What if the richest among us started using their resources for the betterment of us all? A flurry of recent action is speeding up this trend, with corporate and creative minds funding the protection of the natural world.
Perhaps the most groundbreaking of the recent news is Patagonia founder Yvon Chouinard’s decision to transfer his family’s ownership of the outdoor clothing and gear company to help fight the climate crisis. Patagonia made the announcement at a global town hall event on September 14, just ahead of the company’s fiftieth birthday. Chouinard, his wife, and two children donated all the company’s voting stock, amounting to two percent of its total, to the new Patagonia Purpose Trust. The trust, overseen by the family and advisors, will make sure the company does not stray from its mission of social responsibility and continues to “demonstrate as a for-profit business that capitalism can work for the planet.”
The non-voting common shares, amounting to the remaining 98 percent of the company, were donated to the Holdfast Collective.
Each year, Patagonia will take all profits that are not reinvested in its business and send them to the nonprofit in dividend form, estimated at $100 million annually.
The Holdfast Collective will use that money to invest in nature-based solutions, fund grassroots advocacy, and donate to environmentally-friendly political candidates.
The company itself will continue selling snow and active gear and donating one percent of its annual sales to grassroots and environmental groups through 1% for the Planet, which Chouinard co-founded. Although there are some concerns, such as the family’s possible lack of interest in Patagonia’s future from the removal of their financial incentive and Chouinard’s potential aversion to taxes through the deal, the gist of the move is in line with the company’s history. It’s also good for the planet. As Chouinard reminisced in the press release, “it’s been a half-century since we began our experiment in responsible business. . . We are using the wealth Patagonia creates to protect the source. We’re making Earth our only shareholder.”
Another corporate leader making an environmental splash is the founder of Lululemon Athletica: Chip Wilson and his wife Summer announced at a press conference that they will be funneling $75.8 million through their B.C. Parks Foundation and Wilson 5 Foundation to protect tracts of wilderness in Canada’s British Columbia. The B.C. Parks Foundation aims to protect 25 percent of the land and water in the province by 2025 through its 25×25 campaign. The new funding will establish protected parks managed by indigenous peoples by purchasing the land and buying out forestry and mining licenses. It marks the “largest private donation in Canadian conservation history.”
Some of the areas already selected include Bourguiba Springs and Teit’s Sanctuary, which are important for declining numbers of bighorn sheep, and Falling Creek Sanctuary, which has witnessed negative impacts on its populations of caribou and moose. Chief Justin Napoleon of the Saulteau First Nations, whose traditional territory the latter sanctuary is on, noted that “we appreciate seeing land protected from industrial development to preserve wildlife corridors, support an ecological balance, and facilitate the meaningful exercise of our treaty rights.”
Although Wilson was involved in controversy and stepped down as chair of Lululemon’s board in 2013, the funding from the thirteenth wealthiest person in Canada will do a lot of good. As Summer Wilson explained, “I want to make sure that we preserve this province to the same level of beauty that awed me when I first came here.” The hope is to inspire similar donations from the public and private sectors alike.
From the entertainment world, eyes are turning to the climate crisis. Perhaps Academy Award-winning director and writer Adam McKay’s $4 million donation to the Climate Emergency Fund (CEF) is unsurprising given that his recent Netflix film Don’t Look Up was centered on an environmental apocalypse. To play his part in handling the threat, McKay gave the largest personal donation that the CEF has ever seen and joined its board of directors to help with further fundraising and decision-making.
CEF provides grants to organizations that are publicly vocal about climate protection through non-violent disruptive protest and has mobilized more than 1 million to support related advocacy efforts since its founding. Co-founder Rory Kennedy explained that “we founded Climate Emergency Fund because activism works – history makes that clear. Grassroots movements are the fastest and most effective way to create transformative change.”
With the funding from McKay, CEF will continue funding and supporting the A22 Network, an international group of 11 activist organizations across 11 countries – including the U.S.’s Declare Emergency – that focus on mass civil resistance and legislative action on climate. Plus, his donation has already spurred investments from other high-profile individuals, with Abigail Disney also committing $200,000 to CEF. As McKay stated in the press release, “we are past time for politeness, past time for baby steps. I am proud to support their efforts and call on others to join me in doing everything we can to stave off the rapidly worsening impact of the climate crisis.”