- In the words of its founder, outdoor gear company Patagonia exists to “force government and corporations to take action in solving our environmental problems.”
- In 2022, the company made headlines when founder Yvon Chouinard announced the transfer of company ownership ($3 billion in assets and $100 million in annual profits) to a nonprofit and a trust, the dividends of which would go to environmental advocacy organizations, making “Earth the only shareholder.”
- Joining our podcast to discuss Patagonia’s 50-year legacy is environmental action and initiatives director Beth Thoren, who shares the company’s theory of change, discusses how traditional capitalism is no longer working for people or the planet, and its poignant “Not Mars” campaign.
- “If we continue to live in the world where shareholder value is the only thing that is valued, we will burn up and die,” she says.
What can corporations learn from the mistakes of traditional capitalism? Can profit models place the interests of the environment and the public first?
Beth Thoren, the environmental action and initiatives director at outdoor gear maker Patagonia, thinks so. She joins the Mongabay Newscast to detail the lessons Patagonia has learned from 50 years in business, and what Patagonia says corporations need to do in moving from extractive business models to ones that place the health of the planet first.
“If we continue to live in the world where shareholder value is the only thing that is valued, we will burn up and die,” she says.
In 2022, Patagonia founder Yvon Chouinard transferred ownership of the entire company (including all its annual profits and assets) to a trust and a nonprofit, the Patagonia Purpose Trust and the Holdfast Collective, two entities that donate to environmental organizations, making “Earth the only shareholder.”
“We have to prove this model can work, and it does. So, we generate profit, but that profit [now] goes to nature,” Thoren says.
Patagonia is a company famous for its environmental activism and campaigns, which tell stories of communities fighting for environmental justice. The company has produced films such as Blue Heart, profiling the struggle of Europe’s last wild rivers, and Public Trust, which details U.S. policies governing public lands and the fight to protect them. Patagonia also launched Patagonia Action Works, a platform to connect individuals with environmental organizations.
“Patagonia’s reason for existence is to force government and corporations to take action in solving our environmental problems,” Chouinard said in a video on Patagonia Action Works.
The company also satirizes the unrestricted and arguably misguided ambitions of billionaires intent on sending wealthy people into space. A marketing campaign hitched to its 50-year anniversary featured images of beautiful blue waves with “Not Mars” across them in bold lettering.
“There’s a lot of rich men spending a lot of money taking people up into space,” Thoren says. “If the world falls apart, that’s gonna be great for the handful of rich people who can go and escape the Earth, but us mere mortals, we’re here.”
One can also read about the company’s journey and the lessons learned from 50 years in business detailed in a new book by Chouinard and Vincent Stanley, The Future of the Responsible Company: What We’ve Learned from Patagonia’s First 50 Years.
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Banner Image: Photograph of Patagonia. Image by Nancy Butler.