Past Recipients

The Inamori Ethics Prize has been honoring international ethics leaders, whose actions and influence have helped change the world, since 2008.

Recipients of the international ethics award include:

2013: Yvon Chouinard

Yvon Chouinard

As the founder of Patagonia, Yvon Chouinard is one of the most successful and ethical outdoor industry businessmen alive today. Business journalist Kristall Lutz recently described Chouinard as “THE pioneer in corporate social responsibility.”

Born in 1938, Chouinard's father was a French-Canadian handyman, mechanic, and plumber. In 1946, he and his family moved from Maine to Southern California. At age 14, he became a member of the Southern California Falconry Club, and it was his investigations of falcon aeries that led him to rock climbing. To make adaptations for the way he was climbing, he decided to create his own reusable climbing hardware. In 1957, he went to a junkyard and purchased the equipment he needed to learn blacksmithing on his own, and eventually started a business producing climbing gear. This entrepreneurial venture sustained him while he climbed and surfed throughout California and the Western United States.

Chouinard became the most articulate advocate of the importance of the style and intention behind an ascent, which has become the basis of modern rock climbing. In 1974, he penned an essay with his then business partner, Tom Frost, entitled, “A Word.” In this work they present a challenge: “As we enter this new era of mountaineering, reexamine your motives for climbing. Employ restraint and good judgment. Remember the rock, the other climbers – climb clean.” This philosophy is at the foundation of Chouinard’s subsequent leadership.

Over the course of the next 13 years, through his innovative designs and grassroots efforts, Chouinard’s company, Chouinard Equipment, became the largest supplier of climbing hardware. However, he realized that the use of his products by climbers was much to the detriment of the environment. Determined to end this negative impact, and building on his core belief to “climb clean,” in 1972 Chouinard introduced and patented new aluminum chocks that would not harm the rock. Whereas his best selling pitons had caused harm to the cracks in the rocks in Yosemite, his new product line did not damage the surfaces where they were used. This was the first major business decision he made on behalf of the environment. It revolutionized rock climbing and led to the further success of the company, despite destroying the sales of pitons (formerly his most important and lucrative product).

Chouinard is most noted for creating the clothing and gear company, Patagonia, Inc. In 1970 on a trip to Scotland, he purchased sturdy regulation team rugby shirts and re-sold them with great success to climbers who had formerly climbed in thin thrift-store clothes. From this modest start, Patagonia developed a wide selection of rugged technical clothing. With Chouinard at the helm, Patagonia has been innovative in the quest to protect the environment, even if it hurt the company’s bottom line. Chouinard has consistently shut off his business’s most profitable enterprises for the sake of the environment in his goal to, “create the best quality with the least impact.” After discovering that the production of standard cotton has a terrible environment impact, Chouinard committed Patagonia to the use of pesticide-free cotton beginning in 1996, thereby creating the organic cotton industry in California. Patagonia continues to lead the way in research and design in their recycled fabric department, and has been a leader for the apparel industry to emulate. He partnered with companies (Gap, Nike, Walmart, Levi Strauss, Adidas) to create the Sustainable Apparel Coalition. This group embraces his efforts to set data-driven benchmarks for improving their collective environmental practices. Mary Fox, an executive in charge of Walmart’s global sourcing, says “I adore Yvon. When we went around together to get other companies on board, we code-named ourselves David and Goliath. Because in the realm of sustainability, we were David. Patagonia was Goliath” (The Wall Street Journal, 2012).

Recognizing that the financial success of the company provided the opportunity for his employees to achieve personal goals, Chouinard committed the company to fostering employee wellness and being an outstanding place to work. Patagonia has a cafeteria offering mostly healthy, vegetarian fare. The company also provides on-site daycare and flexible work schedules for employees. As Patagonia, Inc. states, “We have never had to make a ‘break’ from the traditional corporate structure that makes businesses hidebound and inhibits creativity…we simply made the effort to hold to our own values and traditions.” Chouinard’s 2005 book, Let My People Go Surfing, explores the unique corporate climate at Patagonia.

Chouinard's primary goal is protecting the environment. He gives financial incentives for employees to work on local environmental projects. In 1985 he instituted the Earth Tax, through which Patagonia has committed one percent of sales to grassroots environmental organizations, totaling millions of dollars. Chouinard went on to co-found 1% for the Planet, an organization through which other companies can make their own environmental donations. In 1989, he co-founded The Conservation Alliance with REI, Kelty, and The North Face. Now the group boasts over 170 member companies as they give more money to environmental organizations and are engaged in more work on behalf of the environment. In 1994, Patagonia began hosting “Tools for Grassroots Activists Conferences,” at which experienced activists train leaders in the environmental groups they support through their grants. In 2005, Chouinard’s Patagonia built their own power plant out of solar panels that cover the parking lot and provide 10% of the power for their headquarters in Ventura, California. The company’s current campaign, About Our Common Waters, focuses on human water and related threats to biodiversity. Chouinard and Patagonia, Inc. continually return the focus to their own impact on the planet, such as reducing their water footprint, and reporting their own water use. In 2009, Chouinard stated, “The reason I am in business is I want to protect what I love. I used to spend 250 days a year sleeping on the ground. I’ve climbed on every continent. I’m old enough to see the destruction.”

