Close To Home: An Axis of Awesome
In a political climate fraught with bickering, battles and gridlock, it’s refreshing to see outdoor industry stakeholders working together. Three of the biggest are The Conservation Alliance, Outdoor Alliance and the Outdoor Industry Association, who have recently committed to working together to achieve shared goals.
Protecting Precious Lands
Founded in 1989 by REI, Patagonia, The North Face and Kelty, The Conservation Alliance focuses on protecting the lands that outdoor-gear users love. In its 26 years of existence, The Conservation Alliance has helped to protect 44 million acres of land, 2,945 river miles, and 10 climbing areas; removed or halted 26 dams and designated 5 marine reserves. To put that into perspective, there are only 18 states that are larger than the combined space the alliance has saved.
Today, there are more than 190 contributing member companies. Annual dues—based on company size—are used to fund projects and grants that protect the land that sustains member companies’ businesses. Brands as large as REI and as small as Jimmy Chin Photography contribute cash and, more important, input (each member gets an equal vote, regardless of size) on how to best invest the contributions. Many member companies allow their employees to vote for the projects they think should be funded, which creates buy-in at every level, not just at the top. That grassroots interest then spreads to others via social media, word-of-mouth and volunteer recruitment for projects.
“We only fund smaller to regional organizations looking to protect land in their backyard,” says John Sterling, executive director of Conservation Alliance. “By keeping people engaged on a local level they remain passionate and subsequently get results.”
In an ever-expanding world it seems more people are looking for outdoor recreation experiences close to home. Look at the rise of local breweries, farm-to-table restaurants and the resurgence of downtown communities across the United States. That same mentality applies to conservation efforts. “Our most effective conservation happens on a grassroots level,” says Sterling. “So we work regional issues into our overall national plan.”
Access For All
Whereas The Conservation Alliance focuses on protecting precious lands, Outdoor Alliance’s mission is to ensure access to and stewardship of those lands. OA’s six founding groups—the Access Fund, American Canoe Association, American Whitewater, International Mountain Biking Association, Winter Wildlands Alliance and The Mountaineers—individually and collectively advocate for outdoor recreationists.
“By unifying a diverse group of people, we have a powerful voice on policy—both government and corporate,” says Tania Lown-Hecht, communications and public engagement manager for Outdoor Alliance. “On the legislative side, [policymakers] prefer and pay more attention to outdoor groups as a cohesive unit.”
To say that OA’s six member groups—and their combined 84,000-plus individual members—are passionate is an understatement. Ever try to block a climber, a paddler, a biker, a skier or a hiker from his or her goal? Good luck. By uniting these constituencies, OA has created a powerful group that can mobilize quickly. “Most of our members have action alerts they send out on social media that quickly gets everyone involved,” says Lown-Hecht. “A majority of their members are Gen X and younger, and they are very engaged.”
In 2014, Outdoor Industry Association, The Conservation Alliance and Outdoor Alliance hatched an idea to create a coalition of coalitions—a network of advocates that can work together to create mutually beneficial tools and align their efforts and expertise.
At one of the coalition’s early gatherings, a roundtable dinner at Outdoor Retailer Winter Market in January 2015, industry stakeholders rallied around a new joint campaign: Close To Home Recreation.
“There is a huge shift going on from a national perspective to a local perspective when advocating for access to outdoor recreation,” says Gareth Martins, marketing communications manager for OIA. “We are aligning our overall plans to work in communities to ensure everyone has access to an outdoor experience.”
To that end, the coalition established the following mission statement and strategic priorities. Outdoor Industry Association is in the process of hiring a new local-recreation policy manager, who will work with the coalition partners and policymakers to achieve these priorities:
To build and sustain infrastructure, funding and access for close-to-home outdoor recreation by establishing strategic partnerships with key stakeholders that will engage in advocacy initiatives to influence state and local recreation policies that support the outdoor recreation economy.
- Raise the profile and influence of the outdoor recreation industry by developing, training and equipping outdoor industry leaders with the resources needed to become effective and powerful advocates for outdoor recreation opportunities in their communities.
- Identify opportunities at the state and local level for enacting strategic initiatives that influence favorable legislation and other policies with particular interest in increasing federal and state funding and access to close-to-home recreation.
- Collaborate with state and local advocates and recreation leaders to leverage and enhance their resources and capabilities in support of close-to-home recreation advocacy.
- Identify opportunities to work with local organizations to demonstrate support for conservation initiatives that benefit outdoor recreation.
- Provide support and leadership on long-range issues that promote the expansion and growth of the outdoor recreation economy.
- Foster deeper, more effective relationships and collaboration among recreation stakeholder groups through open, transparent communication that celebrates successes and shares best practices for enhancing the overall influence of the outdoor industry community.
- Enhance federal policy work by connecting it to local strategies and building relationships with elected officials in city, county, state and federal positions.
In the coming months, OIA, The Conservation Alliance and Outdoor Alliance will continue pursuing opportunities to further the Close-To-Home campaign, and we’ll tell you about their efforts here. Stay tuned and check back often. If you’d like to get involved directly, contact Alex Boian, firstname.lastname@example.org.