OUTDOOR RETAILER SHOW: LEADERS IN SUSTAINABILITY
CEO & Partner
February 14, 2020
Outdoor Retailer Show
While I am not an expert on sustainability, I am someone that loves the outdoors and respects our planet, so I would consider myself a want-to-be environmentalist. Am I perfect, meaning, do I have the lowest carbon footprint possible? The answer is no, but I am always looking for ways to live more responsibly, whether it’s reducing my consumption of fossil fuel, composting my food waste, recycling used packaging, or finding ways to reuse or restore things that would normally end up in a landfill.
Although these incremental, daily choices are helpful, the real opportunity to reverse the effects of industrialized consumerism lies at the corporate level. Responsible manufacturing can make a significant impact on developing sustainable solutions that protect our environment. In fact, it is a consumer expectation that corporations take the lead on eco-friendly initiatives. 64% of consumers and 56% of consumers polled in a Mintel report cite that food/beverage manufacturers (e.g., Coca Cola, Kellogg’s) and packaging manufacturers, respectively, are responsible for making environmentally friendly choices.
“Who do you believe is responsible for environmentally friendly food/ beverage choices? Please select all that apply.”
Mintel, Food Packaging Trends- US, June 2019
The Plastic Problem
A major focus at the OR show was around reducing or eliminating single-use plastics that choke landfills, oceans, and streams. This problem is pervasive globally because single-use plastic bottles are convenient for poorer countries where access to clean water is difficult and among wealthier societies where single-use brands like Evian are used as status symbols. In the United States, Americans alone throw away 35 billion plastic bottles annually according to the Recycling Coalition of Utah (RCU). Unfortunately, only 25% of those actually get recycled and those that end up in landfills take over 1000 years to degrade. However, an average person can eliminate the need for 100 disposable bottles per year by using reusable drink containers (RCU).
With this in mind, many manufacturers showcased their solutions for the plastic problem. Brands like Yeti, Stanley, Hydro Flask, Brümate, Klean Kanteen, EcoVessel, Tru Flask, and Tervis manufacture single- and double- wall insulated hydration alternatives to plastic bottles. They are responsibly manufactured with a focus on reuse, portability, and design so they can provide more versatility than plastic. Another company, Vestergaard, whose tagline is “doing good is good business,” developed a mesh to remove Guinea worm larvae from drinking water in 1994, resulting in the evolution of LifeStraw technology that turns dirty water into safe drinking water. In all cases, these brands are helping to reduce plastic, reduce carbon emissions, and save the planet by recognizing their impact on the environment (and their bottom line).
But hardgoods companies like the ones I mentioned are not the only manufacturers I met at the OR show. One standout is a company called United by Blue that maintains a healthy balance between purpose and profit. A Certified B Corporation, United by Blue has a core philosophy that is rooted in building community to help clean up the plastic in our waterways; generate less waste by responsibly manufacturing reusable products; and creating soft goods (like handbags and backpacks) from recycled single-use plastic bags and bottles. More specifically, strong ply fibers are created from plastic that is collected, cleaned, chopped, and “flaked” before being melted into chips and spun into a synthetic yarn for United by Blue products. They also make a line of flannel products from recycled polyester (plastic water bottles), biodegradable but durable buttons, and organic dyes that are