Together We Are A Force for Participation Award Winner: The Chemicals Management Guide and Training for Manufacturers

To make it easier for brands to guide, train and drive chemicals management improvement with their manufacturer partners, brands including Burton Snowboards, Columbia, MEC, REI, Patagonia, and Target collaborated with Outdoor Industry Association’s Sustainability Working Group to create a comprehensive and industry-aligned guide and training resource. Mitch Krauss, former sustainable production manager of Burton Snowboards, explains how it all started.

By Kassondra Cloos November 14, 2019

WHAT IT IS

The Chemicals Management Guide and Training for Manufacturers is a robust set of resources to help brands and manufacturers reduce risk to their organizations, customers, workers, and the environment. Along with the Outdoor Industry Association’s Sustainability Working Group, brands pooled together their own expertise and sought subject-matter experts outside the industry to create and align best practices that give both brands and manufacturers a starting point to guide improvements.

“We’re doing a pretty good job of taking the mystery out of [getting more sustainable] and simplifying the subject—you don’t actually have to hold an advanced degree in chemistry to positively affect change in this area of chemical and environmental affairs, facilities management, and worker health and safety,” says Mitch Krauss, former sustainable production manager for Burton Snowboards, who helped create the guide. The guide is intended for people who might not be subject-matter experts. It’s written so that any brand, supplier, or manufacturer can jump in and start learning how to make positive change within their company.

“We’re doing a pretty good job of taking the mystery out of it [getting more sustainable] and simplifying the subject—you don’t actually have to hold an advanced degree in chemistry to positively affect change in this area of chemical and environmental affairs, facilities management, and worker health and safety.” —Mitch Krauss, former sustainable production manager for Burton Snowboards.

Before working with Burton, Krauss managed environmental programs and chemical management at IBM for 15 years. The outdoor industry has fewer subject-matter experts on these issues than the high-tech sector, Krauss says, but that’s changing. “It’s been super fun to work with a group that’s interested in all the same things for all the right reasons,” he says. By working on these issues together, more and more brands are becoming proficient in environmental management, he added.

WHERE TO START

Whether you’re a brand or a manufacturer, it’s important to know which chemicals- management practices you already have in place, so you can identify and prioritize potential opportunities for improvement. (See the Higg Index BRM & FEM, plus OIA’s Getting Started Guide, if you need support assessing your current practices and developing a chemicals management program). After you’ve identified improvement opportunities, you can use the Chemicals Management Guide and Training materials to further educate your brand and your manufacturing partners to target the specific actions that will be most effective for your program goals and targets.

“We start with the basics and then build progressively from there,” Krauss says. One of the foundational exercises for a manufacturer is to create a “chemical inventory” for their facility.

“Look at it like an accounting process,” Krauss says. “Figure out what you have and how much. You don’t need to know anything about chemistry, you just need to know what you’re buying and how much you need to make the product.” Anyone should be able to read through the guide and training materials and understand action steps to improve key chemicals management practices, Krauss says, no chemistry degree required.

ON THE BIGGER PICTURE

In order to truly make an environmental difference, it’s important to share this knowledge outside of the industry, Krauss says. Making the Chemicals Management Guide and Training free and available to all has allowed entities beyond outdoor business to make significant positive changes toward becoming more sustainable. “We want to attract anyone who’s interested,” he says. For example, a dry cleaning company used the guide to work with a supplier to replace hazardous chemicals. Doing so eliminated about 1,000 kilograms of a carcinogenic chemical from their operation, Krauss says. That may ultimately be a drop in the bucket, but there are endless opportunities for brands and their manufacturing partners to identify and make relatively small changes that all add up to a big difference. The first step is understanding what you’re already working with. The guide helps brands take that leap.

“If we don’t put the right amount of energy and attention into helping these folks [brands] with these basic things, we are impacting people and communities, and ultimately the planet, by not talking chemical, facility, and environmental management, which is what this guide is all about,” Krauss says, adding that the industry must address the disconnect between the products it produces for the purpose of outdoor recreation and how the manufacturing of those products impacts the workers and environment where they’re made. “We feel like it’s irresponsible to not have ownership of that,” he says.

“The intent of this is to answer four simple questions: Where is it made? How is it made? What’s in it? Where the heck does it go? If you can answer those questions, which is what the guide helps brands and suppliers do, you’re putting yourself in a good position to actually become a steward of environmental affairs.”

PUTTING ASIDE COMPETITION

In spite of being competitors in some categories, brands including Patagonia, Columbia, Burton, REI, MEC, and Target worked together on creating this manual. “Sustainability shouldn’t be a competitive sport,” Krauss says. “We are using, largely, many of the same materials from many, many of the same suppliers. We have the same goals. As leaders in this space, our job is more to share this so others can act on their own accord,” rather than individual brands showing off their own environmental achievements. The future of our planet depends on prioritizing collaboration to manufacture outdoor products in less environmentally taxing ways.

“None of us are experts on all of this stuff. Different committee members have different areas of expertise, and so we share that, and we’re stronger because of that,” he says. “We’ll never move the needle if we’re playing a competitive, non-socialized, non-transparent game or mode of operation. We might as well just do something else or sit home and not do anything. This absolutely has to be shared and open sourced in order to make the impact that we all believe in, and that’s relevant and important not just for us but for this lovely planet that we live on.”

If you’re looking to drive improvements in chemicals management for your brand or manufacturer partners, access the Chemicals Management Guide and Training here (available in English, Vietnamese and Chinese).

Pro Tip: Check out the ‘How to Use this Guide’ section before you dive in, and keep in mind that each section is downloadable in PDF form, so it’s easy to share. For questions or comments, or to share a case study from your experience using the guide, please contact sustainability@outdoorindustry.org.

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