There is not a single outdoor brand I know that does not have a sustainability policy – if anything, the term sustainability has been used for such a wide range of applications even I end up confused as to what it really means. There are two common definitions:

  • the ability to be maintained at a certain rate or level
  • avoidance of the depletion of natural resources to maintain an ecological balance

Those who noticed that Earth Overshoot Day (when we have used up the maximum amount of resources for that year if we are to allow for natural replenishment) was three days earlier this year in July, even though for most of the current year, the world has been in lockdown with greatly reduced numbers of travel.

The way we work has changed, and I suspect a lot of the practice will stick as the new normal marks the go-forward point. As a lecturer, I give all my lectures and tutorials online currently; before the pandemic, I was traveling from Portland on the west coast to Shanghai via Annecy and Sweden to give keynote presentations to students as well as my commitments in the U.K. (my university is in London, but I live 200 km north). Zoom is great, but it does not allow the ability to read the audience’s body language – which is the key to when to change subjects.

Having attended in person, it all came flooding back why in-person is so important if partnerships are going to grow. The single most asked-for information from me is around sustainability as there is a genuine desire by the industry leaders to do more effective work in this area. Fortunately, there is an easy option: join the European Outdoor Group to allow their sustainability specialists to have a greater impact with their work.

However, judging by the confusion over what sustainability means, let alone how the marketing teams present the information, I have been re-examining whether the industry has gotten the approach wrong. This was highlighted by moderating a webinar around the theme of ‘Has the Outdoor Industry lost its Mojo?’ with Emily Walzer, the editor of Textile Insight (the most specialized b2b publication for the Ingredient Supply Chain), and David Parkes, the founder of Concept iii (perhaps the public face that has allowed more textile concepts to achieve great penetration into this industry than anyone else). C iii was first with Polartec fleece and Thinsulate wadding all those decades ago. The panel was brought together for the first Functional Fabric Fair Shanghai, taking place next month.

What was concluded is that Sustainability is now a norm of the industry; there is not a single end-user who thinks their brands are not pursuing best practice – but they are bored of its marketing. This is mainly prompted by all the confusion of the different audits employed by the industry. In Europe, there are over 1,000 standards in current use – this confuses those in the industry (and thus prompts audit fatigue) – let alone the consumer.

The outdoor industry used to be full of innovation that appealed to the dreams that we all have of enjoying the outdoors. Now it has become very serious and taken on the guilt of consuming natural resources – has this just been a mask covering up that innovation is no longer championed? Everyone has heard of Graphene, but the new wonder Ingredient has barely impacted the trade; there has been a resurgence of natural materials best summed up by the popularity of strong wool (away from Merino’s attention) with brands like HDWool; the weaving technologies that now allow synthetics to compost down using PrimaLoft originated additives are a great example: although this is progress that has not yet found its perfect application; let alone what Rheon Labs is up to…

Our customer wants inspiration, but we keep presenting them ever more serious information that is hard to differentiate from the greenwashing. We must take the climate crisis seriously (and the need is to use every strategy to avoid the incoming global warming effect that is being experienced in the extreme weather conditions throughout the world). Still, we should also recognize the joy that good outdoor gear can bring to us all by allowing us to celebrate the wonders of the outdoors.

It’s Great Out There has started to open a portal for people who never appreciated how wonderful the outdoors is, whether in terms of personal fitness, a group experience, or even mental health. The industry has always been led by innovation that has enabled us to achieve more in greater comfort and safety – why is this not celebrated more?

Photo: Photo Boards on Unsplash