Lululemon Billionaire Pledges $76 Million to Save Wilderness

Lululemon Athletica Inc. founder Chip Wilson is making his biggest philanthropic gift ever—and one of the largest among Canada’s ultra-rich—to protect vast tracts of wilderness in the western part of the country.

Wilson and Summer are pledging C$100 million (75.8 millions) via their foundation for wilderness acquisition in British Columbia. It is home to over 5.3 million residents and has temperate rainforests and rocky coasts. There are also snowcapped mountains, desert lands, and even a larger area than France and Germany combined.

B.C. will use the money. Parks Foundation to buy forests and repurchase mining, forestry and other resource licenses, turning “massive amounts of land” into parks that indigenous groups would manage and use for revenue-making purposes such as tourism, Wilson said in an interview.

“Our vision for our family is providing components for people to live a longer, healthier, and more fun life. So it all kind of fits,” said Wilson, 67, whose $5.8 billion fortune is derived primarily from his 9% stake in the athletic clothing company he started in Vancouver.

Vancouver couple are looking to increase matching donations by governments, business and other philanthropists in order to help the B.C. Parks Foundation’s goal of protecting 25% of the province’s land and water. But they’re setting few conditions on spending the funds, which could happen “quite quickly,” said Chip Wilson, Canada’s 13th-wealthiest person according to the Bloomberg Billionaires Index.

Preserving land in this way is a good investment for philanthropists because it doesn’t require much effort, he said on Bloomberg Television. “For people whose time is precious and they want something that lasts forever, I can’t think of a better place to put their money.”

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Since long, environmentalists have been fighting resource developers in the province. Sometimes, violence and protests have broken out in the province over forestry projects or energy pipelines. Two of these are currently under construction: the Trans Mountain expansion oil pipeline and the Coastal GasLink pipeline that will provide liquefied natural gases to a plant along the coast.

Resource development doesn’t have to live in contradiction with wilderness preservation, Wilson said. Canadian LNG energy could make billions that could go to wildlife and nature conservation. “That would totally offset any kind of blemish” from the pipelines, he said.

‘Beauty That Awed Me’

B.C. Parks Foundation has already earmarked some of the money to protect three areas, including the 528-acre Falling Creek Sanctuary in northeast B.C., Teit’s Sanctuary at the confluence of the Thompson and Nicola rivers and Bourguiba Springs in the South Okanagan region. They are also considering protecting other areas in northern parts of the province.

“We’ve been lucky enough to travel the world and see how the impact of industrial approach has affected places that had previously been pristine,” Summer Wilson said. “I want to make sure that we preserve this province to the same level of beauty that awed me when I first came here.”

Chip Wilson, who founded Lululemon over two decades ago, fell out with the company after clashing with Christine Day (then-chief executive). He stepped down as chairman after he drew scorn for saying some women’s bodies “don’t work” for Lululemon’s stretchy pants in a 2013 interview with Bloomberg News. In 2015, he sold his share and left the board.

He later published a book in which he criticized Lululemon’s performance and was stripped of his right to a board seat. He also holds a large stake in Amer Sports Group, owner of brands such as Wilson sporting goods, Atomic ski gear and outdoor apparel brand Arc’teryx.

In addition to building schools in Ethiopia, the Wilsons also donated millions to help find a cure to muscular dystrophy. This is a disease that Chip Wilson suffers from.


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