The $887 billion outdoor recreation economy depends on strong and swift federal action to combat the climate crisis and to preserve the American outdoor experience for all.
The outdoor industry is a vital and sustainable contributor to the American economy. The outdoor industry comprises 2.2 percent of the U.S. GDP and, prior to COVID-19, was growing faster than the economy. Each year Americans spend hundreds of billions of dollars exploring the outdoors in myriad ways – hiking, camping, climbing, hunting, fishing, canoeing, kayaking, picnicking, running, cycling, skiing, snowboarding, scuba diving, and surfing, to name a few. Americans’ passion for outdoor recreation supports the outdoor recreation economy which accounts for $887 billion in annual consumer spending, contributes 7.6 million jobs to the U.S. economy, and generates $125 billion in federal, state, and local tax revenue each year. For context, that’s more than Americans spend on pharmaceuticals and fuel, combined. And more than twice as many Americans are directly employed by hunting and fishing-related businesses (483,000) than oil and gas extraction (180,000). In rural communities in states across America, outdoor recreation is powering economic growth and social stability through the thousands of small businesses that benefit from proximity to forests, trails, and recreational activities.
But uncertainty and instability for outdoor businesses loom. Climate change disruption is already causing financial harm to outdoor businesses – and the local, state and national economies that rely on our industry’s job creation and tax revenue. Soaring temperatures, extreme weather events, reduced winter snowpack, smoke-filled skies from wildfires, degraded rivers and lakes and diminished wildlife populations reduce access to outdoor recreation opportunities, and in turn reduce demand for goods and services – from bikes, tents and snowboards to hiking boots, jackets and backpacks – that connect Americans to the restorative benefits of the outdoors. Adverse impacts are projected to be even more dire in the coming decades:
- Higher temperatures and droughts threaten recreational waters throughout the country. From dangerous algal blooms in Lake Erie and the Puget Sound, to abbreviated whitewater rafting seasons on the Madison River in Montana due to decreased snowpack. These conditions close recreational waters to activities like swimming, boating, rafting and fishing, which are some of the largest sectors of the outdoor recreation economy.
- Decreased snowfall and increased temperatures are melting glaciers, like those in Glacier National Park, a popular destination that generates $484 million in economic benefits and more than 5,200 jobs. Those glaciers – and therefore the revenue and jobs they create – may be gone by the end of the century.
- Warmer winters and changing precipitation patterns are fundamentally altering winter sports and activities. A 2017 study projects that “virtually all locations” in the United States will see winter recreation seasons cut in half by 2050. That means the average ski season in many places could be reduced to just a few weeks, and the quality of those remaining days will be far worse. According to a 2018 report by Protect Our Winters, low snow years see $1 billion less value for winter tourism and lead to 17,400 fewer jobs compared to an average winter season. Winter events in states across the nation are already economically impacted: In 2017, the iconic cross-country race, the American Berkebeiner (the “Birkie”) which attracts $25 million in economic activity to Wisconsin was cancelled due to unseasonably warm weather.
- The Florida economy is based largely on real estate, tourism, and water-based recreation. Tourism to Everglades National Park alone generates $58.7 million in visitor spending and supports more than 800 jobs. Climate change puts all of that at risk. According to experts, improving the flow of freshwater through the Everglades through restoration projects presents the best chance of staving off dramatic effects from climate change and preserving associated jobs and revenue. Such efforts pay big dividends, as a conservative economic analysis showed that for every $1 invested in restoration, Florida’s economy will see a $4 return.
Climate change also disrupts the global supply chains outdoor companies depend on. Extreme heat in many regions where apparel, footwear, and outdoor gear is produced is leading to unsafe working conditions and reduced working days. Drought impacts the supply and price of raw materials like cotton. Hurricanes, extreme precipitation and flooding cause factory shutdowns and block distribution channels. These impacts lead to delays, lost sales and revenue, increased costs to outdoor companies and, potentially, higher costs for the American consumer.
Such uncertainty and instability of both supply and demand is bad for business.
That’s why more than 60 leading outdoor companies are collaborating to measure, set targets and drive greenhouse gas emissions reductions across our own business operations and supply chains – taking voluntary responsibility for our industry’s contribution to climate change.
