The philanthropy of the leaders of large companies has it just entered a new dimension? Forget the classic gifts of billionaires who bequeath part of their fortune, in particular in favor of the planet. A new step has just been taken with Yvon Chouinard, founder of Patagonia : the latter bequeathed his entire business to a trust and an NGO responsible for helping our dear blue planet. Patagonia is estimated at 3 billion dollars, and makes about 100 million in annual profits.
In absolute value, this is far from being the largest donation made for the environment. For example, the CEO of Amazon, Jeff Bezospromised to give 10 billion dollars to his own association, the Bezos Earth Fund, to fight against the climate crisis. But Yvon Chouinard, for his part, renounces all his enterprise and his earnings, thus marking a revolution: “It is undoubtedly the most extreme form that can exist in philanthropy. We can’t imagine giving more,” recognizes François Levêque, professor of economics at Mines-ParisTech. An Everest of generosity likely to inspire other great fortunes?
An uncertain snowball effect
“The snowball effect for such an action seems complicated,” says Anne Monier, researcher at the Philanthropy Chair at Essec and teacher at the School of Public Affairs at Sciences Po. She takes the example from giving pledgewhen Bill Gates had encouraged the ultra-rich to donate half of their fortune to associations. A movement ultimately very little followed. “The rare cases of snowball effect in philanthropy occur more for specific and sudden disasters, specifies the researcher. Typically the fire of Notre Dame de Pariswhere there was a crowd movement in terms of donations”.
It is not tomorrow that we should see Elon Musk let go of Tesla or Mark Zuckerberg give up Meta. Patagonia has always been an exception, very committed to the planet since its creation. Yvon Chouinard was even one of the precursors for the creation of mission-based companies (companies which statutorily give themselves a social or environmental purpose in addition to profit-making), recalls Sophie Schiller, professor of private law at the University Paris-Dauphine, specialized in corporate law and asset management.
More gross donations
A very special case, therefore, and not necessarily called upon to set a precedent. “Exceptions of this kind, there have already been”, evokes the professor. For example, Pierre Fabre offered the shares of the eponymous laboratory to the… Pierre Fabre Foundation, which aims to improve access to quality care and medicines for populations in the least developed countries. The case goes back to 2008, and is far from having school. “It is unlikely that multinationals will be ceded to the planet, recognizes Céline Louche, professor of organizational and ethical studies at Audencia. But Yvon Chouinard’s gesture can inspire small and medium-sized businesses”. With a good old check, “the philanthropist keeps the profits of his box and therefore keeps his future fortune. It’s much less risky and costly,” adds François Levêque.
A clear trend is emerging, however, towards more donations from the ultra-rich. “The commitment of companies has become a fundamental criterion, both for the image of the people who own them and in the process of recruiting employees”, insists Céline Louche. “Many entrepreneurs have made fortune very early on and seek, for the second half of their life, a goal of general interest”, continues Sophie Schiller. The professor evokes another key point: the desire of billionaires not to bequeath too much money to their descendants, so as not to completely skew their relationship to the world.
A donation remains a donation, whatever its form
The descendants, precisely, let’s talk about it. Because the latter can be quite a thorn in the side for philanthropists. “Yvon Chouinard was lucky that his children agreed with his action. A billionaire, however generous, must also ensure the inheritance », Notes François Levêque. And is therefore pushed to use the current generosity system, even if it can be criticized, supports Anne Monier: “More and more voices are denouncing the dissonance between making donations of several billion for the planet and supporting a hyperpolluting industry. This is what no longer happens today: the lack of coherence”.
Be careful all the same not to be a killjoy: “Yes, these are tax-exempt donations which partly buy an image, concedes Sophie Schiller. Nevertheless: the billionaires give considerable sums for the general interest. Yvon Chouinard’s gesture is fine, but failing to become the norm, it should not make the actions of others look like nonsense. »