Outdoor Retailer Winter 2020: Sustainability & Climate Action in Motion

Peter Maksimow is an ATRA Event Specialist and lives in Manitou Springs, Colorado. He is also an elite trail runner, plogger and member of the silver medal winning US team at the 2015 World Long Distance Mountain Running Championships. Photos by Peter Maksimow.

The Outdoor Retailer show (OR) held biannually in Denver, CO—supported and sponsored by the Outdoor Industry Association (OIA)—is the premier gathering of all things outdoors, not only in the United States but also internationally, as displayed by the numerous vendors and attendees from across the globe. With each new show comes the newest, greatest and most cutting-edge products and companies to “wow” and “ahh” retailers and outdoor enthusiasts.

It would be easy for me to highlight those advanced, carbon-plated running shoes or cutting-edge materials that are all the rage right now, but instead I went into OR with the intention of seeking out a couple of great stories to showcase what the outdoor industry is investing in for what is arguably the most critical topic in 2020: climate action and sustainability initiatives. I thought I might find a few forward-thinking companies or organizations to highlight and talk about, but what I discovered was beyond my expectations, a great majority of the companies I visited had already been taking action. I was pleased to have witnessed many companies with sustainable products and practices and even discovered many more by along the way.

sus·​tain·​able (sə-ˈstā-nə-bəl) verb: of, relating to, or being a method of harvesting or using a resource so that the resource is not depleted or permanently damaged.

It is without a doubt that the most influential company at OR, especially when it comes to the environmental issues, has been adventure clothing and gear company, Patagonia. They were, after all, the catalyst to get the OR to move out of Utah after the company challenged the state government’s decision over persevering public lands. Utah’s state government did not consider preserving the Bears Ears National Monument and Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument, both rich natural and cultural sites, a priority. By announcing that Patagonia would pull out of the OR if it were to again be held in Utah, prompting other well-known industry brands to follow suit, the OIA sought out more conservation-friendly states. Colorado was a perfect fit as it values the outdoor industry and actively invests in public lands conservation. Thus, the move to Denver in 2018 was made.

re·​pur·​pose (rē-ˈpər-pəs) verb: to give a new purpose or use to.

Repurposing is an idea that seemingly goes against what most companies would promote, because on the face value it goes against their financial bottom line. Patagonia, however, highly encourages customers to repair, reuse and/or repurpose their old clothes and gear rather than discarding them and upgrading to new. I was very pleased to see this idea since I tend to hang on to all of my old clothing and add patches or stitches to keep them alive. The Worn Wear program is the result of that ideology. Patagonia clothing and gear owners can bring in their items to pop-up stores to get repaired or purchased back by the company to be re-crafted and resold. Along with pop-up locations, a Worn Wear Mobile Repair Station, basically a really cool wood shingled hut on wheels, travels the country fixing, patching and up-cycling people’s favorite puffy or fleece. It may lead to a loss in sales revenue for Patagonia, but the company is steadfast in putting their sustainability values into action.

re·​use (rē-ˈyüz) verb: to use again especially in a different way or after reclaiming or reprocessing.

The Patagonia Worn Wear Mobile Repair Station was open for business at OR: puffy jackets and pants were patched by repair techs while packs and bags were stitched back together to live on for many more outdoor adventures. Stats and accomplishments graced the windows and walls of the Well Worn trailer: “Keeping clothes in play 9 extra months reduces 20%-30% of carbon, water and waste footprint” and “Since 2009, we’ve repaired 379,349 garments”. Patagonia garment owners can attend tour events in the US, Europe and Japan or mail in old and damaged Patagonia clothing to have it repaired, reused or up-cycled. The next time you feel like that jacket is done, rather than throwing it away just slap a Rocky Mountain National Park patch on it or send it into Patagonia to be made into another garment. The earth will thank you!

up·​cy·​cle (ˈəp-ˌsī-kəl) verb: to recycle something in such a way that the resulting product is of a higher value than the original item.