We agree with scientists and public health experts that the United States – and the world – must cut greenhouse gas emissions roughly in half by 2030 and achieve net-zero emissions by 2050. Our industry’s ambition is to be “climate positive” by 2050 or sooner – that is, to remove more carbon from the atmosphere than we emit. As businesses that make and sell gear to be enjoyed in America’s great outdoors, it’s part of our heritage to be stewards of the planet and to enable a healthy outdoor lifestyle. But tackling climate change is not just a scientific and moral imperative, it’s a business imperative.
Increasingly, the American consumer – particularly young people – expect companies not only to take a stand on climate change, but to act accordingly. Recent research shows 94% of Gen Zers (who have access to an estimated $44 billion in buying power) believe that companies should address urgent social and environmental issues. Today’s nearly 150 million outdoor participants are also voters, future voters and potential advocates, and climate change matters to them. A 2019 study by the Yale Program on Climate Change Communication found young Americans may make climate change a voting issue in the 2020 election, and a June 2020 poll shows that 72% of Americans think it’s important for the U.S. Congress to address climate change.
Now, we need federal policy that helps American outdoor businesses take bold steps to reverse the climate crisis. We are doing our part, but we need Congress and federal agencies to act.
We urge our elected officials and agency leaders to champion policies that enable outdoor companies to reduce the emissions associated with our operations, products, and supply chain by accelerating access to affordable renewable energy and incentivizing low-carbon business practices. We also recognize that a comprehensive approach to reversing the climate crisis must also adopt policies that remove carbon in addition to reducing it, and that natural climate solutions offer the greatest potential to sequester atmospheric carbon in our lands and waters – including our forests, waterways, farmlands and other natural systems. And in urban and rural communities alike, we need more parks and paths to enable low-or-no-carbon ways for everyone to connect to the great outdoors.
The following steps would simultaneously reverse the climate crisis, preserve the American outdoor experience for all and help the outdoor industry thrive:
Incentivize Businesses Taking Bold Action to Reverse the Climate Crisis
A comprehensive national climate strategy must include greenhouse gas emissions reduction goals and reward companies acting to reduce their carbon footprints. These include tax incentives and/or tariff reductions for business practices such as: sourcing products, materials and/or components made from low-carbon processes, materials (e.g. recycled content) and technologies; use of low-carbon shipping methods (e.g. ocean freight as opposed to air) and zero-emission electric transport for domestic distribution; investments in energy efficient equipment and technologies; purchasing credible voluntary carbon offsets; and setting voluntary, science-based greenhouse gas reduction targets.
Preserve Our Nation’s Lands and Waters As Natural Climate Solutions
Our country’s lands and waters provide the most immediately attainable and cost-effective means of addressing our climate crisis. Our nation’s forests, farms, wetlands and grasslands have the potential to absorb more than 20% of greenhouse gas pollution in the United States – equivalent to the emissions from all U.S. vehicles.
The outdoor industry supports swift scale up of natural climate solutions as a strategy for both climate mitigation and climate resilience across a variety of lands, waters and habitat types – including the forests, rivers, lakes, streams, oceans and coastal areas where America loves to recreate. Our businesses depend on the health of these ecosystems. We support federal policy to protect and conserve 30 percent of our lands and waters by 2030. We also support defining protection and conservation in a manner that is inclusive and innovative to maximize the diversity of geographies and communities that can contribute to this ambitious goal. In addition, with the right science-based policy programs in place to properly manage forestland and prevent conversion, our nation’s forests have enormous potential to store and sequester more carbon. So called “blue carbon” ecosystems in our nation's oceans and coastal areas – also important hubs for outdoor recreation and tourism – sequester even more carbon per unit area than forests.
The outdoor industry relies on America’s agricultural lands to supply much of the cotton, wool, leather and other natural fibers used to make many outdoor products. Agriculture accounts for 10.5% of greenhouse gas emissions in the U.S., and some agricultural practices can lead to negative impacts on outdoor recreation (e.g. fertilizer inputs lead to nitrogen run-off that impacts rivers, streams and lakes, leading to algal blooms and aquatic dead zones that impact fishing and other outdoor activities). At the same time, policy that supports and incentivizes regenerative and other climate-smart agricultural practices can turn America’s farms and ranches into climate solutions.
