As the title sponsor and education provider of the Outdoor Retailer Summer Market 2018 trade show, Outdoor Industry Association offered lunch-and-learn panels each day of the show. The topics varied, but were all informed by OIA’s three pillar focus areas: policy, participation, and sustainable business. All three of the lunches this year were past capacity and standing room only.
Monday’s lunch, titled “State of Sustainability in the Outdoor Industry,” featured the launch of the industry’s first sustainability benchmarking report, OIA’s attempt to quantify the industry’s collective work in this area, establishing a baseline against which we can measure our collective performance and provide data-driven guidance to prioritize future initiatives.
On Tuesday, the lunch topic was “A River Runs Through It,” and speakers Taylor Hawes with The Nature Conservancy, David Leinweber of Angler’s Covey, Bob Ratcliffe of the National Park Service, Nathan Fey of American Whitewater, and Scott Leopold of Leopold Brothers shared their unique perspectives.
Alex Boian, OIA Policy Director, opened the panel by encouraging attendees to remember that when we talk about “America’s Greatest Idea,” we have to talk about public lands and water. Water often gets second billing, but it’s equally important, especially as it pertains to the outdoor recreation economy.
As the OIA Recreation Economy report shows, Americans spend more money on kayaking than on major league baseball and football games each year. And a recent poll by Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership points out that 95 percent of sportsmen and sportswomen say a candidate’s position on land and water will influence their vote.
All of the speakers highlighted two overarching issues of concern—water quality and water scarcity—and they shared stories about what they and their partners are doing to address both in order to protect our water resources.
A standout anecdote from the session came from Nathan Fey with American Whitewater, which works to protect and restore American waterways by removing dams and restoring habitats to help more people access the rivers. Fey told the story of the Delores River, which runs from the Colorado high country into Utah. Fey said it provides some of the highest-quality river trips in this country, second only to Grand Canyon. At one time, the river saw 3,000 trips a year. Those created an incredible economic impact for the surrounding communities, not to mention the thousands of stewards those trips bred.
But when a dam proposal was authorized, more than 50 percent of the whitewater operations lost their business. One of those businesses belonged to panelist Bob Ratcliffe. In the mid-‘90s, the river hosted fewer than 60 trips a year. With aggressive and committed work by American Whitewater and others, the dam was removed and the river was again opened to recreational use. In 2017, 29,000 people paddled the river, bringing with them an incredible economic impact.
“Some of the best economies exist around rivers that have been protected and restored,” Fey said.
Finally, on Wednesday, the lunch panel focused on brand advocacy and brought insights from REI, Outside magazine, Tahoe Mountain Sports, and KEEN. It used to be that we talked about cause marketing, said OIA’s VP of Marketing and Communications Jennifer Pringle, who opened the session. “But it is no longer enough to just sponsor a cause-related event. Consumers want your brand to stand for something at its core.” The panelists each explained how they do that.
REI’s Alex Thompson said that the co-op puts brand strategy, business strategy, and social impact strategy in the same circle in order to have an authentic voice when it comes to issues advocacy. When you do that as a company, and then you hear about bigger societal issues, like how few people are getting outdoors, you have no choice but to lean into that because it so closely ties to your strategies, explained Thompson.
Dave Polivy, who owns a single-door retail shop in Tahoe, explained that for his business, developing an authentic brand advocacy voice happened organically. As a member of the community where he owns his retail shop, Polivy got involved with land-use planning efforts. That led to being a community leader on those issues and listening to what the community wanted. Then, he was able to use his shop as a platform for supporting the issues that matter to his community. He has also found that his store gives him the opportunity to bring some of the bigger national issues down to the community level through events that marry traditional service, such as avalanche safety training, with issue advocacy, including climate action.
This article was originally published in Day 4 of The Daily (summer 2018).