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Climate and Crampons: Outdoor Industry protects its most valuable asset

Posted by Kirsten McKnight on Feb 12, 2013
Tags: carbon projects, business partners, corporate social responsibility

Salt Lake City is not the first city I’ve visited through my work at NativeEnergy where localized pollution has made for an uncomfortable visit. It serves as a potent reminder of the reason I’m there. Last year in Nairobi, on a trip to launch the development of our first clean water project, the black carbon coming from vehicles would literally choke me. I wondered if we could implement a trucking efficiency project there like the one we did in the U.S. in 2008. Most recently in Salt Lake City—where I attended the Outdoor Industry Association’s Sustainable Working Group (SWG) meetings—I ran on the treadmill instead of facing the inverted air. That seems a contradictory choice for exercise in a city notable for being a gateway to outdoor activity. Throughout my visit, the dirty air was a little jab in my ribs: find partners, build more projects, find ways to build more innovative projects to match these multi-dimensional pollution challenges that are here and now. How can we act faster, bigger, and better?

I found myself among good company at the January SWG meetings. The leaders of the outdoor industry gathered in large numbers and shared experiences, best practices, and strategy. It showed unprecedented openness among competitors in order to advance industry standards on environmental and social responsibility. The Outdoor Industry Association has worked closely with the Sustainable Apparel Coalition to develop the Higg Index. Companies like Patagonia, Burton, Timberland, REI, and PrAna are among the first companies to pilot the software, which scores their products and facilities on environmental and social performance. In the face of climate change and all the implications it has for the outdoor industry, I was heartened by the scale of the collaborative effort that was happening around me.

The SWG meetings always take place during the two days before the semi-annual Outdoor Retailer tradeshow. It is a massive convergence of people and goods. It is another reminder of our responsibility, as consumers, retailers, distributors, or manufacturers. I calculated the emissions from my trip: three nights in the hotel and a roundtrip flight from Burlington, Vt., totaled 2.43 metric tonnes of CO2e. This shows the scale of an event like this with 46,000 attendees. The rough estimate of 92,000 MTCO2e, and this doesn’t include the shipping of goods, is equivalent to the annual emissions of 17,388 passenger vehicles.

My estimate of the travel emissions from the Outdoor Retailer certainly shows that the scale of business’ environmental footprint is big, but there is arguably no greater opportunity to make big change than through responsible business. The SWG meetings preceding the Outdoor Retailer were a step or more in the right direction. Outdoor industry businesses taking responsibility and using collective resources to bring about positive change in hopes of achieving it in a scale on par with the impact. My own conviction in this was bolstered by a conversation I had with Ali Kenney, the Global Sustainability Manager at Burton Snowboards—a close neighbor here in Burlington. She is pursuing her MBA for this reason. Scale. Triple bottom lines. Creating shared value.

I left Salt Lake City, flying up and out of the inversion, with relief. Relief that I was flying toward cleaner air, but mostly the kind of relief that comes from knowing that others are facing the same challenges and working towards the same goals that we are. I was inspired by the coalition of outdoor brands: big, medium, and small businesses dedicated to maximizing their collective efforts, bringing about environmental and social improvements, and advancing together.


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Robert Naumann
Posts: 16
Salt lake air quality
Reply #2 on : Wed February 13, 2013, 15:41:37
The pollution comes mainly from a copper smelter . Salt Lake city government said that there god will not harm them so they can polulte away with no consequences to the or there children. How can you work with that?
Joan maccracken
Posts: 16
Slc inversion
Reply #1 on : Wed February 13, 2013, 15:46:58
Lived there the monypth of January. It was a rough time. Glad to hear folks are taking interest. Something has to happen. Jm