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 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 holds temperate rainforests, rocky coastlines, snowcapped mountains and even desert lands in an area larger than Germany and France combined.
The money will be used by the B.C. 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.
The couple, who live in Vancouver, are hoping to encourage matching donations from governments, businesses and other philanthropists to advance 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.”
The province has long been a battleground between environmentalists and resource developers. At times, protests and violence have broken out over forestry projects and energy pipelines, including two that are under construction, the Trans Mountain oil pipeline expansion and the Coastal GasLink line that will supply a liquefied natural gas plant on the coast.
Resource development doesn’t have to live in contradiction with wilderness preservation, Wilson said. Canadian energy such as LNG could bring in billions of dollars that could be used to protect wildlife and nature. “That would totally offset any kind of blemish” from the pipelines, he said.
‘Beauty That Awed Me’
The 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. The group is also looking at other areas in the northern part of the province for protection.
“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 founded Lululemon more than two decades ago but fell out with the company and clashed with then-chief executive Christine Day. 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. He sold down his stake and left the board in 2015.
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.
The Wilsons have also given millions to build schools in Ethiopia and to seek a cure for muscular dystrophy, a disease that afflicts Chip Wilson.
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