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Thursday, Jun 20, 2024

Environmental Leadership Starts at Home

When Patagonia founder Yvon Chouinard, an American rock climber and outdoor enthusiast turned billionaire, transferred ownership of his company—valued at nearly $3 billion—to a special-purpose trust to combat climate change and protect undeveloped land around the globe, he set a new bar in environmental leadership. As Patagonia’s website states: “Earth is now our only shareholder.”

Chouinard’s rationale is simple: “If we have any hope of a thriving planet—much less a business—it is going to take all of us doing what we can with the resources we have. This is what we can do.”

Determining what we can each do—individually and collectively—is one of the greatest conundrums of the intersecting environmental, economic and humanitarian crises fueled by global climate change. The challenges seem overwhelming at best and paralyzing at worst.

Orange County has its own story of environmental leadership, launched with a landmark gift by an OC real estate icon and growing through passionate commitments by business leaders and philanthropists collaborating on innovative solutions that address both economic and environmental priorities.

In 2010, Irvine Co. Chairman Donald Bren completed his plan to protect half of the historic 93,000-acre Irvine Ranch from development by gifting over 20,000 acres of rugged canyon landscape to OC Parks—the most significant gift of land in Orange County history.

At the time, Bren said that “the gift ensures these spectacular natural resources will provide a stunning array of outdoor opportunities and will be protected and cared for in perpetuity.”

While the magnitude of Bren’s gift may be unduplicated, his commitment to Orange County’s natural resources is not. Orange County is home to a growing cadre of environmental champions striving to create lasting change for our region.

OC Eco-Champions

In our role as a connector for people and organizations with shared passions, the Orange County Community Foundation (OCCF) has organized a new learning group focused on issues facing our local environment.

The idea was championed by OCCF board member, strategic consultant and philanthropist DeAnna Colglazier, wife of Virgin Galactic CEO Michael Colglazier. She, along with environmental advocates Keith Swayne, Mark Draper, Ashley and Marco Guido and Malli and Rani Varanasi, among others, recently explored the Banning Ranch and The Ecology Center to understand the local impacts of climate change better.

“The OCCF team has creatively brought together a group of passionate donors dedicated to exploring how to best effect sustainability and climate action in Orange County,” Colglazier said. “Our learning focused specifically in the areas of coastal resilience, sustainable farming, land preservation, and biodiversity. It’s clear each member has the common goal of preserving our home for generations to come—one planet, one Orange County.”

Lasting Legacy

Thanks to the generous donors who have contributed to OCCF’s Environment Endowment Fund, we have become one of the most impactful conservation funders in Orange County over the past 20 years, supporting environmental programs focused on ecological education to grow the next generations of stewards for our unparalleled natural resources, open spaces and habitats.

Other donors, like James H. Warne, have chosen to make the environment a key beneficiary of their estate, entrusting OCCF with the stewardship of their philanthropic legacy. The fund established through Warne’s estate in 2014—the Henry W. and Ellen R. Warne Family Endowment Fund—is a $43 million endowment with a third of its assets permanently devoted to protecting endangered species facing significant ecological threats, including increased population and housing development, habitat fragmentation/destruction, climate change, and recreational impacts. As a result of Warne’s generous gift, organizations on the frontlines of environmental protection receive an annual lifeline of support for their crucial missions.

Other passionate donors get a head start on their legacy during their lifetimes.

In November 2020, OCCF fund advisers Frank and Joan Randall made a transformative gift of $50 million to the Trust for Public Land for the conservation of Banning Ranch, a nonprofit dedicated to preserving one of the largest remaining unprotected coastal open areas in Southern California.

The gift protects the 401-acre site, which stretches from the Santa Ana River to Coast Highway and Costa Mesa’s Westside. A controversial site for decades due to developers’ plans, the Randalls’ gift ensures the land will be conserved and managed as a permanent, public, open-space park and coastal preserve.

In January 2022, the Randalls stunned again with a $50 million gift to The Nature Conservancy in support of a 72,000-acre Wildlife Preserve in the Tehachapi Mountains.

“I hope that this type of contribution to the preservation of open space will motivate others who are in a similar position to donate to this cause also,” Randall said. “I know they donate to other very good causes, as I do, but I hope that this will inspire them to add this third dimension to their philanthropy efforts.”

Orange County is home to a thriving economy, stunning coastlines, and distinctive natural environments that make our region unparalleled in its attributes. Ensuring that this legacy is left for future generations depends on our wise and timely action. As the Chinese proverb states, “The best time to plant a tree was 20 years ago. The second-best time is now.”

Editor’s Note: Shelley Hoss is CEO and president of the Orange County Community Foundation, which ranks No. 4 on the Business Journal’s annual list of Nonprofits. See page 14 for more.

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