Swiss Billionaire Dedicates One Fifth of His Worth to Environmental Conservation

May 6, 2019 Updated: May 11, 2019


Saving the planet seems like a daunting and nearly insurmountable task, as the effects of unchecked deforestation and industrial pollution leave plants, animals, and ecosystems devastated or even extinct.

It’s going to take a tremendous amount of time and effort to clean up the damage that’s already been done and develop new, sustainable ways to live without putting the planet at an even greater risk. All of that means that it’s going to cost a pretty penny—but thanks to a businessman and philanthropist from the world’s most notoriously neutral country, there’s some hope on the horizon.

Hansjörg Wyss made his fortune selling medical equipment, founding a company that manufactures internal plates and screws for broken bones. After being raised in an apartment in Bern, Switzerland, by a middle-class family, he’s gone on to become one of the 300 richest individuals in the world as of 2019.

There are a lot of things that people can do with an estimated $5.9 billion in personal net worth, including continuing to build it up. But for Wyss, the prospect of envisioning a planet destroyed completely by its inhabitants is more than he can bear.

It was reported in October that Wyss plans to donate a whopping $1 billion to the conservation of the planet over the next decade, making it his personal mission to singularly contribute enough to environmental efforts that his foundation can alone be held responsible for saving 30 percent of the planet altogether.

The money isn’t all going to one place, with Wyss himself laying out a plan to spread the wealth, quite literally, among various initiatives and efforts to make the biggest difference. He’ll be pouring funds into research projects for conservation and sustainable living, along with spending money to better communicate his initiatives with the world and shedding light on how to better conserve both land and ocean habitats for plants and animals.

Scientists have estimated that while animal species have all faced extinction at some point or another, the current rate of extinction is 1,000 times as fast as it was prior to human activity.

In order to curb this, Wyss explained, more and more of the earth’s surface needs to be converted into refuges, wildlife habitats, and both public national parks and marine reserves. He plans to spend money working to make that possible, all while funding projects to help research the best ways to make these conversions and how to help communities sustain areas like this within their own environments.

Posted by The Wyss Foundation on Thursday, November 1, 2018

“What we found over the years is that if it’s not being driven by folks who live in these communities, if there’s not local buy-in, then you’re going to have a political problem, you’re going to have a problem of these places [not] being protected permanently,” explained Greg Zimmerman, who works as a communication director for the money initiative, which has been titled the Wyss Campaign for Nature.

It’s a long road to finding a point where the damage humans have done to planet Earth is noticeably reversed, but Wyss has already been making huge strides. By the end of 2018 alone, he had already given $66 million in funds to starting the projects he had hoped to get involved in—and over the next nine years, there’s another $930 million on its way.

(L-R) Hansjorg Wyss, Roz Zander, and Michael Bloomberg attend Oceana’s 2015 New York City benefit at Four Seasons Restaurant on April 1, 2015, in New York City. (©Getty Images | Craig Barritt)