Guest Editorial: Sustainability is a team sport, not a spectator one

As we head into the New Year and 2009, I wanted to reach out to our community and share some thoughts on the importance of OIA Eco Working Group project and why—more than ever—the trail we are on is critical for our respective companies, industry, communities and the planet.
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As we head into the New Year and 2009, I wanted to reach out to our community and share some thoughts on the importance of OIA Eco Working Group project and why—more than ever—the trail we are on is critical for our respective companies, industry, communities and the planet.

I remain very optimistic on the prospects of us achieving our goals. We have a lot to feel proud about. In addition to the increasingly valuable tools the group is developing, one of the most notable successes of our highly collaborative project is that we are making great strides towards our common language for product environmental stewardship. The conversation among EWG members has moved up many levels in degree of sophistication, understanding, and commonality. It is rewarding to see and hear it taking shape.

However in order for us to continue to make progress we need your support and I am writing you asking for you for this.

Growing Economic Challenges, New Regulations

Clearly all is not rosy in the world and you certainly don’t need me to tell you that. Amidst an economic climate which is driving consumers—and business—back to basics, there is also a strong belief that increased regulation in the environmental realm is a foregone conclusion.

Although legislation can be right on target towards delivering environmental (or social) objectives, it can also easily be misguided. This is especially true if emotion and hype—instead of science and logic—drives the conversation. Consider the Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act of 2008 (CPSIA). To our legislators CPSIA was a tangible set of actions that consumers can look to as progress. Unfortunately the unintended consequences are that countless hours and resources are spent on creating a means to catch a problem which diverts one from the more effective strategy of preventing the problems in the first place. I’ve been experiencing the issue first hand through Vietnam and China over the past few weeks.

Just like you can’t inspect quality into a product, you can’t legislate in safety through an ‘end of pipe’ testing program. When problems arise, the cost of prevention always looks silly and inconsequential when viewed in the rear view mirror of detection and remediation. Although we should have engineered our supply chains so these substances never could be present, it is equally important that we articulate to our legislators the value of prevention vs. detection.

Let’s not let this happen to us regarding the measurement and communication of the entire product footprint. Consumers are demanding increased transparency on what green means; it is clear that the claims manufacturers, brands and retailers make on the relative environmental impact of products may be the next area we should expect increased legislation and scrutiny.

We not only have to collectively reduce the impact of our products, but it is also important that we show leadership in doing so. We need to earn the reputation that the outdoor industry really does care about this. This will only happen through collaboration.

Get involved, contribute your ideas, support the effort

During these times of shaken consumer confidence, slumping sales and extremely tight expense budgets, we need to make sure every dollar invested delivers forward progress towards our goals. Face to face meetings are essential for significant advancement and we are committed to having them. We hope that as many of you can attend these important events and we assure you they will be highly focused at delivering results.

Some of you who are watching the work of the EWG from the sidelines, curious about where we are going and if we’ll achieve our goals. I’d strongly encourage you to dive right in and engage. We need a broad selection of stakeholders with an array of skills at the table in order to best understand and represent our complex supply chain.

The specific call to action is, if your company is not yet active, make sure the right people within your organization get to the table. If your company is already an EWG member but has not yet signed up to be a voting member, do so (email: lgruber@outdoorindustry.org). It is not that onerous and there will be very important decisions made in the near future that will shape the direction of our effort and industry. Don’t be left without a voice. Remember: Sustainability is a team sport – it is not a spectator sport.

I’d love to hear your thoughts on the matter. Phone or email me, or grab my ear at the Outdoor Retailer show in January.

Very Best and Happy Holidays,

Kevin Myette

Chair, OIA Eco Working Group Executive Committee

kjmyette@rei.com

253-395-5983

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