How can one industry save us all? It’s simple. The ability and willingness to adapt, and the deep understanding that there is no success without our planet’s success - in business or in life. The Outdoor Industry is rooted in the environment, recreation, and community, but it isn’t until now, or at least it hasn’t been truly visible until now, how powerful that connection is.
According to the Outdoor Industry Association, the Outdoor Industry generates over $887 Billion in consumer spending annually. So, to say this industry is not a business would be a lie. To say that the marketing you see from both large and small brands doesn’t have a financial motive behind it would also be a lie. But to say that those businesses and the employees that work for them don’t care about the messaging on a deeper level, would most definitely be a lie. Sure, the intent of a jaw dropping photo and a catchy tagline is to get you to spend money, but have you ever stopped to think about the lifecycle of where your money is going post purchase? Think it’s going straight into the CEO’s pocket? Maybe some of it, but there’s a richer life for that green paper long after it leaves your hands.
1) Big Brands = Big Platforms
Big brands make for REALLY big platforms. These can be used for good, or for bad, but in my experience, I’ve seen the Outdoor Industry use them for the greater good. Do you know an environmental activist by name? Clare Gallagher? Katie Boue? Caroline Gleich? Alex Honnold? Ring a bell? While these activists do much of their work unsupported and have large followings of their own, they’re also partially or fully supported by really large companies like Patagonia and The North Face. These brands provide platforms and reach to wider audiences. When it comes to fighting for the environment, reach and a big platform that can activate millions are what makes things happen. Your purchase supports not only the company, but the activists associated with them. And you better believe they listen to feedback, so scream at the top of your lungs that you’re supporting them because they’re supporting people fighting for a cause you believe in.
2) Adapt or die
Sounds a bit harsh, but when your ski boot breaks at the top of a really big line or your tent fails in the middle of a huge storm, you don’t have a choice - it’s adapt or die. People who enjoy and play in the outdoors understand that, and that concept stays with them. Learning to adapt to new ways of life, even if it’s to save our planet, can be challenging. But the outdoor industry knows - there is no other option. When they realized how much damage the goods they were creating could do to the planet, they changed their ways. Patagonia, among several other ventures, created their Worn Wear program to keep gear in rotation longer so less product ends up in the landfill. Arc’teryx has committed to be using 100% renewable in their owned operations by January of 2021 and to reduce their carbon intensity by 65% by 2030.
3) Where It’s At is Where It’s At
Independently owned retail shops are collaborating with big brands and local environmental agencies to create change in their own neighborhoods, because home is where change starts. Employees are bike commuting or walking to work to cut back on carbon emissions, and as POW (Protect Our Winters) has so perfectly captured in their “Outdoor State” movement, the outdoor industry is made up of millions of outdoor enthusiasts in all sectors and together, they can make a whole lot of change. The system isn’t perfect yet, but there’s a snowball effect of activation and it is being largely driven by individuals and small shops who love and enjoy the outdoors and this industry. Some shops even partner with local environmental groups to hold educational nights where locals can learn about the problems they’re seeing close to home and about how they can help. Meet people where they’re at, and show them the fight for the climate starts right in their own backyard. The Intervale Center, quite literally Burlington, Vermont’s backyard, has done just that - a once wasteland turned thriving community farm, educational center, and trail system. The Intervale helps feed their community through CSA programs and regular donations to the local food bank all while educating the community on how to sustain these lands with their riparian buffer and management of invasive species.
4) Progress Isn’t Perfect
If you’ve attempted anything new in your life, you know, there is always a learning curve. Few instances have such high consequences as the fight for the climate, but the principles remain the same. Progress isn’t perfect. Expecting perfection does nothing but create anxiety, doubt and a fear of failure. Fearing imperfection of failures typically leads to no forward progress at all. It’s better to just keep moving forward, even if sometimes that means you slip backwards because of an event you couldn’t foresee. People in the outdoor space know this all too well. A simple hike turns into post-holing because you underestimated the remaining snow pack. You have two choices, you push forward and risk hypothermia or accidents from the conditions. If you’re equipped enough, maybe it’s just a slower pace you need. If you aren’t equipped, it might be you just have to turn around and try again another day. But that is not failure, that is progress. You learned you need to do better research regarding your route, and you learned you may need to pack more gear next time, or maybe you simply learned that sometimes another day, or another route is all you need to reach your goal of summiting that mountain. These things don’t stop you, they shape you. And it is that mindset that will help individuals, local governments, and the world stay focused on the ultimate goal - saving the world we live in.
5) Shame is Lame
All too often progress is cut short by shame. The motive is always different and sometimes it is even in goodwill, but shame rarely helps anyone. This is a concept the outdoor industry has recently come to realize. After decades of a male dominated, elitist industry, they started to wake up and understand, the outdoors are for everyone. There may never have been the intention to exclude people, but it happened, and they’re learning how to do better from it. In the process they’ve learned how dangerous shaming can be. Shaming someone because they can’t ski as fast as you, or hit the huge drop on the single track isn’t going to grow the sport, and after all, isn’t that what truly benefits everyone anyway? Without growing the sport you lose the races, the media, the backing of larger brands that support the athletes so they can compete in those events, and aspiring athletes lose their inspiration and motive. That is not to say you can’t offer constructive criticism, but do so in a productive way. The same goes for the fight against climate change. Shaming people will get the movement nowhere, but educating each other in a supportive way can get us places we never thought possible.
So instead of trolling social media climate activists and telling them they’re just using the climate crisis to make money, or calling out a small shop for not truly “believing” in their messaging, try to understand there is a cost for everything, and that focusing on the bigger picture is key. Some shops, like Skirack, do this by financially supporting or facilitating the financial support of local sustainable initiatives, because they know supporting a change in the system rather than just changing themselves, can have a much larger, and longer lasting impact. There may be a few bad apples in the bunch, but many have to make difficult decisions in order to be able to stay in business and continue to support the environment in ways that are meaningful to them. If we all worked on one piece of the puzzle, it would never get done. Let’s all do our part and not shred each other to bits in the process. After all, the only way out of this is together.