Finance | September 15, 2022 12:37 pm

How Does Patagonia Founder Yvon Chouinard’s Climate Pledge Compare to Jeff Bezos and Others?

His decision to give away the company has been hailed as unprecedented. Here’s how the donations stack up against the Bezos Earth Fund.

Patagonia founder Yvon Chouinard speaking at Tribeca X in NYC in 2019. He recently gave away the company to fight climate change.
Patagonia founder Yvon Chouinard speaking at Tribeca X in NYC in 2019.
Ben Gabbe/Getty for Tribeca X

Every single dollar spent in the effort to slow the climate crisis is a dollar well spent, but Yvon Chouinard has a few more dollars than most. The 83-year-old billionaire founder of Patagonia announced on Sept. 14 that the outdoor apparel and gear company, which is worth some $3 billion, is “making Earth [its] only shareholder.” In concrete terms, as he told The New York Times, that means transferring ownership of the 50-year-old business to a trust and a nonprofit so that its profits of about $100 million a year will go to “combat climate change and protect undeveloped land around the globe.” 

The move by Chouinard, his family and Patagonia has been hailed as unprecedented. “This family is a way outlier when you consider that most billionaires give only a tiny fraction of their net worth away every year,” David Callahan, founder of the website Inside Philanthropy, told the Times. But while the structure of the commitment is certainly novel — giving away the company, not leaving it to heirs, not taking Patagonia public — other billionaires have also pledged gobs of money to efforts around climate change. How does Chouinard’s pledge stack up?

The most significant financial promise to fight the climate crisis from an individual has come from Amazon founder Jeff Bezos. In 2020, he announced the Bezos Earth Fund through which he promised to donate $10 billion by 2030. According to the organization’s website, the fund has granted $1.39 billion so far. 

In Patagonia’s announcement, the company said it had already donated $50 million to the Holdfast Collective — the nonprofit that will receive the company’s profits and donate them to entities fighting the climate crisis — and plans to donate another $100 million this year. That initial funding, plus the potential of $100 million a year going forward, is dwarfed by Jeff Bezos’s plan of $1 billion a year through the end of the decade. 

The missing link here? Not all billionaires are created equal. As of April of this year, Yvon Chouinard was number 2,324 on the Forbes list of the richest people in the world, with a net worth of $1.2 billion thanks to his ownership of Patagonia. Meanwhile, as of today (Forbes updates the highest ranking billionaires in real time), Jeff Bezos is the second richest person in the world, below Tesla CEO Elon Musk, with a net worth of about $152.5 billion. 

Putting this in mathematical terms, on an annual basis, Chouinard’s pledge is worth about 10% of what Bezos has allocated (though Patagonia’s donations are in perpetuity, and are based on projected profits, while the Amazon founder has only planned up till 2030). However, Chouinard’s wealth to redistribute is only 0.8% of the net worth held by Bezos. 

Admittedly, that’s an overly simplified look at the financial picture here. As Chouinard explained to the Times, he didn’t “have $1 billion in the bank” to give away. It was tied up in the company, and the business spent years figuring out the current two-tiered solution for using Patagonia’s profits for good. The situation with Bezos is likely more complex, as he owns stock in Amazon, a publicly traded company (whereas Patagonia never went that route). 

What this does show is that Bezos’s climate donations, while massive in comparison to others, are smaller than Chouinard’s relative to his wealth. The Amazon founder and other billionaires — like Elon Musk, who has made some public climate donations, but mostly kept mum on philanthropy — could stand to take a page out of Chouinard’s book and make more significant commitments to sustain our way of life on this planet.

After all, does anyone really need a $500 million megayacht