Outdoor Industry Doubles Down On Climate, Saying ‘We Are Still In’

Whether by mitigating impacts within their operations and supply chains or applying political pressure through advocacy—or both—outdoor companies are increasingly prioritizing climate commitments.

By Helen Olsson May 18, 2018

STEP 1: COMMIT

In the wake of President Trump’s announcement that the United States would pull out of the Paris Climate Agreement, companies across the outdoor industry have pledged to fill the void. Since June of 2017, many brands have signed the “We Are Still In” declaration, including almost 80 Outdoor Industry Association (OIA) members that understand there is power in collaboration and that by standing together, through both advocacy and mitigation, the industry can be a formidable force in the fight against climate change. “Climate change is possibly the biggest challenge we face in our time,” says Christiane Dolva, sustainability director at Swedish brand Fjällräven. “As a global company, we have an undeniable responsibility to reduce our emissions of greenhouses gases.”

The We Are Still In initiative has rallied 2,600 leaders from corporate America to college campuses; from religious groups to government offices. Many have set their own specific targets for reducing carbon footprints. And while some outdoor companies are following suit, not every brand believes setting targets is the best way to affect change.

In a survey conducted by OIA during the Outdoor Retailer + Snow Show in January 2018, 25 percent of companies said they had set annual goals related to climate change or carbon reduction. Other companies are finding their own paths to tackle climate change in a variety of innovative ways.

“Climate change is possibly the biggest challenge we face in our time. As a global company, we have an undeniable responsibility to reduce our emissions of greenhouses gases.”
—Christiane Dolva, sustainability director at Fjällräven

“A lot of companies are setting targets around renewable energy,” says Andrew Pappas, OIA policy advisor and OIAPAC manager. “They’re looking at how their businesses are being run and taking steps to reduce their carbon impact. It could be solar panels, wind power, or supply chain reductions. There’s no cookie-cutter formula.”

In a survey conducted by OIA during the Outdoor Retailer + Snow Show in January 2018, 25 percent of companies said they had set annual goals related to climate change or carbon reduction. Other companies are finding their own paths to tackle climate change in a variety of innovative ways.

In early 2018, OIA issued a firm commitment to climate work, stating “bipartisan solutions to addressing climate change are critical to the future of the outdoor industry. This includes taking on issues like reversal and adaptation, reducing carbon emissions, supporting clean energy, and continuing to support healthy communities and economies,” and drafting a formal climate platform as part of its policy mission. At the 2018 Capitol Summit, attendees asked members of Congress to sign HR 825, a climate resolution.

Ask Your Representatives to Sign the Climate Resolution

The outdoor industry is among the first to experience the impacts of climate change. If we are going to call our policymakers to task—and we will—we must also hold ourselves accountable,” said Amy Roberts, OIA executive director. “That’s why OIA has officially made climate one of its focus areas and why we’re developing tools, resources and support for our members.”

In 2018, Roberts is asking OIA members to commit, full bore, on two fronts: climate advocacy and reduction. “Whether it’s examining their supply chain, using their voices to advocate for policies, or talking to their employees and consumers, outdoor companies can take real, meaningful action, and they have options. The only thing we cannot do is do nothing,” said Roberts.

In 20162016, VF Corporation (which owns The North Face, Smartwool, Vans, Timberland, Icebreaker, and Eagle Creek, among others) pledged to commit 100 percent renewable energy in owned and operated facilities by 2025. Patagonia has committed to going PFC-free by 2020 and has also set a series of climate goals internally. In fall 2017, Burton set targets to reduce carbon emissions by 20 percent in the company’s headquarters and in its entire hard goods product line by 2020. And Fjällräven set targets to reduce CO2 emissions by 25 percent by the year 2020 and to become carbon neutral by 2025.

STEP 2: ASSESS, AUDIT AND MITIGATE

A growing number of companies are adopting Science-Based Targets (see “Show Some Initiative” sidebar, right) for climate goals and pledging to use 100-percent renewable energy. Companies are calculating their greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, studying issues of packaging and transportation, scrutinizing their supply chains, and using OIA’s Sustainability Working Group’s self-assessment tools like the Higg Index. And to amplify these efforts, savvy outdoor brands are activating customers to harness the power of the people.

What We Can Learn From Makeup and McNuggets

There is much to be learned from nonendemic brands. Skincare giant L’Oreal has already achieved 100-percent renewable-electricity use for its 21 U.S. facilities, powered by solar arrays in Arkansas and wind turbines in Texas. The company has also reduced its carbon emissions by 84 percent. In March 2018, L’Oreal announced plans to achieve carbon neutrality in 2019, in part by using renewable natural gas converted from landfill gas from a local Kentucky landfill.

