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Patagonia: A Deeper History of Philanthropy

World-renowned sportswear company, Patagonia, has recently been reimagined to combat climate change. Patagonia is estimated to bring in an annual profit of $100 million — profit that is now going directly towards environmental activism. The Chouinard family, owners of the organization, have transferred their ownership of the company into a unique two-part stock structure in an attempt to maintain the company’s commitment to protecting the environment. The Patagonia Purpose Trust owns about 2% of the company, is overseen by the founding family as well as some of their closest associates, and is responsible for upholding the business’s core values socially and politically. Meanwhile, the Holdfast Collective, funded by Patagonia’s exorbitant profits, is a non-profit organization that owns 98% of the company and handles the allocation of funds to fight the current climate crisis. Although these charitable efforts are now being brought to light by the media, philanthropy has been a staple throughout the company’s history.  

Yvon Chouinard, alongside Craig Matthews, coined the “1% for Planet” initiative in the early 2000s and has supported it ever since. The initiative includes an alliance of businesses that understand the importance of environmental protection; together these organizations work towards sustainability and actively support grassroots environmental groups by donating 1% of profits annually. Many of the allied businesses strive to uphold ethical standards as manufacturers, with Patagonia going as far as becoming one of the few certified B Corporations. On top of 1% for the planet, Patagonia continues to support the efforts of these grassroots organizations through the Holdfast Collective’s fiscal contributions. Additionally, the company uses its funds more directly and combatively to evoke social change. In response to former president Donald Trump moving to reduce the size of national monuments, Patagonia mobilized a lawsuit against the administration, releasing the statement “The President Stole Your Land.” The organization made it clear where its political values lie and more broadly cemented the lengths they are willing to go to save the planet. 

Patagonia’s support of environmental activism also extends further than mere financial contributions. The company provides civil disobedience training to employees to encourage peaceful protesting and also developed a bail policy to protect employees advocating for change. Patagonia continually supplies education to their employees by offering their Environmental Internship Program, where employees are allotted up to two months off from their typical roles at the company to work with the environmental group of their choosing while still enjoying their paychecks and benefits. Similarly, the company provides education opportunities to the public on its website and through the promotion of grassroots environmental organizations.  

The aforementioned efforts do not even begin to amount to the overall impact that Patagonia has had on social change, yet it is easy to conclude that there is an obvious goal in mind. Therefore, the company turning away from contemporary business practices was inevitable. In short, the newly imagined structure of Patagonia sets it up for long-term success in combating climate change, a goal that has become the driving force behind the company’s legacy. 

Hi! I'm Emma, a first year Communication and Media Studies major at Pace University. When I'm not writing, you can find me in a local coffee shop sipping lattes or out exploring the city!
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