The brand colloquially know to trail runners as any nutrition gels, “GU” (officially known as GU Energy Labs), has become the champion of recycling and up-cycling its nutrition wrappers and turning them into valuable materials, such as that bench you sit on in your local park. The GU booth was adorned with a set of impressive outstretched wings created with wrappers. Senior Brand Experience Manager, Celia Santi, is passionate about the recycling program, encouraging individuals, retailers and race directors to get involved. GU has had a long-time partnership with the #RecycleEverything company, TerraCycle, a social enterprise on a mission to eliminate the idea of waste. Anyone can collect used nutrition packaging and wrappers (not just GU, but all nutrition brands), print out a free shipping label and send them in to TerraCycle be upcycled into materials for playgrounds, bike racks and park benches. You too can help keep your wrappers out of landfills by participating and exclaiming #NotTodayLandfill.

re·​duce (ri-ˈdüs) verb: to diminish in size, amount, extent or number.

I stopped by American Trail Running Association (ATRA) member, and outdoor division of adidas, adidas Terrex’s booth to say hi and was wowed by the extent of their commitment to sustainability. Being a long-time leader in the sports industry, adidas has been making enormous strides in sustainability, unfortunately their efforts have gone largely unnoticed and without much fanfare. Being environmentally conscious is nothing new to this company, they have been making sustainable changes and setting high standards since 1989 when they banned the use of chlorofluorocarbons (CFC) in their production, knowing that the chemicals were among the most severe ozone-depleting substances. Not only have they committed to become sustainable in their production methods, but also committed to phasing out virgin plastic from their products, stores and offices.

Adidas Terrex trail running shoe with Parlay logo.

In the production process adidas has drastically reduced water consumption, energy usage along with minimizing chemical usage by implementing the DryDye fabric. The process of dying without the use of water and chemicals. They are also pushing their commitment to sustainability even further by essentially eliminating any water, chemicals and dyes, with the launch of  ZeroDye, where the naturally white canvas of the shoes allow you to be the artist and paint them (read: get them dirty) with each footfall on the trails.

Perhaps the most amazing type of upcycling I saw at OR was adidas collaboration with Parley for the Oceans, an global network of creators, thinkers and leaders from brands, governments and environmental groups which collects plastic debris “intercepted” from coastlines and coastal areas before they  enter the world’s oceans. The discarded plastics are made into fibers and materials used in adidas clothing and shoes. A brilliant white jacket with a quilted design called Anorak—resembling something Marty Mcfly would have worn while he was in the future in the movie Back to the Future— was hanging on the wall of the adidas Terrex booth and constructed entirely of a single Parley material throughout. I sure hope this is the future of our material because I really loathe plogging all those plastic bottles when I am out on my local trails, wondering if they are actually being recycled when I deposit them in a recycle bin.

At one point during the show, I was lured in by free beer from Sierra Nevada and Sufferfest Beer if I pledged to clean my local trail with the Take Back Our Trails campaign. I made the pledge and I would encourage you to do the same. Maybe ATRA should collaborate with Sufferfest Beer by hosting a trail cleanup or maintenance day followed by some free beer! What do you say, Sufferfest!?

I could go on and on about organizations taking sustainability and climate action seriously at OR, like Protect Our Winters (POW) which engages the trail running community through well-known trail running ambassadors like Clare Gallagher, Anton Krupicka, Stephanie Violett, Dakota Jones, among other accomplished athletes, or how the OR show eliminated disposable cups from it’s expo water stations requiring participants to reuse their own H2O vessels and even that most happy hour gatherings at the show replaced disposable plastic cups with reusable metal pint glasses.

Announcing its theme for 2020, the US Trail Running Conference, will focus on climate action and sustainability, as the trails, mountains and public lands we run on and in are being directly affected by the impending climate crisis. Likewise, we are consuming running products at an accelerating rate, therefore making it critical to demand sustainable materials and environmentally-friendly practices with our purchases. Even though this was a winter show (hey, we are out on the trails year-round, aren’t we?) it did not delineate from the products trails runners use, from shoes with maximal tread, traction devices, headwear and warm clothing for the frigid winter temperatures. In the larger picture, it is encouraging to see the outdoor industry, as a whole, come together to work toward a sustainable outcome for places we enjoy where we play.

“The best jacket for our planet is one that already exists.” -Yvon Chouinard, founder of Patagonia.

ACTION ITEM: Encourage your local race directors to recycle nutrition wrappers through GU’s TerraCycle program.

But wait there’s more! Parley AIR strategy: AVOID plastic whenever possible, INTERCEPT plastic waste, REDESIGN the material itself.