OIA breakfast focuses on industry commitment to sustainability

If you had any doubt about it before this show, say test-driving Hummers at last Summer Market's demo confused you, Outdoor Industry Association (OIA) made it clear the association and the Outdoor Retailer trade shows it endorses are officially focused hard on sustainable environmental initiatives -- even seemingly small ones. OIA President Frank Hugelmeyer told a record crowd of 620 breakfast attendees, that Winter Market Outdoor Retailer badges and holders were made from recyclable materials and printed with soy ink. He also urged people to sign petitions and speak out to protect Utah's more than 4,000 acres of roadless areas that are currently at risk, and also suggested people try to go carbon neutral in their travel to and from the show.
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If you had any doubt about it before this show, say test-driving Hummers at last Summer Market's demo confused you, Outdoor Industry Association (OIA) made it clear the association and the Outdoor Retailer trade shows it endorses are officially focused hard on sustainable environmental initiatives -- even seemingly small ones. OIA President Frank Hugelmeyer told a record crowd of 620 breakfast attendees, that Winter Market Outdoor Retailer badges and holders were made from recyclable materials and printed with soy ink. He also urged people to sign petitions and speak out to protect Utah's more than 4,000 acres of roadless areas that are currently at risk, and also suggested people try to go carbon neutral in their travel to and from the show.

Hugelmeyer turned over the podium to OIA Chair Kim Coupounas of GoLite who announced the winners of the Outdoor Industry Awards. Keen took home the Outdoor Industry Innovator Award as a company that has made, according to OIA's award brief, "significant contributions toward the continued innovation and growth of the outdoor industry." Keen President Kirk Richardson, who took over the company's reigns just a year ago, accepted the award. He presented a short film on Keen's Hybrid philosophy before reminding everyone in the room that instead of working in the outdoor industry, "we could be selling toilet seats to mental institutions."

Richardson noted that no one could have foreseen how much the consumer and marketplace would change when Bob Dylan first sang, "The times they are a-changin'." He emphasized that the scale of innovation needed to get the outdoor industry where it needs to go is huge. He did not go into further detail on where exactly he felt the industry needs to go, but summed up with a quote from Canadian writer Robertson Davies, "Much is expected of those to whom much has been given."

Atlas grabbed the Outdoor Industry Ambassador Award for its women's snowshoeing clinics and the company's role in the growth of participation in outdoor activities. Karen Righthand, director of marketing, accepted on behalf of the company. A short video clip (from a longer documentary that is shown at the 90-minute women's clinics) was shown of three female athletes snowshoeing and appreciating the outdoors. According to Atlas, since the inception of the clinics in 2002, the company has reached more than 8,000 female participants, 30 percent of whom had never snowshoed before. Atlas also asserts that retailers involved with the program have recorded a 15-percent conversion rate. A percentage of funds from the clinics benefit the Breast Cancer Fund.

After all the award hoopla, Jill Bamburg, dean of the sustainable MBA program at the Bainbridge Graduate Institute, took the stage, tailoring her speech (based on her new book "Getting to Scale: Growing Your Business without Selling Out") she said, to focus on sustainability. Outlining how she had watched three of her favorite companies, Ben and Jerry's, Stoneyfield and Body Shop sell out, she urged companies on the same path to make sure systems are in place for employees to share the company vision and to sustain a company's mission once the original leader has left. Like Prana, who was bought by Liz Claiborne last year, she said it is possible for companies to find purchasers with like values.

Bamburg then told employers to "turn off your hearing aids," as she gave employees the formula for making the businesses they work for more green. She emphasized that employees vote with their talent, and to selectively choose employers on the right sustainability path. She encouraged employees to find like-minded colleagues and to meet on their own time outside of work to identify low-hanging fruit environmental initiatives they could easily address, such as using ceramic mugs in the company kitchen, or setting up a recycling program or drive. "Make something happen that people will be proud of," she enthused. Once you make these things happen, be certain to "thank management for their support and ask for more." The latter comment drew much laughter from the crowd, as she repeated, "Always thank management," and make them feel like they were part off the success in order to get them on board for more.

More seriously, she addressed international sustainability business expert, Dr. Bob Willard's (a retired Microsoft executive) model for sustainability. As she outlined five stages, she asked members of the audience to raise their hands on where each thought their company stood. The stages are: pre-compliance (being sustainable to avoid a regulatory threat or PR crisis), compliance (having sustainability be an integrated part of strategy), beyond compliance (sustainability being the passion or purpose of the company). As nobody admitted they were in the pre-compliance stage and few said they were in the compliance stage, a note was slid to one of our reporters across the table from a well-respected retailer urging SNEWS® to investigate the fundamental pre-compliance of outdoor companies with Asian production and enviro practices.

Bamburg also took sustainability to a global level talking about the 4 billion people in this world who live on $1 to $2 a day. Although "we don't want to turn poor people into consumers," she did encourage companies to think about how products could be used to address global problems, such as the need for clean water.

To this extent, she emphasized the need for information sharing among companies to truly reach a point of sustainability within the outdoor industry, stating, "If you raise the bar and everyone hits the bar, it becomes 'this is how we do business.' The world is served best if you share knowledge and work together."

In closing, she encouraged companies to use the resources made available to them, such as the Fair Labor Standards Toolkit, the OIA Task Force and, of course, she plugged the Bainbridge Graduate Institute's MBA program as the obvious partner of choice for the outdoor industry.

To listen to a podcast interview SNEWS® Live conducted with Bamburg, click here.

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