The Outdoor Industry's Social Responsibility

Outdoor industry companies rely on a green world to keep their products relevant. They employ a wide spectrum of green marketing ranging from subtle messages that connect the company with environmental organizations important to their consumers, to programs, reports and advertising that demonstrate the authenticity of their environmental conscience.

Hurley, the international surf wear clothing line, sponsors four nonprofit organizations that focus on water – whether it’s educating the general public about their watershed or getting clean water to remote locations around the world. A recent Birkenstock ad in Outside Magazine highlighted its support for the Sustainable Living Roadshow, a traveling educational eco-village on college campuses, music festivals and professional sports events. As part of their overall marketing strategy, Klean Kanteen proudly displays its membership as one of 2,400 companies that is part of the 1% for the Planet organization, dedicated to “Keeping Earth in Business” by supporting environmental organizations that work for the preservation and restoration of our natural environment.

Yvon Chounaird, founder of Patagonia, threw down the gauntlet on Cyber Monday, 2011, when the company came out with the advertisement that claimed “Don’t Buy This Jacket.” Earlier in the year, Chounaird announced at the Textile Exchange Expo, an international members-based organization for companies in the textile industry interested in sustainability, that he would try to shake consumer consumption by asking people to consider whether they really need anything before purchasing. (Other member organizations include Nike, L.L. Bean and Prana). The ad went so far as to reveal that the jacket “required 135 liters of water, enough to meet the daily needs (three glasses a day) of 45 people. Its journey from its origin as 60% recycled polyester to the Reno warehouse generated nearly 20 pounds of carbon dioxide, 24 times the weight of the finished product.” Transparency is key in green marketing. The ad produced a spike in sales.

Other companies such as The North Face and REI release sustainability reports that outline the company’s accountable to meet ambitious goals for reducing the environmental impacts of their operations. They speak to the key specs (organic cotton, recycled content, etc.) that consumers should consider when making a purchase. This transparency tactic as well as strategy builds on customer loyalty.

But the truth of the matter is it is no easy feat to take on being green, even in the outdoor industry. The “Sustainability In Action Sports” blog reveals that there are several obstacles that can prevent a company from going green: sourcing of quality, eco-friendly material, research and development for new innovative products from recycled or renewable resources, and developing new distribution channels and context-specific messaging. 

“I think, it’s a state of mind, which needs to change in the whole company,” says Maritxu Darrigrand, head of sustainability at Roxy. “Once it’s top of mind in everybody’s head, many people come up with ideas and solutions. But this change does not happen overnight.”

Though the journey may be long, going green isn’t a passing phase or trend, but a movement. From organic foods, to hybrid cars, ecotourism, to green décor, the green machine is a $290-billion industry that has found its way into the mainstream, according to author Jacquelyn Ottman in The New Rules for Green Marketing. Sustainability has been folded into business models and the outdoor industry is leading the charge on how to communicate the environmental benefits to consumers.

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