Invest In Parks and Paths to Help Build Low-Carbon, Climate-Resilient Communities
Urban parks and greenways have the ability to sequester carbon, create shade in heat-stressed urban areas, and reduce climate risks to communities by helping to minimize the impacts of climate-related weather events such as intense storms and flooding. Yet, more than 100 million Americans do not live within walking or biking distance of a park. Federal investment should incentivize park expansions and municipal tree ordinances to mitigate the climate and human health impacts of urban heat islands.
Increased and improved infrastructure that supports “active” transportation such as walkways and bike paths could reduce emissions from transport in cities by 40 percent, connect more Americans to opportunities to get outside, and improve public health. Yet, most communities in America lack active transportation networks, in particular, low-income and communities of color. We envision a future in which cities are not racially segregated by highways, but instead federal policy and federal dollars are used to help connect communities via pedestrian walkways, bike paths, and zero-emission public transportation to parks and urban greenways that enable more families to experience the outdoors close to home.
Accelerate Our Nation’s Transition to Renewable Energy to Help People, Planet and The Outdoor Economy Thrive
It makes sense. An outdoor industry that relies on healthy natural playgrounds and healthy people getting outside should be powered by energy sources that enable that experience – not harm it. In particular, communities of color, low-income families, and indigenous communities have long suffered disproportionate and cumulative harm from air pollution and toxic sites associated with producing energy derived from fossil fuels. Yet, renewable energy solutions exist today in the form of wind, solar, and geothermal, and the costs of those technologies continue to fall. We have the technological means to deploy them to produce 90% of our nation’s energy demand with low or no cost to energy buyers by 2035.
Many outdoor brands, retailers, and manufacturers agree that renewable energy is one of the leading ways to achieve a zero-carbon economy and have committed to ambitious renewable energy procurement goals to run their U.S. stores, distribution centers, headquarters, manufacturing facilities and other operations. As more outdoor companies strive to source 100% renewable energy, we need federal policy that accelerates our nation’s transition to renewable energy sources – enabling renewable energy to reach all communities at competitive prices. This includes tax incentives for solar, wind, and geothermal power generation and a modernized electrical grid and transmission infrastructure. Policy actions should take into account small- to mid-sized companies that may lack influence to change local utility policy or negotiate deals as large energy buyers can. Our nation’s public lands can also accelerate the transition and serve as sites for renewable energy development so long as – as with any energy development project – the impact on environment, recreation assets, wildlife, and local communities is properly taken into account and minimized to the fullest extent possible. We support an equitable transition to renewable energy in the U.S., including goals to achieve net-zero greenhouse gas emissions from public lands and support for communities and workers impacted as local economies transition.
Americans travel near and far by car every year to visit the parks, campgrounds, climbing meccas, fishing holes and trails they love – as well as trips to stores where gear is sold. Transportation is one of the largest sources of both climate emissions and air pollution, negatively impacting our urban and rural communities. Federal investment should incentivize the electrification of personal, commercial, and public transportation - supporting both electric vehicle adoption and the deployment of charging infrastructure. Electric vehicles offer significant cost savings - for households, commuters, businesses and public transit operators. Beyond the financial opportunity, electrifying transportation will clean up the air we breathe, further improving the public health benefits of both active transportation and outdoor recreation.
The Outdoor Industry Association works with its members to ensure that all Americans have equitable access to places to recreate. Climate change threatens the health – and the very existence – of our natural playgrounds. It threatens the health and well-being of Americans, particularly, low-income and communities of color – jeopardizing their ability to enjoy a lifetime outdoors. As such, reversing the impacts of climate change is a critical priority for our organization and our 1,000+ members, their millions of consumers and outdoor advocates, and the future success of the outdoor industry.
Every state and every district in America has an outdoor recreation economy. Those jobs, tax revenue, state and local economies, livelihoods and the quintessential American outdoor experience are at risk if both business and government do not take meaningful and immediate climate action.