Video: Business legend leads fight for planet

By Rehema Ellis Correspondent
NBC News
updated 3/17/2006 7:44:00 PM ET 2006-03-18T00:44:00

Yvon Chouinard never set out to become a business legend, but as founder and owner of outdoor clothing giant Patagonia, he's come close.

"I got a degree in auto mechanics from John Burroughs High School," laughs Chouinard.

At 67, when he's not running his company, Chouinard issurfing the California coast, rock climbing or fishing. An outdoorsman, he's long been known for his dedication to environmental causes, like the solar panels erected in the Patagonia parking lot and the organic clothing his company sells.

"Since 1996 we've only used organically grown cotton," he says.

In the past two decades, Chouinard has donated 1 percent of his annual gross sales toenvironmental causes. That's $22 million.

"For me, it's an Earth tax," he says. "[We're] taxing ourselves for being polluters, for using up non-renewable resources."

When Chouinard met Craig Matthews, owner of a Montana fly fishing company, he found a kindred spirit. Matthews was also donating 1 percent of his sales, to the Yellowstone Park Foundation.

"He called me up and said, 'Do you really do this?'" remembers Matthews. "And I said 'Yes, we do,' and he said, 'You know, we've been doing this too, we've got to get together.'"

Together they formed an alliance called "1% for the Planet," now 250 companies strong.

Dick Franyo's restaurant on the Chesapeake Bay is one of them.

The water in the bay and the oyster beds had been ravaged by years of overfishing and pollution. But money from "1% for the Planet" has helped to change that.

"Customers more and more want to spend their dollar where there's meaning," says Franyo.

And while 1 percent may not sound like much, Chouinard is trying to start a revolution.

"You start thinking locally and then pretty soon you start realizing it's a small planet and we got to save all of it," he says.

It's a big goal for a man who's always started small.

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