Billionaire Lululemon pledges millions to save wildlife

Lululemon founder of Athletica Inc Chip Wilson is making its largest philanthropic gift ever — and one of the largest among Canada’s super-rich — to protect vast wilderness areas in the country’s west.

Wilson and his wife, Summer, have pledged C$100 million ($75.8 million) through their foundation to acquire wilderness space in British Columbia. The province is home to 5.3 million people and boasts temperate rainforests, rocky coastlines, snow-capped mountains and even desert lands in an area larger than Germany and France combined.

The money will be used by the BC Parks Foundation to buy forests and buy back licenses for mining, forestry and other resources, turning “vast amounts of land” into parks that local groups will manage and use for revenue-generating purposes, such as for example, tourism, Wilson said in an interview.

“Our vision for our family is to provide people with components to live longer, healthier and more fun lives. So it all kind of fits together,” said Wilson, 67, whose $5.8 billion fortune stems largely from his 9 percent stake in the sportswear company he founded in Vancouver.

The couple, who live in Vancouver, hope to encourage matching donations from governments, businesses and other philanthropists to meet the BC Parks Foundation’s goal of protecting 25 per cent of the province’s land and water. But they put few conditions on spending the funds, which could happen “pretty quickly,” said Chip Wilson, Canada’s 13th-richest 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 TV. “For people who value their time and want something that lasts forever, I can’t think of a better place to put their money.”

Read more: Why the billionaire founder of Patagonia just sold his company

The province has long been a battleground between environmentalists and resource developers. Protests and violence have erupted at times over forestry and energy pipeline projects, including two under construction, the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion and the Coastal GasLink line, which would deliver a liquefied natural gas plant to the coast.

Resource development should not live in conflict with wildlife conservation, Wilson said. Canadian energy like LNG can bring in billions of dollars that can be used to protect wildlife and nature. “That would completely offset any kind of downside” from the pipelines, he said.

“Beauty That Awed Me”

The BC Parks Foundation has already earmarked some of the money to protect three areas, including the 528-acre Falling Creek Sanctuary in northeastern British Columbia, the Teit Sanctuary at the confluence of the Thompson and Nicola rivers, and Bourguiba Springs in the South Okanagan region. The group is also looking at other areas in the northern part of the province for protection.

“We’ve been fortunate enough to travel the world and see how the impact of the industrial approach has affected places that were once pristine,” said Summer Wilson. “I want to make sure we keep this countryside to the same level of beauty that delighted me when I first came here.”

Chip Wilson founded Lululemon more than two decades ago, but fell out with the company and clashed with then-CEO Christine Day. He stepped down as chairman after drawing scorn for saying some women’s bodies “don’t work” for Lululemon’s stretch pants in an interview with Bloomberg News in 2013. He sold his stake and left the board in 2015 .

He later published a book criticizing 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 clothing brand Arc’teryx.

The Wilsons have also given millions to build schools in Ethiopia and to find a cure for muscular dystrophy, a disease that affects Chip Wilson.

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