Yvon Chouinard began a company while also inspiring a movement. In celebration of his leadership, he earned the prestigious David R. Brower Conservation Award in May of 2007 from The Glen Canyon Institute for a lifetime devoted to conservation. The 2011 cover story in FORTUNE magazine on Chouinard declared Patagonia, “The Coolest Company on the Planet,” and US News placed him among America’s Best Leaders in 2009. He has also been honored by the National Forest Foundation for his contributions to the protection of public lands in 2007. A jury consisting of outdoor and design journalists from leading European trade media awarded him the first “Outdoor Celebrity of the Year Award” in 2006.

In addition to his other accomplishments, Chouinard has made many famous and notable ascents. He currently lives in California with his wife of over 40 years, with whom he has two children.

Distinguished journalist and author Tom Brokaw said of Yvon Chouinard, “He walks the walk more than anyone else I know in American business.” We are proud to have the opportunity to share Chouinard’s story and honor him with the 2013 Inamori Ethics Prize for his outstanding ethical leadership in the field of business.

2012: David Suzuki

David Suzuki Passionate environmentalist David Suzuki is a global leader on issues of sustainable ecology and climate justice. Esteemed around the world for his radio and television programs, documentaries, and publications, Suzuki is a powerful voice for biodiversity, future generations, and the planet.

A celebrated academic, Suzuki earned his PhD in zoology from the University of Chicago. He worked for over 40 years as a professor in genetics and at the University of British Columbia’s Sustainable Research Development Institute, where he is now professor emeritus.

A celebrated academic, Suzuki earned his PhD in zoology from the University of Chicago. He worked for over 40 years as a professor in genetics and at the University of British Columbia’s Sustainable Research Development Institute, where he is now professor emeritus.

In 1990, Suzuki co-founded the David Suzuki Foundation whose main missions are transforming the economy, protecting the climate, reconnecting with nature, and building communities of individuals who live healthier, more fulfilled and just lives. He currently lives in Vancouver, Canada, with his wife, Tara Cullis. He is the father of five children.

2011: Beatrice Mtetwa

Beatrice MtetwaHuman rights lawyer Beatrice Mtetwa has spent the last 20 years defending journalists and resisting government corruption in her home country of Zimbabwe. She has been physically attacked and faced threats against her life, and yet despite such adversity, she continues to fight for freedom and the ideals of democracy. In addition to journalists' rights, Mtetwa champions a variety of other social causes, including eradicating AIDS and poverty, protecting the rights of women and children, preserving the essential freedoms of peaceful assembly, association and speech, and helping poor farmers wrongfully evicted from their land by the government.

2010: Stan Brock

Stan BrockStan Brock's Remote Area Medical (RAM) delivers free health care services to communities in the United States and isolated regions around the world. A humanitarian, conservationist and former co-host of the TV show "Wild Kingdom," Brock founded RAM in 1985.

Staffed by volunteer doctors, dentists, nurses and veterinarians, RAM has served hundreds of thousands of patients at its free clinics. RAM conducts these medical missions wherever they are needed, regardless of danger or difficult conditions—from the hills of Appalachia near its home base in Tennessee to the mountains of Nepal. Brock himself makes no salary and lives without luxury, devoting his time and energy exclusively to RAM's mission.

2009: Mary Robinson

Mary RobinsonFormer U.N. High Commissioner on Human Rights Mary Robinson was the second honoree of the international ethics award. Noted for her work as an advocate for global human rights, health care, sustainability and corporate responsibility, Robinson was instrumental in changing the face of Anglo-Irish relations when she was Ireland's first woman president. She is one of 12 world leaders who make up The Elders—an organization formed by Nelson Mandela to contribute wisdom, independent leadership and integrity to tackling some of the world’s greatest challenges.

Most recently, Robinson founded the nonprofit organization Realizing Rights: The Ethical Globalization Initiative, which promotes equitable trade, humane practices in the work environment, corporate responsibility and women's leadership.

A professor of practice in international affairs at Columbia University, Robinson chairs the GAVI Alliance Board to improve children’s health around the world, is the honorary president of Oxfam International and recently served as honorary chair of the LIVESTRONG Global Cancer Summit.

2008: Dr. Francis S. Collins

Dr. Francis S. CollinsThe inaugural Inamori Ethics Prize was awarded in 2008 to physician-geneticist Francis S. Collins, who was recognized for his principled leadership of the Human Genome Project and understanding of the project’s potential for improvement of humankind. Noted for his landmark discoveries of disease genes, Collins serves as the National Human Genome Research Institute Director at the National Institutes for Health, where his laboratory is dedicated to researching rare and common gene-related diseases. His laboratory has discovered genes responsible for cystic fibrosis, neurofibrosis, Huntington’s Disease, adult-onset diabetes and Hutchinson-Gilford syndrome.