Also in March, McDonald’s pledged to reduce GHG emissions related to McDonald’s restaurants and offices by 36 percent by 2030. The company will look closely at one of the biggest contributors to its carbon footprint: beef production. The move is expected to reduce its GHG emissions by 150 million metric tons by 2030.

 

Scrutinizing the Supply Chain for Climate Change Opportunities

“It’s great to be putting in solar arrays at your headquarters and sponsoring wind, but as a manufacturing company, you have a big supply chain, and that’s hands down your biggest impact,” says Ali Kenney, Burton’s VP of Global Strategy and Insights, who took a graduate course at Harvard on carbon emission reduction strategies in order to inform the company’s sustainability program.

Many companies, including Nau, Native Eyewear, TNF, and Burton, participate in OIA’s Sustainability Working Group to explore emissions and impacts in their supply chains, to implement best practices, and set goals. “It’s exciting to see the innovation and collaboration among companies,” says OIA’s Pappas.

Burton audited its supply chain using the Higg Index tool and life-cycle assessment software and made changes accordingly to help reach its climate goals.The company plans to achieve the Bluesign  product designation for 100 percent of its softgoods and plans to transition to 100-percent organic cotton by 2020. The North Face also works with Bluesign to reduce waste, energy, and the use of harmful chemicals. “We saved 69,594,408 kWh from 2010 to 2015, the equivalent of taking 6,403 cars off the road for a year,” says Eric Raymond, TNF senior manager of brand communications and advocacy.

 “Sustainability isn’t a program; it’s our DNA.”
—Courtney Samulik, Nau materials and sustainability manager

Fjällräven is constantly exploring the environmental impacts of its supply chain, too, using the Higg Index and life-cycle assessments. The company eliminated PFCs from its garments in 2015; employs SpinDye to reduce water, energy, and chemical use; uses recycled polyester, organic cotton, and traceable down; and is currently exploring sustainable wool from Sweden. The company also supports renewable energy projects by climate compensating many of its key products as well as company business travel. To “climate compensate,” the company assesses GHG emissions for individual products and then, to offset those emissions, it supports renewable energy projects that have been verified by the UN and certified by Gold Standard, an independent assessment group supported by nonprofits like WWF and Greenpeace.

California’s first B-corp company, Patagonia pioneered the use of industrial scrap and recycled bottles in apparel and spearheaded the movement toward organic cotton, which promotes sustainable agriculture practices, soil health, and carbon sequestration. More recently, Patagonia partnered with Gore-Tex to create a waterproof-breathable shell fabric constructed of 100-percent recycled material. For Fall of 2018, Patagonia will feature the innovative recycled Gore-Tex Pro Shell fabric in its highest-volume price-point product, the Powder Bowl collection. (The year prior, the fabric had appeared only in the top-of-the-line 3-layer Pow Slayer jacket.) “It’s made with post-industrial consumer scrap and plastic bottles,” says Corey Simpson, Patagonia PR and communications coordinator. “We leaned heavily on Gore-Tex to create the technology.”

Nau has used the Higg Index to connect with its supply chain to review and monitor sustainability performance and is an active member of OIA’s Sustainability Working Group.

“Sustainability isn’t a program; it’s our DNA,” says Courtney Samulik, Nau’s materials and sustainability manager. “We’re committed to sourcing the most sustainable materials for use in our product line.” Nau uses PFC-free DWR across all its waterproof/resistant product and introduced 100-percent recycled down in 2015.

Native Eyewear says using naturally derived plant-based resins in place of petroleum-based plastics in its eyewear has significantly reduced the company’s carbon footprint. Native calls itself a “fast follower,” willing to learn from leaders in industry in forums like OIA’s Sustainability Working Groups.

Read more about what Native Eyewear and Zeal Optics are doing with plant-based resin, as well as how other companies are using new natural fibers in outdoor gear and apparel.

Alone We Can Each Do A Little; Together We Can Save The Planet

Companies like McDonald’s, one of the largest in the world, have the potential to make massive impact with any given initiative. But what about outdoor companies, many of which are small and family run? Industry leaders agree: Companies need to think of the power in numbers.

