Leading In Sustainable Business: The State of Sustainability in the Outdoor Industry Report

July 23, 2018

In an effort to showcase the outdoor industry’s 10+ years of leadership in sustainable business and supply chain management via the Outdoor Industry Association (OIA) Sustainability Working Group, this comprehensive report benchmarks the industry’s sustainability efforts, allows companies to see how they compare to other companies of their size and measures the adoption of OIA’s tools and partnerships.

Outdoor Industry Association (OIA) released its first-ever State of Sustainability in the Outdoor Industry report surveying 120 individual small, midsize and large companies in the outdoor industry to quantify the outdoor industry’s long-time collaborative efforts to reduce the impacts of its products and processes. The report establishes a baseline to measure the industry’s sustainability performance and provides guidance to prioritize future initiatives, while highlighting some of the best examples of proactive approaches to sustainability that companies are taking to improve their businesses and positively impact their bottom lines.

“The outdoor industry has done a fantastic job flexing the muscles of the $887 billion outdoor recreation economy to protect our public lands; now it’s time to showcase how we have led on another core effort that directly connects to environmental conservation: product and supply chain responsibility. This first-ever comprehensive industry report begins to do just that, and our goal is to use this – and future reports – to measure progress, identify areas for improvement and illustrate the importance of sustainable practices as a business imperative,” said Beth Jensen, senior director of sustainable business innovation at OIA.

For over ten years, the members of OIA’s Sustainability Working Group (SWG) have been collectively tackling supply chain issues important to the industry, including chemicals management, animal welfare, social responsibility and fair labor practices in factories, microfiber shedding in oceans and waterways and carbon reduction strategies.

The key takeaways from the report underscore that sustainability is a core value to the outdoor industry regardless of company size, product type or location:

  • The Greater Good Is a Priority – 75% of participating companies have at least one employee who is responsible for sustainability efforts in their organization;
  • Higg Index Provides Helpful Tools to Compare and Improve – 87% used the Higg Index to guide internal sustainability conversations or benchmarking efforts;
  • A Sustainable Materials and Product Design Program Is Key – Products and materials emerged as a priority for all sizes of companies, with 69% of respondents prioritizing their efforts accordingly; and,
  • Companies Are Investing in Efforts to Cut Carbon Emissions – 63% of the companies surveyed invest in renewable energy.

The report indicates that companies of all sizes prioritize materials and design as well as product use and end-of-life strategies. Depending on the size of the company, other priorities shift. For small companies, packaging was prioritized, likely because this is a highly visible area in which relatively quick wins and cost savings can be seen. Midsize companies identified manufacturing as a key priority, which indicates that they are recognizing the increased impacts of their manufacturing practices. And for large companies, chemicals management – a more complex, advanced area often managed by dedicated staff members – was highly ranked.

Other notable findings by size include the following:

  • Small companies are leading in their use of third-party certifications to amplify their efforts and supplement their existing resource base;
  • Midsize companies are being pulled in many directions, facing the same expectations of larger companies but with fewer resources; and,
  • Large companies indicate that having a proactive sustainability strategy is critical for business success.

Overall, the report found that outdoor companies, regardless of size, are primarily motivated to implement sustainability practices because they believe the outdoor industry has a role to play in environmental and community stewardship.

Read more about how some companies are achieving more sustainable supply chains.

The report also supports the continued applicability of the OIA Sustainability Working Group collaborative model: to support small and midsize companies’ needs, as well as to provide a platform for larger companies to address their shared challenges, such as chemicals management.

“This report provides a wonderful opportunity to recognize the outdoor industry’s progress toward a standard practice of responsible, sustainable business,” said Danielle Cresswell, senior sustainability manager for Klean Kanteen. “That said, it is imperative that we continue building on the 10-plus years of advances led by the Sustainability Working Group to broaden our industry’s participation and deepen our innovation for lasting solutions.”

“REI was founded upon a love of the outdoors and the pursuit of a better way of doing business,” said Matt Thurston, director of sustainability, brand stewardship, and impact for REI. Today, we continue that model by working with our brand partners to advance more sustainable business practices. The OIA State of Sustainability in the Outdoor Industry report will help us gauge progress across the industry and engage partners around the most relevant advances in sustainability practices.”