Eco Index assessment tool launches at Germany’s OutDoor show, U.S. launch at Outdoor Retailer

SNEWS had an advance preview of the Eco Index beta version at the recent OutDoor show in Germany. Detailing what we saw, Outdoor Retailer attendees will better understand the tool and determine which workshops they might attend at the U.S. launch at Summer Market.
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In a move to help make products industry-wide more sustainable from start to finish, a tool for brands and suppliers to assess how “green” they are rolled out at the OutDoor show in Friedrichshafen, Germany.

“There is no singular environmental aspect you need to take care of,” Karin Ekberg, from adidas and interim chair of the European Outdoor Group’s sustainability working group, told the crowd. “You need to take care of all of your environmental impacts.”

Despite being a pre-show session, it attracted a standing-room-only crowd of at least 200, with representatives from all the major brands, many suppliers, many smaller companies, European media and SNEWS® as the only U.S. media.

The Eco Index online product assessment tool, in the works for more than three years on both sides of the Atlantic, is expected to formally launch in early 2011 after additional use and testing, with this being the launch of the beta version.

Members of the working groups from both Europe and the United States were on hand at the meeting in Germany to present the tool’s background and importance prior to the U.S. launch at Outdoor Retailer Summer Market at three separate sessions, Aug. 2-4. Click here to read more about the U.S. launch and the U.S. working group, and click here to read the details about the European group and its work. There are 40 voting members and more than 100 participating brands.

Questions and answers

As the first presentation of the tool, workshop presenters in Germany answered an array of questions about price premiums, complexity of use and its value to a brand. 

“You are right; most consumers are not willing to pay a price premium, but they expect you to be sustainable,” European group chair Cortney McDermott of The North Face, told one questioner.

“It’s not going to be immediately reflected in your bottom line,” McDermott added, “but it’s a business imperative.”

Examples of the index tool shown in a presentation appeared somewhat complex and Jan Lorch, global sales director at Vaude, inquired if products had been tried out with the tool to see how it works.

Joe McSwiney, CEO of Cascade Designs, told the crowd he had asked an engineer with no experience with the index to profile the MSR Whisperlite stove without any additional instruction. The engineer came back with a fully profiled product at the end of the day, he said.

“It’s surprisingly easy to use,” McSwiney told workshop attendees.

McSwiney later explained to SNEWS at the OutDoor show that the engineer actually took about 10 hours for the profile. That may sound like a long time if you have to do every product, he said, but a company would not do every product but rather certain products representing a line or category since the others would be identical.

“You don’t profile products,” he stressed, “just product types.”

He said he also realized in doing the trial run on the older Whisperlite that it was the “empty boxes” and low scores that could help them in future product development.

“What dawned on me is that all the empty boxes are a priority action plan,” he said, making the assessment a precision tool rather than just marketing.

The key, he explained, is that brands simply get in and use the tool and then do what he called “self-declaration marketing” about their scores. That would give products for consumers more transparency not only about current products but about new products as they become more environmentally sound and gain better scores.

Workshops at Outdoor Retailer

With the U.S. launch of the beta approaching at Summer Market, McSwiney, whose company Cascade Designs is a voting Environmental Working Group member, stressed that all the brands and companies should plan to go to a workshop, all held at the Marriott Downtown.

>> The general Eco Working Group Workshop -- Monday, Aug. 2, 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. -- will present the “nitty gritty” of the index and how it can be applied, said Betsy Blaisdell, U.S. working group member from Timberland. McSwiney suggested that designers and product managers -- those who will use it -- may be most interested in this session.

>> An Eco Index Seminar for brands -- Tuesday, Aug. 3, 12-1:30 p.m. -- will be more of an overview; McSwiney suggested it may be best for executives who want to gain strategic information to make decisions.

>> A third Eco Index Seminar will be held for suppliers on Thursday, Aug. 5, also from 12-1:30 p.m.

RSVPs are recommended but not required and can be made by clicking here

To read background on the Eco Index tool, click here to see a May, 20, 2008, SNEWS story, “Eco Working Group puts the focus on a sustainability index as a first step.” 

To see a Dec. 29, 2008, guest editorial in SNEWS by Kevin Myette, of OIA’s Eco Working Group executive committee, click here

To dig right into the beta version of the Eco Index, go to www.ecoindexbeta.org.

--Therese Iknoian 

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