Alternative Paths of Green Entrepreneurship: The Environmental Legacies of the North Face's Doug Tompkins and Patagonia's Yvon Chouinard

36 Pages Posted: 26 Oct 2016

See all articles by Geoffrey Gareth Jones

Geoffrey Gareth Jones

Harvard University - General Management Unit

Ben Gettinger

Harvard Business School

Date Written: October 24, 2016

Abstract

This working paper examines the impact of two entrepreneurs who offered alternative paths to reach their shared goal of a more sustainable world. Yvon Chouinard and Doug Tompkins were respective founders of the prominent outdoor apparel brands Patagonia and The North Face. Chouinard pursued incremental sustainability strategies over decades at his firm. Tompkins, who went on to manage the fashion company Esprit, opted in 1989 to exit business entirely having concluded that capitalism could never be sufficiently sustainable to reverse environmental degradation. He purchased 1.5 million hectares of land in Chile and Argentina which he converted to protected areas and national parks. The Chouinard strategy represented best practice green entrepreneurship which if widely adopted might markedly reduce the environmental impact of business, but its full execution appeared possible only because Patagonia was a private company. The Tompkins dual strategy of exit from business and application of entrepreneurial skills to conservation resulted in large environmental gains, including sequestering and storing an estimated 80 million tons of carbon. We lack the metrics and methodologies to compare rigorously which offers the better path to sustainability, but a case can be made that the application of entrepreneurial talents to activities beyond for-profit business (of which conservation is one example) might be a more effective strategy.

Suggested Citation

Jones, Geoffrey Gareth and Gettinger, Ben, Alternative Paths of Green Entrepreneurship: The Environmental Legacies of the North Face's Doug Tompkins and Patagonia's Yvon Chouinard (October 24, 2016). Harvard Business School General Management Unit Working Paper No. 17-034. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=2858951 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.2858951

Geoffrey Gareth Jones (Contact Author)

Harvard University - General Management Unit ( email )

Boston, MA 02163
United States

Ben Gettinger

Harvard Business School ( email )

Cambridge, MA
United States

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