Having a Couple of Eco-Friendly Products in the Portfolio is No Longer Enough. Sustainability Today Requires an Organized, Overarching Strategy.
“Being sustainable doesn’t happen in a year…and if you haven’t started, make 2019 the year, because you are behind.” This is according to Amy Horton, senior director of sustainable business innovation for the Outdoor Industry Association, which prides itself as a resource for brands looking to set goals, measure impact and take action. OIA offers boot camps, working groups, white papers and networking opportunities for outdoor firms working toward a common goal of saving the earth. “Although we, as a group, may not have the largest footprint, we have a lot at stake,” she says.
When it comes to transparency, large firms like Patagonia are often seen as the leaders. For the smaller guys – of which there are a lot – digging in can be daunting. Horton’s advice is to take one step at a time. “Start with what you know,” she says, “maybe change a material to recycled content.”
Astral recently began experimenting with hemp in its footwear (hemp relies on rainfall and does not require fertilizers or pesticides). It’s been beneficial to the bottom line. “Our hemp line has only been out a few weeks and we’re seeing signs of a home run,” notes Christie Dobson, VP of sales and marketing at Astral.
Sustainability can be a journey. Tom Williamson, VP of sales and marketing for Aventura and Ecoths (“eco” + “ethos”) learned along the way that “it’s okay not to be 100 percent before you start telling customers about your sustainable efforts.” When the Aventura line launched in 2006, 18 percent of the clothing was made with organic cotton. Today, over 75 percent of styles are made with low impact or sustainable materials. For 2019, the brand has increased use of 100 percent Lenzing Modal in tops and dresses. The pieces are produced in Fair Trade Certified factories.
Since 2018, all of Nemo’s down sleeping bags use Responsible Down Standard down with PFC-free DWR. The brand’s Fillo HQ travel pillow uses repurposed foam from its sleeping pad line. “Our goal is to decrease our impact and increase our business value,” says Nemo Equipment VP of marketing, Kate Paine.
There are several layers of eco-accountability for materials, products, components and the overall supply chain. Is it good for the planet? Is it good for the people? Does the product perform and is it durable? Are efforts measurable? One of the most exciting initiatives for Black Diamond “surrounds the ability to create superior sustainability outcomes and increase performance/ product longevity at the same time,” says Trent Bush, VP of apparel for the brand. In using Green Theme Technologies’ Breathable Water Protection DWR, “we not only create substantially better performance in wet climates, the hyper infused super hydrophobic treatment is natural hydrocarbon based (as opposed to PFC-based) and permanent,” Bush says. The user never needs to wash in additional chemistry to recharge performance.
At Klean Kanteen, the company “has never and will never make a product that does not address an environmental problem and offer a solution,” says Danielle Cresswell, senior sustainability manager. The firm’s new TKWide (Thermal Kanteen) Closure System increases thermal performance and helps keep single-use plastic out of oceans. Brand team members are making actions measurable through extensive research, attending Sustainability Working Group Sessions and BizNGO meetings, reading the Guide to Safer Chemicals and through third party assessment tools like B Impact Assessment and Higg Index. With relevant issues identified, metrics developed and methods for measuring performance, “now we can start setting numeric targets in areas where we have been mindful but not in a position to know the measured impact of one option compared to another. Being able to show that to staff makes it real and gets people excited,” Cresswell says.
Maintaining a set of clear, transparent sustainability standards and being audited against them by an independent third party is key, says Nikwax’s VP of marketing, Heidi Allen. Nikwax is REACH compliant, has developed its own Restricted Substance List that it is audited against, implemented Higg and is investigating several eco certifications. Every Nikwax product is biodegradable, contains no PFCs, VOCs, phosphates, uses no aerosols and are not tested on animals. “As members of the outdoor industry, we absolutely must do our part to conserve the natural environment we all love and need for our businesses to be successful,” concludes Allen.
