Despite Twitter backlash, the Patagonia climate action resonated where it mattered

September 20, 2022

Written by Benedict Nicholson

Patagonia has always been at the forefront of corporate climate activism, and that continued last week when Patagonia founder Yvon Chouinard transferred ownership of the company he founded to a charitable foundation and pledged that all profits from the company would go towards fighting climate change. 

Patagonia praised for climate efforts

This news itself received a huge amount of attention from both the media and the public, with around 730k interactions to articles about the founder’s decision.

Graphs showing the media and public interest in Patagonia's profits going towards fighting climate change, measured by hourly article output and public engagement with those articles

Chouinard published a personal announcement on Patagonia’s website that explained his vision for the company around 3pm on Sept 14th. This went hand in hand with a splashy feature story that was published by The New York Times around the same time, which was also the key driver of engagement overall, generating 306k engagements since the news broke.

Patagonia shared NYT’s story on their own social media accounts, earning over 10k engagements to its Facebook post and 153k on Twitter, both stating that it was giving away the company to “planet Earth.”

The coverage was overwhelmingly positive among the top articles and publications, with many praising Chouinard and Patagonia for the move. There was, however, some level of backlash that happened, particularly on Twitter, though it received almost no attention in the mainstream compared to the principal narrative.

Tax break backlash gets minimal attention on Twitter

If you are active on Twitter you may have seen some backlash to the news, and accusations of it being a cynical tax-dodging scheme. Although the initial report claimed that there would be no tax benefit to the move for Chouinard or his family, rumors of them avoiding a $700 million tax bill while maintaining control of the company abounded on the site.

It’s an old adage that Twitter is not the real world, and it can be easy to get lost in echo chambers on the platform, and that was true here too as users saw little engagement to posts claiming that the founder and his family were receiving a tax break. 

There was a small echo of coverage in the media that mirrored some of the conversation on Twitter, but it was so quiet as to be almost inaudible relative to the waves of positive coverage that the move received. 

While there were 1,775 pieces to date about Patagonia’s move, with some 743k engagements, there have only been 78 articles insinuating it is being done for a tax break, and those have received just 13k engagements, with the vast majority of those coming from one Bloomberg article that had 10.6k engagements. Every other article saw fewer than 1,000 engagements with most barely even making it to triple digits.

Line graph comparing the engagement with the Patagonia narrative and the Twitter complaints about it being a tax break for Patagonia

This shows the extent to which this was viewed as a positive move by the Patagonia founder, as it was framed as such by the majority of the media and accepted as such in the public’s reaction.

Patagonia’s past climate efforts

This is not the first time that Patagonia has made headlines for its climate activism, of course, as the company has regularly hit the headlines for putting its money where its mouth is on the matter. 

And it has seen huge coverage and engagement in doing so.

Line graph showing the comparative engagement with Patagonia's activism

In 2019 Patagonia made changes to a policy regarding companies purchasing embroidered corporate logo vests that were the long-time gold standard uniform among finance and tech industries. The brand said it was shifting its focus to only making corporate sales with companies that also support environmental or other community causes. The announcement saw 43k engagements overall.

In a similar act of activism, Patagonia stopped supplying its products to the Jackson Hole Mountain Resort in 2021 after a resort owner hosted a fundraiser for the right-wing House Freedom Caucus, of which its members have not been aligned with the brand’s environmental priorities. This story saw even more interest than that of Wall Street, totaling over 274k engagements.

While Patagonia’s founder giving away the company has clearly generated more public interest than previous actions, the bar was already set extremely high in terms of brands championing environmental rights. 

As always, purpose-driven actions from corporations get more attention when they put their money where their mouth is, and speak on a topic about which they have authority, and Patagonia is the archetypical example of that.

If you’d like to read about how Ford helped Texans during the snowstorm using its electric F-150, check that out here.

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