Sustainability in the Outdoor Industry: Key Players, Initiatives, and Why It Matters

Conservation and sustainability become more mainstream each year as reports on the consequences of climate change get increasingly dire. At this point, believing that politics and efforts to mitigate climate change don’t have a space in the outdoor industry is a fantasy. While individual actions might seem small, it’s critical that the outdoor industry—from global brands to trail clubs to individuals—don’t lose sight of their collective impact.

That said, sustainability efforts, plastic-free pledges, and statistics on reduced emissions can be hard to view without cynicism, given that gear brands’ business models can be boiled down to the manufacturing of new items. In 2017, the US produced 6,457 million metric tons of CO2 equivalent, and US manufacturing is estimated to use one-fourth of all energy produced across the country. While that isn’t singling out the outdoor industry, it’s a number that’s hard to ignore.

Outdoor recreation is close to a $900-billion industry dependent on the status of public lands—regarding both accessibility and longevity. Even if it’s for purely selfish reasons, this massive industry has enough clout to make a difference in all stages of the game, from sourcing and manufacturing to politics and conservation.

We checked in with brands at this summer’s Outdoor Retailer to see new and recurring projects, initiatives, and processes.

Brand Projects

Patagonia: Regenerative Organic Agriculture; Worn Wear

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Why This Matters

This new certification has a holistic focus on agriculture, revisiting the process start to finish. Products and companies involved focus on soil health, animal welfare, economic stability for source farms, and a fair workplace for farmworkers. It’s one of the most ambitious initiatives we’ve seen in recent years, as it entails quite literally fixing the process from the ground up. Healthy soil traps carbon, and farming in a way that improves soil health is a baseline for reversing environmental impacts from decades of manufacturing. Patagonia’s first inline products incorporating material from farms working toward this certification will be available next spring. More information on Regenerative Organic Certification and involved brands can be found here.

The company’s Worn Wear program takes reduce, reuse, and recycle into our outdoor gear world. This program has been emulated by other brands in the industry, and encourages customers to repair their worn-out gear instead of buying new products. It also offers consumers the chance to shop for pre-worn Patagonia items. Keeping your clothing and gear in rotation for an extra few seasons can have a significant reduction impact on related carbon and waste footprints from sourcing, manufacturing, and shipping. More info on Worn Wear (and how to participate) can be found here.

Allied Down; DownTek: Tracing Their Down

A sample spread of what you’ll see when you scan the tag from a DownTek product.

Why This Matters

Allied Down and DownTek are two of the leading sources for down (considered “ingredient brands”) for the major players in the outdoor industry. Trackable hang tags allow consumers to receive instant information about the down’s point of origin, details about the processing, notes from testing, and even the type of goose it came from.

DownTek partners with an array of brands, including thru-hiker faves Enlightened Equipment and Big Agnes. Their Down Tracker hang tag will utilize a QR code, plus the company has been using PFC-free treated down, which achieves the same (or better) water repellency without using perfluorocarbons.

Allied Down has ~100 brand partners, and they are currently using their proprietary Track My Down hangtag with participating partners. Allied will also begin incorporating “smart mirrors” into retail locations for participating partner brands. These will allow consumers to scan the garment, bringing up a plethora of information on the down’s sourcing and processing.

Granite Gear Grounds Keepers

What They’re Doing

Grounds Keepers Program

Why This Matters

The Granite Gear Grounds Keepers program take the efforts beyond the gear and onto the trails. Since 2017, Granite Gear has sent a collection of motivated thru-hikers and outdoorsmen out into different parts of the US with the pledge to pick up trash along the way. From its inception, Grounds Keepers have removed 7,399 pounds of trash from recreation lands across the country. The 30 members of the 2019 Grounds Keepers crew can be followed here.

Adidas: Parley Products Using Recycled Plastic

Why This Matters

Adidas is one of the founding members of Parley for the Oceans, a collection of brands and organizations dedicated to battling the ever-increasing volume of plastic trash impacting our oceans. For the past few years, Adidas has been building apparel and shoes in their Parley line from plastic waste, helping prevent the waste from entering oceans. More information on Adidas’s work with Parley and their product line can be found here.

More Industry Initiatives

Recycled Materials and Better Material Sourcing

Naturally sourced dyes in garments on display at the Icebreaker booth at Outdoor Retailer.

Who’s Doing It

Cotopaxi, Icebreaker

The Details

Cotopaxi is utilizing repurposed fabrics from larger production runs—fabric that would otherwise enter the waste stream. Instead, these “scraps” turn into one-of-a-kind products that fit with the brand’s bright colorblocking patterns. Cotopaxi also uses recycled materials for insulation and shells, and incorporates Allied RDS-certified down into insulated garments.

Icebreaker is launching a collection of NatureDye items for spring 2020, sourcing the dyes from natural sources (indigo! almonds!), which results in 80% less water used per garment than with traditional synthetic dyes. Icebreaker is also streamlining their manufacturing process, and has a focus on transparency to consumers through all stages of sourcing and production. You can see their full transparency report here.

Responsible Down Standard (RDS)

DownTek display featuring items built with RDS down.

Who’s Doing It

Who isn’t? Big Agnes, Arc’teryx, Outdoor Research, PrimaLoft, NEMO, Eddie Bauer, DownTek, Allied Down, Mammut… and lots more. Complete list here.

The Details

The Responsible Down Standard (RDS) has animal welfare at its core. RDS-certified down aims to ensure that feathers come from animals that have not been subjected to an unnecessary harm. Down brands like Allied and DownTek supply materials to a significant portion of key industry players, which means that their use of RDS down has a major impact across the industry.

Bluesign-Certified Materials

Who’s Doing It

Marmot, Arc’Teryx, Camelbak, Polygiene, Adidas, Mammut, Brooks, Patagonia, Gore-Tex, and many more.

The Details

“Bluesign” comes from a group out of Switzerland that designed and maintains environmentally responsible processes and standards for supply chain / manufacturing. Bluesign’s systems are steps that companies can follow to reduce their impact in all steps of the manufacturing process. Being Bluesign Approved means that the components of the products have met requirements for reduced energy consumption and sustainable sourcing  and manufacturing. When you buy something with this certification, it means the company has committed to the system and that the textiles are at least 90% Bluesign Approved. Patagonia was the first brand to officially join the network over a decade ago. Today hundreds of consumer-facing companies and ingredient brands are Bluesign system partners. Find out more about this certification here.

Your Turn

There’s a lot more to say about this, but for now, we encourage our community to be stewards of the outdoors throughout all levels of the game.

  • Buy used gear
  • Repair your outdoor gear instead of replacing it
  • Source products from companies doing their part environmentally
  • Follow all LNT
  • Volunteer your time on a trail or for a local trail club
  • Become a sustaining member of an outdoor organization doing something you believe in
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Comments 3

  • Laura Johnston : Jun 25th

    Maggie–I loved this article for the info, the ethos and the education for all of us. Awesome work!

    Reply
  • Hugh Owen : Jun 26th

    As wanderers in the wild, we take care to leave only our footprints. Thanks, Maggie, for showing us how to extend those principles to our gear choices.

    Reply

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