Made in America: Celebrating Conservation Entrepreneurs

July 21, 2017

As a company that values our “American Made” promise, we like to honor other innovators whose work bolsters America. Among our heroes is John Muir, credited as the “Father of the National Parks.” Though himself not made in America, he made a lasting mark on the United States by founding the American conservation effort. He lead the charge to guard our forests and mountain ecosystems.

Thanks to his work, modern US citizens — including our CEO Tom O’Hanlan — are making their own mark as they care for the earth. Keep reading to learn about three American conservationists whose public-private work is guaranteeing a great future.

Doug and Kris Tompkins

Although primarily working in South America, this couple’s drive has led to the preservation of a globally cherished region: Patagonia. The Tompkins are known for their outdoor adventures, passion for “deep ecology” and love of the Patagonian landscape. Doug started Espirit and the North Face; Kris was the CEO at outfitter Patagonia for 20 years. Their companies pioneered corporate responsibility movements under their leadership.

In retirement, the Tompkins purchased Chilean land to reverse deforestation and increase biodiversity. At one point, their ownership protected over 2.4 million acres of land from development. Sadly, Doug passed away in 2015, but Kris and their non-profit Tompkins Conservation continue the work.

In March of 2017, Kris made the news for a 1 million acre land donation to Chile’s national park system. At the announcement, Chile agreed to designate another 9 million acres as protected park land. The hope is to re-wild and preserve the Patagonian wilderness in Chile. At the event, Kris said, “National Parks [are] one of the greatest expressions of democracy that a country can realize, preserving the masterpieces of a nation for all of its citizenry.” (We couldn’t agree more, Kris.)

Sally Jewell

Like the Tompkins, Sally Jewell expressed her passion for the environment corporately and publicly. Before her retirement in 2017, Jewell worked toward conservation of US public lands as Secretary of the Interior from 2013-2017. She walked into a department facing accusations of corrupt interactions with the oil and gas industry and inadequate protection of National Parks. Yet, she steadied it, using her experience as a former banker, oil engineer and CEO.

During her tenure, she helped designate 25 new national monuments, increased youth-nature engagement by creating the “Every Kid in a Park” program, highlighted detrimental effects of climate change to public lands and limited harmful energy explorations.

All of this followed her years of leading outdoor equipper REI as its CEO. Under her leadership, REI spearheaded a three-pronged environmental strategy:  donate money to conservation efforts, clean up the supply chain, and buy clean energy.

Although she has retired from the public and private sectors, she remains vocal about the need to care for American lands and engage youth populations. She hopes to see more women in conservation as well.

Charles Knowles

Conservation requires land protection, but President and Co-Founder of the Wildlife Conservation Network (WCN), Charles Knowles wants to keep that land populated with its species. Founder of software company Rubicon Technology, Knowles sold his firm in 1994. He retired from his Silicon Valley success to take on the job of wildlife conservation and started WCN in 2002. Since then, he has helped save endangered species in 37 countries and supports independent wildlife conservationists. WCN also focuses on sustainable community building, going so far as to help wildlife by conserving landscapes.

Though less well-known than the Tompkins or Jewell, Knowles provided an innovative contribution to the conservation field: WCN’s operating model. Knowles uses a venture-capital based approach. He also focuses on human capital, building relationships with other private entities, like-minded individuals, and conservation groups around the globe.

His work has directly inspired American conservation entrepreneurs, such as Pete Geddes, managing director of the American Prairie Reserve. Knowles is also responsible for the creation of the Wildlife Conservation Expo in San Francisco. One of the largest events of its kind, it brings enthusiasts together with donors, especially among the Silicon Valley entrepreneurial community.

A commitment to American Made products is at the heart of Sealevel’s values. Right alongside that commitment is an understanding of our responsibility to support environmental efforts. We’re proud to stand beside these conservation champions in giving back to America’s — and the world’s — forests.