Green Scene: It's not about the color, it's about the process

The outdoor industry has been busy since the last installment of Green Scene. News is being made left and right by companies in our industry as many appear to be jockeying for leadership positions in the movement toward sustainability. Two events stand out most significantly to us.
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The outdoor industry has been busy since the last installment of Green Scene. News is being made left and right by companies in our industry as many appear to be jockeying for leadership positions in the movement toward sustainability. Two events stand out most significantly to us.

First, the Outdoor Industry Association (OIA) kicked off the Eco Working Group where roughly 70 vendors met in Boulder, Colo., in early May. The Eco Working Group’s first meeting was closed to all but invited vendors, who were there to start the process of creating industry-wide standards on sustainable products.

It was the "invite only" move that caused some ire – click here to read our editorial. Creating green standards and baselines for consumers and the industry to use as reference points on a green continuum is a hot button in our market and in broader society today. Not being invited or allowed to attend an initial planning meeting among vendors seeking to begin that standards process frustrated many OIA members trying to embrace a genuine shade of green for their businesses. The good news is the next meeting of the Eco Working Group is open to all “industry stakeholders.” It is slated for Aug. 11, 2007 at 7:30 to 9:00 am, at the Marriott Hotel (closest to the Salt Palace), Salt Lake City.

Second, Backpacker magazine launched the magazine’s sustainability survey to a select group of vendors. SNEWS® obtained a copy of this survey, which asserts it will be the next step beyond the six-year-old Backpacker Green Awards. Apparently, more than 25 “green” products will be reviewed for the magazine’s September 2007 Global Warming Issue. While those products were being tested, the Backpacker’s editorial staff became curious about the producers of the green gear being considered. What, the editors’ wondered, were the vendors producing green gear doing to reduce their own “carbon footprints?”

The survey, named “Green Points,” was designed to help Backpacker quantify and understand steps vendors in the outdoor industry are taking toward sustainability. Thankfully, the magazine’s leaders took their own survey and, we've been told, found that their own company did not do so well. This is the kind of transparency that encourages our industry, and the readership of Backpacker, to continue toward embracing sustainability. Kudos to them!

The magazine’s detailed survey results will be confidential, but will serve as the basis of averages that will be published in the magazine’s September 2007 Global Warming Issue.

Depending on whom you ask, (and SNEWS® has been asking a lot of members in this industry in a casual fashion over the last few weeks), the OIA Eco Working Group is not expected to create green gear standards this year, or maybe even next year. Countries trying to comply with the Kyoto Protocol were given 10 years, after all. Not that this is a bad thing. An industry should be allowed time to create this important standardization that will affect all aspects of our business. Certainly, Backpacker’s Green Points survey will provide a quicker synopsis, but will also only offer insights instead of solutions. It is by no means a reference for establishing standards…yet.

We’re all eager to see results and proclaim our love for being green. In fact, the feverish pace going on around sustainability in our market feels almost like a race to find the most favored color green at times, which is what one unnamed vendor told us shortly after the Eco Working Group news reached his office. He said that he felt that his company was going to show up at Outdoor Retailer Summer Market and bear witness to a lot of posturing. Who will be the greener or greenest of them all?

Unless we are competing for shades of a color wheel, who really cares? Let’s not focus on the end result, but rather encourage the process. Consider that companies who are already revered as vanguards in the sustainability realm, companies such as 7th Generation, Aveda and Honest T, to name only three, have been working toward more the goal of realizing fully sustainable businesses for over two decades. None of them would ever claim to have arrived yet since perhaps no one every really arrives. But none of them could be accused of spending more energy waving green banners than working the process either.

SNEWS® View: Every company in our industry and in other markets for that matter, with a commitment to being more sustainable must create its own process. This process must reflect the company’s culture and draw in employees. Creating buy-in by employees is critical to success. As an industry, collaboration and open-mindedness are mandatory. Going forward, it is our hope that all members of our industry will be not only fully open and transparent at all times, but also welcoming to all members of the industry to take part in the process of growth – even if that growth risks a little pain along the way. Only with a community effort will we achieve a genuine and transparent level of collective sustainability. And since we are the outdoor industry, shouldn't it be on our shoulders to join the leadership, rather than follow along with a rush to find a green message?

Kristin Carpenter-Ogden of Verde PR is putting her journalists hat back on with a regular Green Scene column for SNEWS®. After spending nine years as a journalist covering the outdoor industry Kristin Carpenter-Ogden founded Verde PR (formerly KCPR). Verde is a boutique public relations, branding and consulting agency located in Durango, Colo. For more information on Verde PR, email Kristin Carpenter-Ogden at kco@verdepr.com, or visit www.verdepr.com.

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