Down and the outdoor industry: the real story

March 4, 2015

The outdoor industry is a unified leader in providing down supply chain visibility. OIA’s corporate responsibility team provides the facts.

Getting the story straight on the down supply chain isn’t easy. Supply chains are complicated, and down is no exception. There are a lot of stories to be told, many nuances to sort through and an inordinate level of detail to consider in ensuring traceability. There’s also a lot of confusion, in part from the stories that have been told and the details that have been tossed into public debate–details that don’t always reflect the reality of the supply chain or the level of collaboration around the outdoor industry’s traceability work.

Providing visibility into the down supply chain and ensuring traceability is a complex process with many challenges, not the least of which is that the outdoor industry is a small fish in a very large pond: the outdoor industry is estimated to use just 1 percent of the total global down supply.

Down is a byproduct of raising geese for meat; down and feathers are estimated to compose just 5 percent of the economic value of a bird. By using natural down as part of a wide portfolio of materials—both natural and synthetic—outdoor industry companies are repurposing a material that would otherwise end up in a landfill.

Outdoor Industry companies have led the charge for the ethical sourcing of down and feathers

But the outdoor industry hasn’t used these statistics as an excuse for inaction. Instead, our companies have led the charge to develop and implement standards and best practices for the ethical sourcing of down and feathers, working throughout the down supply chain to establish more robust traceability mechanisms that ensure animal welfare. While it’s doubtful that the outdoor industry will ever achieve quite the same leverage over goose farming as the food industry, outdoor industry companies have remained committed to working through the traceability challenges.

In 2012, in partnership with other global organizations, including Textile Exchange, the European Outdoor Group and the German Sporting Goods Association, a Down Task Force was established under the umbrella of the Outdoor Industry Association (OIA) Sustainability Working Group. Over the past three years, this group, which now numbers 70 participants representing brands, retailers, suppliers and other stakeholders across the global down supply chain, has convened at least twice a month to establish a shared understanding of the traceability challenges within the global down supply chain, leverage best industry practices and identify common reference points.

Recent media coverage that casts down standards as a competition between brands is misleading

While the task force worked to identify industry needs and put together animal welfare guidelines, several leading companies continued to move forward with developing their own individual down standards to address their challenges. As a result, there are now a number of incredible standards and ethical sourcing resources available for industry use.

Since its inception, the objective of the industry’s Down Task Force has been to ensure the traceability of ethically sourced down and find ways to scale this practice across the outdoor industry. We’re incredibly proud of the efforts of individual companies to pioneer standards and traceability systems that fit their unique supply chain situations.

This is why we have been disappointed to see recent media coverage cast this as a competition between standards, circulating inaccurate information about the down supply chain and the outdoor industry’s role.

The work of individual companies has laid the necessary groundwork for the Down Task Force and the broader OIA Sustainability Working Group to increase the use of ethically sourced down in our industry and ensure that any animals represented in our supply chains are treated humanely. To pit these companies against one another is at odds with the collaborative process pioneered by the outdoor industry and the Sustainability Working Group. These companies have been at the same table for years, and they continue to work together on identifying best practices for the industry around down traceability.

Whether those best practices ultimately take the form of multiple standards or one standard, the companies involved have never lost sight of the overall objective and are actively working together to identify the best path forward.

Collaboration requires hard work and is not without its challenges

For nearly a decade, the Sustainability Working Group has employed a pre-competitive, collaborative, working group model, with competitor companies sitting together through thousands of hours of meetings and phone calls to develop shared tools and resources, define “industry best practice,” and proactively implement responsible supply chain practices from materials traceability and chemicals management to fair labor and product indexing. Collaboration is not without its challenges, but the community of the outdoor industry has enabled exceptional, unprecedented work around responsible supply chain management.

Are we exactly where we want to be? No, not yet. The global supply chain is complex. Traceability is complicated, and there is no playbook. We are writing these guides and standards as we go, and we’re inviting others to join us. In the case of down and feathers, we’re actively looking for partners from the bedding, furniture and hospitality industries—major users of this material—to join us in the collaborative efforts of the Down Task Force.

To us, this has always been a story of the incredible collaboration of an industry that shares a common goal and the dedication of companies who are not only committed to ensuring the responsible sourcing of down within their own supply chains, but want to create tools that other companies can use, as well.

That’s a story we think should be told.

For more information about the Down Task Force and the outdoor industry’s work around the down supply chain, visit our website or email sustainability@outdoorindustry.org