Students Reflect on Patagonia’s Environmental Trailblazing

Students study inside a Babson campus building

This is the second article in a two-part series in which the Babson community reflects on the decision by Yvon Chouinard and his family to give away their business, Patagonia.

Patagonia founder Yvon Chouinard’s bold decision to give away his roughly $3 billion retail company to fight climate change made waves among billionaires and corporations across the globe—and Babson students also wanted to weigh in on the historic donation.

Chouinard, along with his wife and two adult children, announced in September that they would transfer ownership of the outdoor adventure retail store to a specially designed trust and a nonprofit organization meant to funnel profits toward protecting the environment and undeveloped lands.

The move comes as Babson College students and their courses have increased the focus on sustainability and the environmental and social impacts of business. As part of its new core undergraduate curriculum, Babson now requires every sophomore to take a course, Socio-Ecological Systems, that focuses on integrated sustainability. The flagship Foundations of Management and Entrepreneurship (FME) course, in which first-year students create, open and operate a venture, also is focused on improving the world and creating social value as well as economic value.

We asked Babson students to reflect on Chouinard’s decision and share their thoughts about the role of corporations when it comes to the environment.

Martha Buckley MBA’23

“I believe that Yvon Chouinard’s decision to give Patagonia away to fight climate change is morally courageous. It’s bold, and it’s inspiring. Quite candidly, his decision is exactly the reason a social impact enthusiast and an eternal optimist like me believes in the power of mobilizing the capital and innovation that is harnessed within the private sector to tackle some of our most pressing environmental and social issues.

“I do not believe that business leaders of the future will have the luxury of not considering the planetary and social impacts of business. The material risks that continue to mount for companies amid a growing climate crisis is not a potential impact—it will impact all of us, and business as usual is not sustainable in our generation. The courage and example that Yvon Chouinard has set, gives permission—gives us a road map—to seize the opportunity to create and lead businesses that can create meaningful social/environmental and economic value simultaneously.

“I do not believe that business leaders of the future will have the luxury of not considering the planetary and social impacts of business.”
Martha Buckley MBA'23

“We cannot wait to be led to change; we must be bold enough to lead change. As leaders, we must not be afraid to challenge what is. But rather, we must continue to ask, ‘What if?’ and ‘Why not?’ Our future and future generations and our planet depends on it.”

Ethan Demol ’26

“Through the Foundations of Management and Entrepreneurship class, we’re becoming much more aware of how closely interlinked businesses and environmental health really are, and it’s making me much more aware. Truthfully, before that, I hadn’t put much thought into it. I think, moving forward, I probably would like to do something similar. I might not be quite as generous as he was, but I like the idea.

“I think ultimately it comes down to someone’s moral compass. What’s very important for the environment moving forward is that people link hurting the environment with their moral compass, because normally they don’t put two and two together and don’t think they’re being immoral. Even I’ve been at fault for not really realizing that, but when they make that connection, I think people will be much more aware and conscious about the damage they might be causing.”

Rohit Nayak MBA’23

“Patagonia is a slap in the face to people who believe that social and economic value cannot be created simultaneously.

“Patagonia started with a simple $1.50 product that solved a real environmental problem for people who like outdoors and climbing. In 1957, Yvon invented and made the first few pieces of his invention, a piton, from material he found in a junkyard. And that is how the company started; the company that will commit $3 billion toward building a better environment 65 years later. Today, Patagonia has become an example and playbook for entrepreneurs on how to build a company that has the concept of creating social and economic value simultaneously in its DNA from the very beginning. The central motivation for the company had not moved, while the company itself has moved a million miles!”

Timi Janet Osinowo ’26

“I think it was a really cool thing to do because a lot of people have really bad stereotypes about people that run big companies, like they don’t care about anything else except making money. So, I feel like it was a really good way to show that money isn’t the most important thing to entrepreneurs, helping people and just being a better person to everyone is one of the things that entrepreneurs look into.

“So, I feel like it was a really good way to show that money isn’t the most important thing to entrepreneurs and helping people and just being a better person to everyone is one of the things that entrepreneurs look into.”
Timi Janet Osinowo '26

“It’s something that you can be made aware of, but at the end of the day, it’s your decision, right? It’s something that has to come from within. Someone can always tell you that, but in the end, it’s your choice.”

Jacob Nichols ’23

“Mr. Chouinard’s move to give Patagonia’s profits to environmental causes, including relevant political advocacy efforts, is admirable — though there are a few nuances to consider. Interestingly, just weeks before, a similar transaction also avoiding tax liabilities occurred between a Republican billionaire and 501 (c)(4) organization. Mr. Chouinard’s move, then, adds to the evidence of the increasing sway that billionaires have over US politics. Is this necessarily a bad thing?”

“To a certain extent, yes. I am an advocate for all firms paying their fair share of taxes and doubt that all billionaires have good intentions or are infallible. However, in Mr. Chouinard’s case, it will likely be a big boon to the environment, and thus to all of us, and it embodies principles of responsible corporate political advocacy that NGOs like the World Resource Institute, Ceres, the Center for Political Accountability and others have been advocating for. Whether this act fully embodies these principles is a question worth asking, but it goes further than most other companies are willing to. In the end, we must recognize that even if Mr. Chouinard has traded profits for political influence, he has still sacrificed for what is certainly a worthy cause. If I were in his position, I expect that I would make a similar choice.”

“As a final point, I appreciate what Patagonia said in response to concerns that this move would encourage their business to focus on profit maximization: “No. This is not an excuse to ignore the real tension we’ll continue to face between growth and the environmental impact of our operations.” If only every business had a similar mindset.”

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