With so many “international days of…” now in the calendar, it would be easy to overlook Earth Day, which occurs every year on April 22. But with its focus on creating a safe and sustainable environment for all, our expert Charles Ross believes Earth Day could be a real opportunity for Outdoor brands to utilize an increasingly popular event. Whereas the more historically recent global switch-off event Earth Hour, on the last Saturday of March, is not as well supported (asking people to switch off their power in an increasingly digital world is working towards an oxymoron), Outdoor brands – and their consumers – should certainly find ways to endorse and support a mission which aims to diversify, educate and activate the environmental movement.
Why should we bother with Earth Day?
It’s simple, really. The entire outdoor industry uses images of the beauty of the natural environment to help sell its products, but there has been a noticeable change in our own playground. We all know about the decline in snow cover (affecting the ski industry) and the increased risks of wildfire and rising summer temperatures (which could potentially limit many summer hiking destinations). The climate crisis is real.
And it will affect more than participation. The increase in droughts, wildfires, and floods affects cotton production. Rising temperatures in the global regions where many manufacturers for the Outdoor and Sporting Goods businesses are based could cause factory shutdowns or, worse, continued manufacture in unsafe working environments.
Beyond individual and collective ethical reasons to push for better environmental practice, the Outdoor industry thus has a business motivation.
Earth Day is a genuine opportunity for Outdoor brands
Recent EU Green Deal legislation, which is centered on the three areas of eco-design, due diligence, and green claims, has a lot to say about textiles. The line of thought is that apparel is still one of the most polluting industries on the planet. On the flip side, there are some excellent practices within the Outdoor field – so Earth Day is an ideal opportunity to capitalize on the public attention for our wider industry.
It is not often that there is a chance to show how excellent our trade is, but Earth Day can be used to start a conversation about better practices; showcasing existing products made with lower environmental impacts or a better social approach. And bringing to the forefront subjects like PFAS, biodegradability, extending wear periods through better laundering and repair services, product rental or resale channels, and how to reduce consumption by buying quality products in the first place.
Is Earth Day simply greenwashing?
Usually, if brands start talking about eco-issues, the accusations come in that they are greenwashing. But Earth Day has not been created by brands – the entire world has it as a focus – so why not make the best of this opportunity?
In fact, in 2022 and 2023, with its theme of “Invest in Our Planet,” businesses are being pitched as central to the efforts needed to overcome climate change. They must drive value for their institutions and society through green innovation and practices, with the private sector having the power to drive the most significant change with both the necessary scale and speed.
Certainly, new anti-greenwashing legislation, which is being considered by the EU, will put an end to brands simply using #EarthDay as a gesture of caring about the environment. But there are other ways to ensure brands “put their money where their mouth is,” so to speak.
A charitable body that can make a difference
The first step (in my opinion) is to demonstrate that you are prepared to act as well as talk. Joining the charitable organization, the European Outdoor Conservation Association (EOCA), is an ideal way to demonstrate this. Consider it the industry’s way of demonstrating its conscience.
Originally founded by the European Outdoor Group (EOG) but now completely independent of it, it is maintained by (currently seven) Sustaining Members that guarantee to donate a minimum of €10,000 each year. The current Sustaining Members are the EOG, Keen, Nikwax, Osprey, Pertex, Stanley, and The North Face.
Membership costs are determined by sales within Europe, and membership is not restricted to members of the EOG – anyone operating within the outdoor industry can join.
The EOCA puts 100 percent of its fundraising and profits from membership fees together so that a serious amount can be directed at necessary conservation projects around the world (excluding North America). Members can nominate projects, and non-profit organizations can apply directly, with applications then shortlisted These causes are then voted on by members and the general outdoor public (those people who buy our product).
Is it perhaps sad that OutDoor by ISPO in 2022 had over 300 exhibitors, but the EOCA has only just over 150 members, especially when almost every brand wants to boast about its better actions for the planet?
Perhaps those brands who have not yet joined should ask themselves if they are happy to make a profit from their customers enjoying the environment around us without paying towards its preservation…
Originally published April 19, 2022. Updated April 21, 2023