“Nowadays, the issues are so big that collaboration is absolutely mission critical. We aren’t going to move the needle unless we get other brands on board to help.”
—Corey Simpson, Patagonia, PR and communications coordinator

In February 2018, the Bureau of Economic Analysis reported that the outdoor recreation economy accounted for more than 2 percent—or $373.7 billion—of the U.S. gross domestic product. Adding in total consumer spending for outdoor recreation as well as revenue from apparel and equipment manufactured overseas, OIA estimates the entire outdoor recreation economy at $887 billion.

“Nowadays, the issues are so big that collaboration is absolutely mission critical, says Patagonia’s Simpson. “We aren’t going to move the needle unless we get other brands on board to help.”

Courtesy of Patagonia Action Works

STEP 3: ADVOCATE

In addition to signing declarations like We Are Still In, companies are joining or aligning with organizations like OIA and others, such as Ceres Business for Innovative Climate and Energy Policy (BICEP) and Protect our Winters (POW) to advocate for policy change.

Memberships Matter

Outdoor Industry Association is a resource for outdoor companies in the area of climate change advocacy and mitigation. “We see a direct and unique impact from climate change on our industry,” says OIA’s Pappas. “We want to find opportunities at the federal, state, and local levels where there’s smart policy around renewable energy that outdoor brands can get behind.” OIA supports EPA and science programs that study climate change, pre-drafts letters to legislators, provides talking points, hosts panels at the Outdoor Retailer show, and puts on forums like the Outdoor Industry Climate Leadership Summit (this year’s event will be held on May 26 in Telluride). “We educate executives at companies. We talk about policy, sustainability, messaging, and customer engagement,” says Pappas. “We want to move forward and play a part in creating a new economy.”

OUTDOOR INDUSTRY CLIMATE LEADERSHIP SUMMIT

Friday May 25,  1 p.m. – 5 p.m.

Afternoon Climate Change Action Workshop ~Hotel Madeline at Telluride Mountain Village

Friday May 25, 6:30 p.m. – 8:00 p.m.

Evening Booze and Banter: What Happened to (this) Winter? ~ Liberty Bar

 

Discounted premiere passes and lodging for Mountainfilm, May 25-28, 2018 are available to all attendees.

Sustainability teams at companies like New Belgium, Burton, and The North Face also look to BICEP, which is an advocacy coalition committed to working with policymakers to pass climate change legislation. BICEP helps inform advocacy strategies, including trips to D.C. and working on legislation like former President Obama’s Clean Power Plan. “BICEP has been so great for us. They brief you weekly on legislation and craft petitions for you to sign,” says Burton’s Kenney. “They’re educating all these top iconic brands on climate.” Companies can also sign BICEP’s Climate Declaration. “You have to take care of your own business,” says Kenney, “But the biggest impact you can have is on policy.”

 “We want to find opportunities at the federal, state, and local levels where there’s smart policy around renewable energy that outdoor brands can get behind.”
—Andrew Pappas, OIA policy advisor and OIAPAC manager

This April at the 2018 OIA Capitol Summit, OIA worked with Representatives Diana DeGette (D-CO01), Carlos Curbelo (R-FL26), Suzan DelBene (D-WA01) and Mia Love (R-UT04) to introduce and gain support for House Resolution 825, the Outdoor Recreation Economy Climate Resolution. The resolution recognizes the impacts climate change has on outdoor businesses and the industry and is an opportunity to create a bipartisan dialogue to find solutions that address the issue and support the American economy and help conserve our land and water.

Winter sports athletes, corporate partners, and industry trade groups gathered in
Washington, DC in 2013 to meet with members of Congress and urge them to support
a strong climate policy. Photo Courtesy of Protect Our Winters

Many outdoor brands—TNF, Smartwool, Clif, REI, Patagonia, and Burton, to name a few—have partnered with Jeremy Jones’s Protect Our Winters (POW), which mobilizes the outdoor community against climate change using social media, op-eds, events, and PSAs. The North Face partners with POW on the Hot Planets/Cool Athletes school program, a series of middle and high school assemblies featuring TNF athletes, who share stories of how climate change is affecting their sports, helping kids to understand climate science and inspiring them to take action. Kenney, along with Burton CEO Donna Carpenter, often makes trips to D.C. with the folks from POW. “We’ll go in and meet with state legislators. We explain that climate change is dramatically affecting our ability to do business. Money and jobs are what resonate in Washington,” says Kenney. In Burton’s early days, the company went to war with ski areas that wouldn’t allow snowboarding. Kenney says Burton is channeling that same rebelliousness into the fight against climate change.

