Sustainability, a Buzz Word at Outdoor Retailer

Outdoor Retailer (OR) is the largest sports expo and conference and is held twice a year, historically in Utah. However, after Patagonia dropped out over Utah state leaders’ opposition to Bears Ears, the industry came together to fight back against the attack on America’s national monuments, and this winter the show was moved Denver. A few of us had the chance to attend last week.

Paul Hawken, environmentalist, author, and activist, opened the show discussing his book Drawdown, The Most Comprehensive Plan Ever Proposed to Reverse Global Warming. He said, “There’s no such thing as a small solution. It’s a system. It’s the system that causes the problem, and the system that heals it.”

Sustainability was a buzz word at the show this year, however, every brand had their own way of defining it. Some brands are reducing their environmental impact head on, while others seem to be simply greenwashing. As Jeremy Jones, owner of Jones Snowboards said, “This industry is really good at marketing outdoors and the wilderness, and we’re really sub-par at protecting it.” The carbon footprint of the trade show was unfathomable and over 1,000 brands were pushing consumption. However, activists, CEOs, and politicians united to teach workshops on responsible sourcing strategies, what’s next for our nation’s public lands, biomimicry, leading outdoor advocacy through social media, chemical management, and retail activism on climate solutions. The Keen booth even had a “Call to Action” phone booth where individuals could make calls to their state representatives.

Patagonia is not only a leader in the outdoor gear industry but a leader across many industries,  addressing environmental and social issues. This year their environmental + social initiatives report discussed, the importance of regenerative agriculture, searching for PFC-free durable water repellents, protecting public lands, and improving materials with their clean color collection, responsibili-Tee, and recycled down. By building snow garments with recycled materials they diverted 215,435 pounds of factory scraps and plastic bottles from the waste stream. The industry is learning from Patagonia, however, there were many brands promoting their own sustainability initiatives.

Klean Kanteen– The family owned-company that introduced stainless-steel bottles to the industry, Klean Kanteen, a certified B Corporation, is now promoting Klean Coat. With the support of advanced chemical hazard assessment tool, GreenScreen for Safer Chemicals, it took 18 months to develop a powder coat. They went beyond typical standards and reformulated their paint recipes to eliminate ingredients that adversely affect people and the planet, the only bottle company to do so. In addition, the Klean Coat finish is 4x more durable than their previous finish. Click here to hear more from their sustainability manager.

Point6 – The only sock brand in the USA now using NatureTexx Plasma treatment to wash wool without the use of water or chlorine. This new technology simply combines air and electricity (from renewable sources), drastically reducing their impact. Point6 has continued to make their supply chain more efficient, partnered with Soles4Souls to donate all irregular product, and is working on an incentivized product takeback program to upcycle socks into disaster relief blankets.

SOLE – Footwear company, SOLE, adopted ReCORK, North America’s largest natural cork recycling program to use recycled cork in their new product line. They continue to partner with nonprofits and have donated $224,649 to Big City Mountaineers, $198,000 to Protect Our Winters and $198,000 to Karno Kids.

Prana – This year Prana promoted their use of only 100% organic cotton in their line (also running into their denim line). Their dedication to seeking out materials from sustainable sources is reflected in their use of recycled wool, hemp, recycled polyester and recycled down. Prana has partnered with BlueSign since 2012 and reduced 10.6m+ polybags from landfills from their polybag reductive initiative.

Clif BarClif Bar is a leader in the food and outdoor space. 74% of all ingredients are organic, 83% of their waste stream is diverted from landfills or incinerators, and 100% of Clif facilities are green powered. They recognize the importance of regenerative agriculture and have a longtime partnership with Terracycle to upcycle wrappers into new recycled products. Clif recognizes its impact and continues to set carbon reduction and zero waste goals.

Icebreaker – This year Icebreaker released its first 120-page transparency report. The report includes a full list of their NZ stations, grower audits and results, map of their entire supply chain, and packaging materials and quantity. Known for their NZ merino wool, this company is being transparent and even disclosing that when NZ can’t meet their needs, they source from Australia (11%) and South Africa (5%), who also meet their quality and ethical specs. Read the entire report here.

Sea to Summit – When I approached a member of the Sea to Summit team to talk about sustainability, his reaction was skeptical. He wanted to know how I defined sustainability. He didn’t send me to someone in PR like most other companies, he dug deep, and I knew from our insightful discussion that Sea to Summit is taking sustainability seriously. We talked about our concerns for the industry, the footprint of the show, greenwashing, and warranty programs that simply replace products. He told me that although Sea to Summit does not advertise their green initiatives, they continue to look at the life-cycle analysis of products. Their goal is to provide the most durable product, utilize scraps to replace parts for free, and focus on quality and not hitting a particular price point. Although it would beneficial to see more communication from the company surrounding their goals, I was happy to hear members of their team taking sustainability seriously.

Written by staciab

Stacia is an accelerated MBA student focused in sustainability. She spent almost 3 years working in the outdoor gear industry in a marketing role and headed sustainability initiatives. However, after graduating this June, she hopes to pivot into the food industry and work for a company that aligns with her values.