Billionaire Philanthropy: What makes Patagonia distinctive?

Lucy Cericola, Staff Reporter

In September of 2022, Patagonia founder Yvon Chouinard donated the more than 3 billion dollar company to the Holdfast Collective in hopes of making a true positive impact on climate change. The change in business model will allegedly continue the cycle, making an annual donation of approximately $100 million to environmental protection organizations.

“Hopefully this will influence a new form of capitalism that doesn’t end up with a few rich people and a bunch of poor people. We are going to give away the maximum amount of money to people who are actively working on saving this planet,” says Chouinard in an interview with the New York Times.

For years, Patagonia has grappled with its position as a multi-billion dollar corporation while still heeding the values it was built upon environmental conservation, high-quality production, and harm-free practices.

“I never wanted to be a businessman. I started as a craftsman making climbing gear for my friends and myself, then got into apparel,” says Yvon Chouinard.

What distinguishes Patagonia from other “environmentally friendly” companies is its practice of transparency and ability to follow through on previously made sustainability claims: The opposite of greenwashing corporations. 

In recent years, numerous prominent companies experienced backlash and were accused of “greenwashing”. So what is it and how do we recognize its use?

Greenwashing is defined as “disinformation disseminated by an organization so as to present an environmentally responsible public image”. Companies often prey on the environmental sympathy of customers to convince them that their products are more beneficial to the environment when that is often not the case. Corporations called out for greenwashing include major fossil fuel establishments like ExxonMobil, BP, and Shell, who alter their language and use terms like “low-carbon”, “transition”, and “climate” while their business practices reflect no positive change to impact the environment.

However, greenwashing is not limited to oil companies. Corporations market all sorts of products as environmentally friendly to draw positive attention. Countless food and clothing brands are guilty of this practice. More than you may think, but that’s their goal: to deceive.

With an increase in social awareness of the unhealthy impacts of fast fashion consumption, many consumers have made a conscious choice to shift their shopping towards “eco-friendly” companies. Of course, fast-fashion industries caught onto this and coined all sorts of distorted terms like “sustainable” and “earth friendly”.

For example, ZARA, the growing fast fashion empire vowed to halt toxic chemical use in clothing production by 2020, in addition to launching a “JOIN LIFE” collective which pledged an increased ethicality to manufacture. However, their claims to sustainability are contradicted by their ongoing failure to disclose the resources that go into production. As a whole, the company participates in the mass production of over 450 million items per year and functions as one of the largest faces of fast fashion.


However, this is not to say that all brands that preach sustainability lack thereof. When choosing brands based on sustainability claims, it’s important to keep in mind that actions often speak louder than words. Unlike many who are all talk and no action, Patagonia’s 3 billion dollar donation will directly benefit positive environmental change and will continue to do so every year.