The Outdoor Industry Association (OIA) debuted the first-ever sustainability benchmarking report on Day 1 of Outdoor Retailer Summer Market. 

“We can’t ignore how our products are made and how that impacts our communities,” said Beth Jensen, senior director of sustainable business innovation for OIA. 

Plus, the majority of consumers are paying attention: A recent report released by Cone Communications reveals that 86 percent of U.S. consumers expect companies to act on social and environmental issues.

But there’s a knowledge gap regarding the impact of product creation. 

“The majority of consumers have no idea the complexity of the supply chain,” said Jensen. 

For instance, 80 suppliers are used to make one tent. Furthermore, “Most consumers do not know where products are made. The majority of products—97 percent of apparel and 98 percent of footwear—is made overseas,” Jensen told a packed room of outdoor industry professionals who gathered for the OIA presentation on sustainability. Among the large audience, only a dozen supply chain experts were present.

The sustainability benchmark report focuses on environmental, social, and sustainability impacts related to supply chains and product manufacturing, based off of a survey of 150 outdoor industry representatives of 123 companies that are mostly small-to medium-sized businesses.

Several key takeaways for the industry: 

  • Right now, 75 percent of companies surveyed have at least one employee responsible for sustainability; 
  • 63 percent invest in renewable energy; 
  • And 87 percent use the Higg Index to guide internal discussions and benchmarking.

Another standout finding revealed that small companies (defined as meeting $2.5 million in annual revenue) have a lower adoption rate of the Higg Index, a scorecard for sustainability that includes a common set of criteria for industry members to use to assess themselves. 

The report also found that large companies—making at least $50 million in annual revenue—embed sustainability and a proactive mind-set directly into their business strategy, and, for some, the motivation was in part due to the overall benefits of efficiency.

Moving forward, target-setting is important for individual companies as well as the industry as a whole in order to track progress and identify where there are difficulties in addressing energy efficiency measures. And carbon reduction goals in the outdoor industry are catching on: 17 percent of both small and medium companies set goals related to carbon reduction, while 42 percent of large companies did so.

OIA plans to build out support for smaller companies to adopt the Higg Index. And, marketing and consumer-facing labels can help make the Higg index products more visible to consumers.

“We’re trying to raise the bar across multiple industries at once: Very few outdoor industry companies are only in the outdoor industry from an association standpoint,” said Matt Thurston, REI director of sustainability. “With the combination of the GDP and this OIA sustainability report, the outdoor industry has an opportunity to be a leader.”

Download the findings here.

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