Patagonia, a co-founder of 1% for the Planet in 2002 which has donated $90 million to grassroots environmental groups to date, is a model for affecting change. “We’re constantly looking at environmental activism and advocacy, regardless of the new administration’s actions,” explains Simpson. The company also inspires and informs the nonprofits it works with. Biennially, Patagonia organizes a Tools for Grassroot Activism conference, a bootcamp for nonprofits to learn to write op-eds, advocate for legislation change, and write effective press releases. Climate change is invariably part of the conversation. “It’s a beautiful think tank,” explains Simpson.

Advocate Through Outreach: Engaging Customers

Collaboration between company and customer is also key. In 2016, New Belgium Brewing joined forces with Ben & Jerry’s to create a chocolate chip cookie dough ale, which was featured at beer-and-ice-cream-pairing events around the country. Sweet-toothed beer drinkers came together to snack and sip while raising money for POW and writing letters urging President Trump to make climate change issues a priority. “It’s important to leverage customers’ voices, giving them a means of interfacing with politicians and policymakers,” says Jenn Vervier, director of corporate social responsibility and strategic projects at New Belgium Brewing.

Burton also sees the importance in outreach. “The way to amplify your effect is through policy and to educate and inspire people,” says Kenney.  Each year at the Snowboard U.S. Open in Vail, Colorado, Burton works to activate the public with campaigns, encouraging young people to register to vote or to call lawmakers from the event to influence a timely piece of legislation on climate change.

This spring, Patagonia launched Patagonia Action Works, a sort of match-making site for outdoor activists. It pairs consumer volunteers with environmental nonprofits around projects like trail restorations and stream cleanups.

During the spring 2017 Science and People’s Climate March, TNF hosted a live broadcast as part of a larger Earth Day Facebook Live activation called #NotCool, which featured interactive interviews with climate scientists and POW leaders, as well as alpinist Conrad Anker and skier Angel Collinson, two of many TNF athletes who are vocal advocates on climate change.

Fjällräven, as part of its eco-friendly Greenland collection, turned a spotlight on climate change by documenting and sharing the work of two climate scientists conducting researching in Greenland. “Fjällräven hopes to inform and inspire a whole new generation of nature enthusiasts to discover and take care of the great outdoors,” says Dolva.

STEP 4: ASK TOUGH QUESTIONS. THE ANSWERS MIGHT SURPRISE YOU.

Are Climate Goals Financially Sustainable?

In some cases, manufacturers will find that making an earth-friendly change to its operation actually saves money. In streamlining packaging, for example, Burton says it has shaved costs. But sometimes to reduce emissions, you have to make an investment up front. “We’re able to take the longer view,” says Burton’s Kenney. Patagonia agrees: “Oftentimes when we choose to do these things, it’s not a money saver,” says Simpson. “But we think the benefit outweighs the cost. Being a privately owned company gives us the freedom to do the right thing.”

Beyond Climate Commitments

“The outdoor industry is very forward thinking with sustainability, but there aren’t a lot of companies making climate commitments,” says Burton’s Kenney. “We have a long way to go.”

“Our actions to be more environmental are but a splash in a large pond; through our advocacy, we try to change the splashes into ripples.”
— Jenn Vervier, director of corporate social responsibility and strategic projects at New Belgium Brewery.

Companies like Native, Nau, and Keen, all of whom signed the We Are Still In declaration, haven’t set specific targets around climate change. “For us, we’re doing actionable things and making changes on our product,” says Chris Enlow, corporate responsibility director at Keen, which has removed more than 90 percent of PFCs from its footwear (as of 2018) and earned accolades for its corporate sustainability programs. “We want to get away from these aspirational statements. We think action is way louder than words.”

New Belgium Brewing, a company that has long occupied the trenches of corporate sustainability (it’s been making goals around GHG emissions since 2007), set targets for 2020 for landfill waste, energy and water as well as a goal of reducing direct emissions by 50 percent from 2014 to 2050. Yet the company admits that individual climate commitments aren’t necessarily the silver bullet for climate change.

Listen to New Belgium’s Kim Jordan talk about how the company established itself as a sustainable brand way back in the 1990s when it got started and how the brand continues to weave responsible practices into its operations in this podcast.

“We wanted to achieve carbon neutrality by 2050,” explains New Belgium’s Vervier. But when the team went through a rigorous analysis to assess what would be required in the next five years to be on a linear course to get there, they discovered it was more investment than the company could make. New Belgium realized changing public policy would have a bigger impact than anything they could do as a company. “We became even more committed to working for societal change,” says Vervier. “Our actions to be more environmental are but a splash in a large pond; through our advocacy, we try to change the splashes into ripples.”