Why Your Business Values Matter

The Outdoor Industry's Playbook for Sustainable Recovery

BY Nathan Beers Writer, Bank of the West

Oct 17th 2020

The pandemic blew up your playbook. You closed, you reopened. Maybe you closed again. Your customers … Well, where did they go? The initial shock is long gone. You survived. You’re moving forward. You’re looking to recover. You need a new playbook.

Here, some of the brightest brains in the environmental, outdoor, and sustainable finance communities dig into this question: How does the outdoor industry regain its vibrancy and build back stronger?

Out of those discussions came a playbook to get small businesses back on their feet, snowshoes, or hiking boots, and trekking onward. What follows is the first in our series on building a stronger and more sustainable business.


Connect with Consumers through Sustainability

For consumers in the outdoor segment, protecting the environment means protecting their lifestyle. For many, that starts with a stand on climate change. Over 80 percent of outdoor enthusiasts say they are concerned about climate change, according to recent research. Why does that matter for your business? Because nearly 75 percent of those surveyed see brands and businesses as part of the solution. And we all know what you are if you’re not part of the solution.

This is what top sustainability experts in the outdoor industry say about how, with such a large pool of environmentally aware consumers looking to do business with environmentally aware brands, companies can tell their story—their sustainability story.

Shout Your Values from the Mountaintops

Though values play a central part in purchasing decisions, many consumers remain in the dark about what some companies believe in.

“Consumers have been telling us for some time that they want to buy from brands and retailers that align with their values, whether its sustainability, support for social causes, or just the love of the outdoors and snow sports,” says Laura Hills, Director of Client Development at market research firm The NPD Group.

Consumer spending data from The NPD Group has shown that during the pandemic, people are willing to spend on gear and clothing because they highly value outside activity, health, wellness, and time spent with their family outdoors.

“Brands and retailers really do themselves a disservice if they’re not communicating both actively and authentically with their audiences about their brand purpose, and what their brand stands for, so that consumers can align with them,” says Hills.

Small businesses shouldn’t overlook tools they may already have to amplify their voice. “What assets do you have at hand that you can leverage more heavily?” Hills asks. “Is it a newsletter, is it a blog, is it social media, do you have a social media manager? Don’t be shy about what you’re doing!”


Your Sustainability is a Journey

If you’re taking steps to make your operations more sustainable, don’t think in terms of some magical—and elusive—end state. It’s a never-ending journey. As you progress, tell your story.

Those who have gone before you or are on the path with you are often happy to share information and resources, and to help lift one another up. “Reaching out to learn from others and leaning on others is incredibly important,” says Jenn Swain, Global Senior Sustainability Manager at Burton, the snow sports retailer and a certified B Corporation. “If you try to go it alone as a small business, it’s going to be an uphill battle that’s unnecessary.”

One path many sustainable businesses take is to become certified B Corporations. These companies balance profit and purpose, and meet certain social and environmental, public transparency, and legal accountability standards.

Sustainability is More than Climate Action

Addressing climate change is a major part of working toward a more sustainable world, no doubt. But if you think of sustainable business practices as climate-related actions only, you’re missing 16 other sustainable opportunities. The UN’s 17 Sustainable Development Goals are a global call to action to improve environmental and social conditions by 2030. They include international targets for reducing poverty and hunger, making gains in health and education, improving gender equality, and more.

“Business owners can attach themselves to different aspects of sustainability,” says Ben Stuart, Head of Marketing, Growth, and Transformation at Bank of the West. “We’re not going to have a sustainable recovery if we have widespread poverty. We’re not going to have a sustainable recovery if we don’t have diversity, equity, and inclusion.”

These are not sort of extra niceties, these are really part of what businesses need to be doing to contribute to a healthy future and to create a future where any business can thrive.

—Kate Williams

1% for the Planet is made up of member businesses that pledge 1 percent of sales to environmental and other nonprofits. CEO Kate Williams has actually seen membership grow during the pandemic. It’s a reminder, Williams says, of the importance of networks. Even during difficult times, businesses can make change through like-minded communities that offer support and collaboration.

Reach Out. We’re All in this Together

Think partnerships. This is a time to play to your strengths and collaborate with others with complementary strengths. Having shared values around sustainability opens opportunities to partner with others in ways that can grow your business.

“The marketplace is all about partnerships and all about looking at things a little bit differently,” says Stuart.

Looking at things a little bit differently can mean, for example, bringing multiple entities together to deliver a compelling new product or service. In a multi-faceted partnership this year, Bank of the West teamed up with 1% for the Planet and carbon-tracking startup Doconomy to launch a unique checking account: the 1% for the Planet account.

“It was only through the unique mix of those partners that we created something beneficial and worthwhile,” Stuart says.

Lessons from a Leader: Burton Snowboards

In addition to pioneering a new winter sport, Burton is known for inspiring near-fanatical customer loyalty.

“Half of our customers say that the environment is something they think about regularly,” says Global Senior Sustainability Manager Jenn Swain. “What we’ve seen over the last 15-20 years is a shift to looking at a whole company, a real comprehensive evaluation of a brand, and that is what is breeding that loyalty.”

The company is known for balancing profit and purpose. And being a certified B Corporation is a key piece of its story.

“One thing we’ve found incredibly helpful has been joining the B Corp community,” says Swain. She recommends going through the B Impact Assessment to uncover areas where a business can take immediate action to have a positive impact on workers, community, customers, and the environment.

Author image

Nathan Beers Writer, Bank of the West

Nathan joined Bank of the West in 2018 as a writer for technology, finance, and green businesses. On weekends he’s often out with his family exploring the California coastline.

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