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Interview with Beth Jensen, Director of Corporate Responsibility for the Outdoor Industry Association


For our first in an ongoing series of interviews with leaders on climate change issues in the ski industry, we had a chat with Beth Jensen, Director of Corporate Responsibility for the Outdoor Industry Association (OIA). The OIA is a leading trade association and voice of the outdoor recreation industry, serving more than 4,000 manufacturers, distributors, suppliers, sales representatives and retailers.

1. Your informative website makes an interesting point about climate variability presenting challenges for the outdoor industry to manage its products. What does it mean for your members when increasingly variable winter weather leaves entire regions of the country too warm and dry for snow sports for significant periods of time?

For retailers – it makes it really tough to predict what to buy for the upcoming winter season.  There are many examples of this in the Northeast – the retailers there got hammered by storms last winter, so adjusted their orders this year, and now many of them are sitting on a lot of excess inventory currently with all the mild weather they’ve had up to this point this year.

For brands – it obviously affects their profits year-over-year.  One interesting thing we’ve been seeing is that brands heavy on winter sports apparel/gear are looking to diversify their product offerings – for example, Columbia Sportwear’s recent acquisition of yoga and climbing apparel company PrAna.  

We’re also seeing this diversification play out at ski resorts, many of which are investing in building downhill mountain bike parks, hiking trails, and other infrastructure to ensure they’re also a draw during the warm weather season which is growing increasingly longer.

2. Our member ski areas and resorts make a point of educating their guests about their sustainability programs, from locally sourced timber in their lodges to chairlifts powered by renewable energy, and much more. Do you find that your customers are increasingly demanding products that are sourced and manufactured with environmental sustainability in mind?

The data shows that customers, especially millennials, do seek to support brands that align with their values.  However – numerous studies have also consistently shown that sustainability attributes are not the primary driver for product purchase decisions – they are just one consideration, along with price, fit, style, and a host of other attributes.

The collaborative work of the outdoor industry and the Outdoor Industry Association Sustainability Working Group to implement environmental and social best practices for the supply chains of outdoor apparel, footwear, and gear was founded on the principle that it is  not just a consumer demand, but a business imperative to benchmark and measure impacts as an industry and then work collectively to reduce those impacts, ensuring the ability into the future to produce the products consumers need to enjoy the outdoors, and ultimately, to protect the outdoor places our consumers enjoy and without which our industry would not exist.

The Higg Index – the sustainability measurement tool for the global outdoor, sporting goods, and fashion industry which the OIA Sustainability Working Group has been working to develop and adopt since 2007 – is currently being used internally by companies to measure the environmental and social footprints of their brands, manufacturing facilities, and products.  Within the next several years, the Higg Index will become an external-facing tool as well, to help communicate outdoor companies’ sustainability practices to consumers in a consistent way across the industry.

3. Aside from innovation in the products your members create, what steps are OIA members taking to make their businesses more green?

OIA members, and particularly those involved in the Sustainability Working Group, are global leaders on a number of fronts: not only innovation on cool new products and features, but innovation in developing more efficient and sustainable manufacturing processes and making investments to develop greener chemistries to achieve critical product attributes like water repellency.  Additionally, the industry is leading the way on figuring out how to effectively implement supply chain standards and tools at scale – not only the Higg Index, which covers the entire range of practices at factories and retail stores as well as the complete supply chain of products – but also other standards such as those that ensure responsible sourcing of animal-based materials such as down and wool that are used widely in outdoor products.

As you’ll see in the OIA statement on climate policy OIA supports a twofold approach to responsible business: developing and implementing sustainability best practices in product supply chains via the Sustainability Working Group and tools like the Higg Index; and engaging in advocacy work at the federal, state, and local level to use the voice of business to support thoughtful recreation, trade, regulatory, and climate policy.

Thanks Beth!