The Mmm...Letter
The Mmm...letter Podcast
Fleeced for Some Fleece

Fleeced for Some Fleece

This Week's Moment: Patagoni-ugh...

Patagonia CEO Yvon Chouinard is a self-hating billionaire.

When he saw his name listed among Forbes’ wealthiest individuals, he recounts in an interview with The New York Times; he was overwhelmed by nauseating disgust.

Typically, a self-flagellating billionaire will get the red carpet rollout at The Times, but what he had to say next earned him even more political brownie points.

In his stomach-churning words, “the Earth is now our only shareholder.” He meant that Patagonia would redirect all of their profits–and we’ll return to this claim later–to a non-profit trust responsible for fighting climate change.

As a billionaire looking to profess your hatred of wealth and commensurate love for the planet, maybe you would donate to an organization beyond reprieve, one whose unyielding track record of environmental activism was well-recognized by others and beyond the influence of your bank account.

And if that’s what you think happened, I welcome you to The Mmm…letter, come for the spilled tea, stay for the cookies.

2% of Patagonia shares, and voting control of the company, will remain in Chouinard’s family. The remaining 98% of the shares will also remain in Chouinard’s family.

98% of the shares are now owned by the Earth-loving hands of a 501(c)(3) named The Holdfast Collective. Don’t bother looking them up; all you will find is what Patagonia printed in their official press release.

The Holdfast Collective is a toddling environmental non-profit with no track record owned and operated by the Chouinard family. The self-hating billionaire gave away his billions… to himself. Slow. Clap. For. You.

Suppose you think this is fine and we can trust this wealthy, virtue-signaling family to adhere to their societal promises. In that case, I remind you that the Trump family used similar non-profit schemes to enrich themselves.

Will Chouinard’s family buck that trend? Only time will tell, but there was one obvious way to resolve that massive conflict of interest. Yet, they opted against it and refused to acknowledge the billionaire-sized elephant in the room.

And that’s just the first problem with this marketing campaign, and yes, it is absolutely and undeniably a marketing campaign. Patagonia will see a spike in sales courtesy of white guilt and the renewed enthusiasm of self-hating rich liberals.

As I’ve written before, there’s strong evidence that corporate philanthropy discourages personal philanthropy and encourages consumerism–which is, allegedly, the very thing we’re told to reduce because our largesse is the preeminent contributor to greenhouse gas emissions and globally-rising temperatures, n’est pas?

The consumer (not me, by the way) who bears guilt that may spur them to climate-fighting action now has another opportunity to swipe their burdens away at the cash register. The consumer wins, Patagonia wins, and the Earth wins… Wrong.

As others have pointed out, there is no reality in which Patagonia functions without contributing to greenhouse gas emissions and, ipso facto, global warming.

In nearly all forms, consumerism relies on the prolonged use of fossil fuels. Patagonia relies on global transportation, petroleum-based polyester, electricity, and a host of middlemen, culminating in a net addition to heat-capturing gases.

On its surface, any thinking person understands this but is willing to catapult that reality into the overheated stratosphere in exchange for getting fleeced for some fleece.

I’ll take a billionaire who admits to being an asshole over one who claims moral superiority and insults my intelligence. And the last bit of tomfoolery is in the donation itself (emphasis mine):

Each year, excess profits—money we make after reinvesting in the business (including money we want to save for unforeseen events, like a pandemic)—will be distributed as a dividend to the Collective to be used for its work.

Are you asking who decides what percentage of profits are ‘excessive’? Yeah, me too. Here’s the thing about profits.

Profits accrue to those who provide a desirable good or service at a margin that enables them to grow their operation. They do what they do well and what they do is in demand.

Non-profits, conversely, accrue wealth by maintaining a positive reputation with an ever-growing base of donors and use only a fraction of the wealth donated to satisfy their mission.

This is necessarily true as the communities who benefit from non-profits are rarely, if ever, the same communities who fund their existence–if they were, they would be financing a for-profit organization.

But at least in the case of an independent non-profit, there is a fraction of accountability demanded by the donors themselves. In Patagonia’s case, The Holdfast Collective is guaranteed yearly revenue regardless of its performance.

And you know this doesn’t bother Chouinard because he knows precisely what that money will do: help elect political radicals to congress who, much like himself, lack even the faintest clue how to reduce humanity’s impact on climate.

Donate how you wish, vote how you want to, but don’t pretend that by shifting money around, you’ve become any less of a billionaire, in fact, I think that’s one of the qualifications… 🤔

The Mmm...Letter
The Mmm...letter Podcast
This audio column explores the intersection of culture, business, and morality. But mostly fart poop jokes. Welcome.
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Stanley Bogode