By Eugene Buchanan

On day two of Outdoor Retailer’s (OR) Online trade show, climate change took center stage at the virtual OIA Industry Lunch: Thriving Planet Emission Reductions or Policy Revisions: Which Is The Outdoor Industry’s Best Opportunity For Climate Impact?

Hosted by Amy Horton, OIA’s senior director of sustainable business innovation, the seminar unpacked the complexities of the climate action versus advocacy debate offering practical opportunities for those in the outdoor industry to get engaged in both.

After touting the importance and growth of OIA’s 85-member Climate Action Corp., formed in January, Horton, who has worked on sustainability projects for such companies as Nike, Walmart and the U.S. dairy industry, posed the question, is it better to work on greenhouse emission reductions or climate advocacy via policy revisions?

Climate change was the biggest crisis facing humankind before the coronavirus and it will be even bigger afterward, she said. But the window to halt and reverse rising global temperatures is shrinking. So is it more important for individuals and businesses to reduce and offset greenhouse gas emissions, or to advocate for meaningful progress on climate policy? Where should those in the industry concentrate their collective impact?

After Horton’s introduction, she introduced two experts to shed light on the matter.  First up, Danielle Cresswell, senior sustainability manager for Klean Kanteen, who spoke on the importance of measuring, offsetting and reducing greenhouse emissions. “It’s big work, and we need to do it quickly,” said Cresswell, adding that studies show emissions need to be reduced 50 percent by 2030.

She also cited the importance of working together. “Most companies in the outdoor industry have relatively small carbon footprints and modest leverage for making a change in their supply chain,” she said. “So why bother?” The answer, she said, comes down to users. “More than 50 million people in the U.S. recreate outdoors. Climate impacts will jeopardize their ability to do so.”

Cresswell ended quoting Paul Hawken — “There is no such thing as a small solution” — and the need to come together. “Our individual contributions grow significantly when taken cumulatively across the industry,” she said. She also advocated for companies to start measuring their footprints by gathering data where they can, estimating what they can’t and then quantifying those results in emissions.

Next to take the virtual stage was Natalie Mebane, associate director for U.S. Policy for 350.org. A former dirty fuels lobbyist for the Sierra Club now working to influence the federal government to phase out fossil fuels in favor of clean and renewable energy, Mebane espoused upon the outdoor industry’s role in the climate change movement, what’s at stake and why the outdoor industry should take a lead on climate policy.

“National parks have borders, but climate change doesn’t,” she said, showcasing slides of some of her favorite national parks, from Joshua Tree to Glacier. “And it’s important for the outdoor industry to speak as one voice. People might be competitors as brands, but not when it comes to climate change.” It also helps knowing where to direct your efforts, she added, listing the Senate Committee on Energy & Natural Resources and the Natural Resources Committee as areas where she directs her efforts.

After a lively question and answer session, Horton wrapped by saying both emission reductions and advocacy are needed to move the needle in the right direction — and joining OIA’s Climate Action Corps is a great place to start.

Overall, organizers have deemed the lunches and other webinars a resounding success.

“Attendance has been strong and we’ve received great feedback,” said Show Director and OR Senior Vice President Marisa Nicholson. “More than 700 people tuned in to the OIA Industry Breakfast, over 800 were on for The NPD Group’s session and the OIA lunch sessions are averaging 300 people watching live. And these numbers will only grow with on-demand views. We’re excited more of our community will have the opportunity to join these sessions and connect with each other and continue the conversations throughout the summer.”

View Day 2’s OIA Climate Change Webinar here, View OR’s education seminars here.

Illustrations courtesy New York Times