shareholder,” the company’s website succinctly proclaimed.
Talk about putting your money where your concerns are…
I don’t know about you, but I find this announcement jaw-dropping. My mind immediately raced to: What did his wife think of the decision? She signed off. What about the other heirs, his adult children? They signed off, too. The rest of the inner circle? Evidently, Choiunard’s plan was being carefully crafted for years.
In a letter also published on the Patagonia website, Choiunard gave this explanation:
While we’re doing our best to address the environmental crisis, it’s not enough. We needed to find a way to put more money into fighting the crisis while keeping the company’s values intact. One option was to sell Patagonia and donate all 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.
Another path was to take the company public. What a disaster that would have been. 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.
Truth be told, there were no good options available. So, we created our?own.
It’s being referred to as a reimagining of capitalism. We can only hope it spurs copycats like The Giving Pledge has.
Originally created by Warren Buffett, Melissa Gates and Bill Gates, the Giving Pledge pact now has 40 of America’s wealthiest people committed to giving the majority of their wealth to charitable causes either during their lifetimes or in their wills.
But Choiunard’s act is a mic drop. This isn’t a pledge to take future action. He’s doing this now. And with a singular focus: Saving the planet.
Of course, there are skeptics who dismiss his move of transferring ownership to a trust (Patagonia Purpose Trust and Holdfast Collective) as a clever way to save on taxes. Great, I hope he saves a bundle. Perhaps others will then follow his lead.
Or perhaps this is as simple as the latest act by a brilliant man displaying business acuity along with uncommon humanity. After all, Patagonia has a long history of altruistic corporate behavior. And for decades, Patagonia has demonstrated how doing good can also be good for business.
“This is not ‘woke’ capitalism,” wrote Patagonia board member Charles Conn in a recent op-ed. “It’s the future of business if we want to build a better world for our children and all other creatures.”
— Jerry duPhily