A lifetime devoted to conservation is earning a prestigious environmental award for Yvon Chouinard, the pioneer climber and founder of outdoor apparel-maker Patagonia Inc.
The Glen Canyon Institute bestowed the David R. Brower Conservation Award on the 73-year-old environmental activist after a dinner Friday at the Natural History Museum of Utah.
Chouinard has long supported conservation efforts, and Patagonia devotes 1 percent of revenue to environmental causes, a practice that has been copied by 1,400 other companies around the globe.
"His greatest strength has been his willingness to find his own path and follow it regardless of what others were saying," said Peter Metcalf, president and CEO of Utah-based Black Diamond Equipment Inc., which took over Chouinard's climbing hardware business in 1989.
Chouinard turned a passion for outdoor adventure and quality gear into Ventura, Calif.-based Patagonia, a family-owned business with revenues topping $400 million a year that lets employees skip out for surfing when waves ride high. Megacorporations such as Walmart, Target and Nike have enlisted his help in reducing manufacturing and packaging waste.
"Yvon Chouinard has followed a great legacy of pioneer climbers who were so inspired by the sublime places that they plied their craft and went on to become great conservationists," Metcalf said.
Metcalf ranks Chouinard in league with Brower, the former Sierra Club director and board member. He died a dozen years ago, and Friday's event celebrated his birth nearly a century ago. Organizers displayed rarely seen photographs taken by Brower of Glen Canyon before it was flooded by Lake Powell behind Glen Canyon Dam.
"I am a lover of wild rivers," Chouinard wrote in an essay this year on Patagonia's website. "That's why our company has been involved in trying to take out obsolete and damaging dams since 1993."
Chouinard was honored for his advocacy and support for wild rivers, said Eric Balken of the Glen Canyon Institute. For many years, he has funded a number of endeavors by environmental groups.
"There's no better example of a company that gives back than Patagonia," Balken said. "He's a rock star in the conservation and outdoor community."