Global Economy Prize Laureates 2015

Kristine and Douglas Tompkins

Kristine (born 1950) and Douglas Tompkins (born 1943) are a successful entrepreneurial couple, deeply devoted to protect the environment. They made a fortune with their textile companies – The North Face, Esprit and Patagonia – which they employed to build up huge national parks and wildlife sanctuaries in Chile and Argentina. Jointly, Kris and Doug Tompkins own more protected land areas than any other private person on this globe.

Douglas Tompkins grew up in Milbrook, New York. He did not finish high school but rather devoted himself quite early to his major passion, namely outdoor sports, especially skiing and climbing. One of his earliest projects has been the “California Mountaineering Guide Service”. Shortly after establishing it, he took the next step, opening a shop for climbing equipment. This grew into “The North Face”, a company which up to date produces and sells outdoor wear and equipment. Already in its early days, The North Face established new standards of quality, especially with respect to tents, sleeping bags and backpacks. After a few years, Tompkins sold the young company in order to focus on the production of adventure movies. Joining forces with outdoor pioneer Yvon Chouinard, he made a road trip from California to Patagonia. On this trip he shot the movie “Mountains of Storm”.

Also in 1968, together with his then wife and a friend Tompkins began to sell women’s wear from the trunk of a car. This was the beginning of Esprit, a fashion brand which rather quickly grew into a globally successful company. Whilst working for Esprit, it became increasingly apparent to Tompkins that the textile industry had strong adverse ecological effects. Thus he left the company at the end of the 1980s. He channeled the proceeds from selling his shares t in some projects to protect the planet and moved to Chile in order to realize them.
Kristine McDivitt Tompkins, born in 1950, grew up on a ranch in Santa Barbara, California. For a few years, she also had been living in Venezuela. Already in her teenage years she got to know Yvon Chouinard and had been working at Chouinard Equipment, a small climbing equipment company.

Following graduation at the College of Idaho in Caldwell Kris became involved with Chouinard Equipment and developed the small company into the internationally leading outdoor outfitter Patagonia Inc. During her 20 years as a CEO she molded Patagonia into a benchmark enterprise for ecological responsibility. As early as in 1980, Patagonia Inc. began to donate 10 percent of its profits to nature conversation organizations as for instance “Earth First!”. Four years later Patagonia Inc. founded the “One Percent for the Planet Club” whose member companies are committing themselves to donating either one percent of sales or 10 percent of profits – whichever figure will be the higher – to protect the environment. In 1993, Kris left Patagonia Inc., married Douglas Tompkins and settled with him in Chile.

The land area Kristine and Douglas Tompkins bought to realize their environmental projects nearly comprise one million hectares. Their first purchase has been Pumalin Park in the region of Los Lagos, Chile, which was meant to shelter and renew the Valdivian rain forest. A number of further land purchases both in Chile and Argentina followed. Douglas Tompkins set up “The Conservation Landtrust” and “Deep Ecology” in order to help funding the land purchases. In 2000, Kris Tompkins founded the non-governmental “Conservación Patagonia” to help her with acquiring further areas of land and subsequently donating them to existing national parks in Chile and Argentina.

Acknowledging their nature conservation efforts, the Tompkins have received many honors and awards as for instance the Scenic Hudson’s Visionary Conservationist Award, the African Rainforest Conservancy’s New Species Award and the Latin Trade’s “Environmental Leader of the Year” Award.