Corporate Sustainability Strategy: The Basics
1. Research. Read up on sustainability topics and standards. Read whitepapers and tap into industry association resources for ideas.
2. Brainstorm. Internally and within the supply chain, brainstorm ideas to decide what could work for you. Start with what you know.
3. Strategize. Devise a plan.
4. Don’t get overwhelmed. Take one step at a time.
5. Be transparent. Get outside input, if needed
6. Set clear standards. If applicable, be audited by an independent third party.
7. Don’t be shy. Share the news of your sustainability goals and accomplishments with customers.
8. Be proud of your accomplishments and keep evolving.
What it means to be sustainable in 2019
“Ask yourself, do you really know your supply chain? Do you know where your biggest impacts and opportunities are? Impacts are deep in your supply chain. We still have a lot of work to do and knowing where your stuff is coming from.”– Amy Horton, OIA
“For a brand to be sustainable, it needs to be a part of their baseline mission — part of the reason for being. Plain and simple. If this is part of your reason for being, then no doubt your product is going to reflect that value too. You’ll bring a product that is better for the environment and humans alike.”– Christie Dobson, Astral
“Sustainability is beyond a buzz word in our industry, and companies need to practice what they preach, but we all need to be reminded that things can only move so fast for both our retailers and vendors. At the end of the day, we need to give our retailers and customers great sustainable options, but we still need to try and make business as seamless and painless as possible.” – Tom Williamson, Aventura and Ecoths
“It means being sustainable from all angles: our business prospers, our employees prosper, our factories prosper, and our gear makes people’s lives better. Our goal is to decrease our impact and increase our business value. At Nemo, sustainability is owned jointly and without silos between Operations, Product, and Marketing with input from Sales and Finance. This collaboration is an advantage of being a younger, smaller brand.” – Kate Paine, Nemo
“It means taking a holistic view of all activities of a business, including questioning every step in the supply chain from where our products come from, the energy it takes to create and ship them, and most importantly, the working conditions and quality of life of the people who are making them. We need to create a culture of mindfulness that asks questions and finds answers at every step in the process towards a more sustainable outcome. From a product perspective, we need to ask the same questions, and add total product lifecycle into the equation, striving for durability and longevity of our products as the primary goal, with a clear process to recycle the raw components when the usable life is over.” – Trent Bush, Black Diamond
“Sustainability for a brand is about prospering from people and planet resources in a way that leaves plenty for others to prosper, too, both now and in the future. There’s a fairly logical approach to take when sustainability is part of a brand’s definition for creating value. It’s applying due diligence with respect to the social and environmental issues that intersect with the brand at its mission, values, and each of its unique business operations. Due diligence includes exploring risks and opportunities around these issues for the brand and its stakeholders (for example, employees, community, customers), prioritizing and measuring performance through sustainability indicators, and managing against quantifiable targets that move the brand toward a sustainable business model.” – Danielle Cresswell, Klean Kanteen
Wondering About SDGs?
Outdoor firms are currently addressing the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals, which aim to help achieve a better and more sustainable future for all by the year 2030. There are 17 goals which can be found at UN.org. We asked brands how they are approaching this challenge.
“We have found alignment in several areas… it creates a sense of urgency to get to a practice of goal setting that includes numeric performance targets.” – Danielle Cresswell, Klean Kanteen
“We have increased production at Fair Trade Certified factories.” – Tom Williamson, Aventura and Ecoths
“We’re currently working on food, energy, land use, zero waste and empowering women and girls.” – Kate Paine, Nemo Equipment
“We implemented a carbon balancing policy in 2007 and balanced our entire operations retroactively back to our 1977 founding. We are also committing to all product bottles being produced of 100% recycled plastic by 2020.” – Heidi Allen, Nikwax
“We are working hand-in-hand with our suppliers at every level not only to understand the goals, but how to implement them towards the common good. It’s not just about energy and water.” – Trent Bush, Black Diamond