Imagine hearing of a meeting that is intended to set in motion a process for establishing standards that affect the entire industry. A meeting that is hosted by the industry association of which you are a member in good standing, but then finding out you were not welcome at the meeting simply because you: A) didn't get an invite, or B) had the wrong job. Sound a bit off to you?
It did to us. The Eco Working Group, coordinated by Outdoor Industry Association (OIA), met on May 1-2 in Boulder, Colo., and was not open to media of any kind. It was also not open to retailers, unless you were a retailer that is also a manufacturer. And, it was not open to more than a handful of manufacturers that we would consider leaders in the world of pushing sustainable manufacturing processes, simply because they heard about the event too late to participate.
The email invitation to those selectively invited to the OIA Eco Working Group meeting in Boulder stated: "To facilitate the open and free exchange of information among attendees, the initial working group meeting is closed to media. A summary will be provided immediately following the event."
We have learned that while most at the meeting had no problem with press being in attendance, there were a select few who indicated to OIA that they would not welcome anyone who had a media affiliation at the meeting. This is not a first. In 2005, SNEWS® was informed that media were not welcome at the initial meetings for the OIA Fair Labor Working Group. That request banning media sat firmly at at the doorstep of a small number of larger companies including, surprisingly to us, REI. We wonder if this one does too?
Are we to understand that Jon Dorn, editor-in-chief of Backpacker magazine, or any other business executive or owner of a media organization, including SNEWS®, are not welcome at working group events simply because of a chosen career path or job title? Seems to have a hint of discrimination to us. It also seems to imply that if a particular OIA member with clout decides it is not in its best interest to have media or any other OIA member or industry group at an event, OIA will bend and make allowances, even though that decision is not in the best interest of all OIA members or the entire outdoor industry.
While the first meeting of the OIA Eco Working Group was intended to further an initiative to implement a product "eco index" for the outdoor industry, and some insisted that it should only be open to industry suppliers, we disagree. After reviewing what was discussed, and reading full transcripts of the presentations and interviewing a number of folks who were present, this meeting was a meeting of industry thought leaders who happened to be lucky enough to be invited into the inner circle, or hold certain job titles and not others…like media. Are we to believe that Jon Dorn is not a thought leader with a tremendous amount to add to the discussion of this supposed eco index for the whole industry? Ditto for key retailers, such as Rock Creek, Massey's, etc. A good number of rep agencies we know would have had quite a bit to offer, as well. Unfortunately, they were never given the chance.
Establishing an eco index is obviously a VERY important discussion for the industry, and we certainly appreciate the fact that OIA has seen fit to help facilitate working group meetings and other needs. However, OIA, as a member-driven organization, has absolutely no place endorsing or otherwise helping to facilitate any meeting in which ALL members of the outdoor industry are not at least welcome AND invited to attend. Naturally, attendance to any event can then be affected by space, timing and other limitations.
The historical line in the sand that has apparently been drawn regarding media especially concerns us. It implies that media members of OIA are not welcome at any event where an "open and free exchange of information and ideas will be occurring," and by having media present, that free and open exchange cannot and will not happen. It concerns us because it implies whenever a media person is attending an event, he or she is perceived as only being there to report on it, not participate in a discussion important to industry growth. Certainly, editors at Backpacker, SNEWS® and other industry publications are more than willing to sign non-disclosures if that makes everyone feel more comfortable…as long as everyone else at that meeting is also required to sign them.
We are concerned too with this apparent rush to meet, leaving so many with talent behind in the process as uninvited, poorly communicated with, and feeling frustrated. Some healing now needs to be done as a result. We were very refreshed to hear from Frank Hugelmeyer, president of OIA, that the exclusion of media that occurred this time around would not be repeated at any future meeting such as this, and that is both good and welcome.
We were also pleased to read in a recent OIA press release that the further development of this OIA Eco Working Group will be open to all. Which is good too, because what the working group is hoping to accomplish affects all of us, not just a select or privileged few.
It is our hope and expectation that what occurred at this event, while certainly executed with the best of intentions, never happens again. We cannot allow a select few, even those few with significant industry influence, to be able to determine the agenda and list of those who will and will not be invited to meetings endorsed by OIA on behalf of the entire industry. The OIA we have ardently supported is an OIA of and for the industry. To that end, all OIA members must be welcomed and made to feel a part of the association in all things OIA does. Otherwise, OIA risks becoming seen as a private club, and that is not a healthy outcome for any of us.