With three of its subsidiaries topping the lists of the latest Sustainable Brand Index, Fenix Outdoor’s sustainability reputation has been steadily on the rise. 2020 has thrown a curve ball, however, so Suston reached out to hear how the pandemic has affected Fenix’ sustainability programs.

Fenix Outdoor International AG is the parent company to ten outdoor companies, their family containing such familiar brands as Tierra, Primus and Fjällräven, as well as European retailers Naturkompaniet and Partioaitta – the latter three having been identified as leaders by the Sustainable Brand Index in their respective countries in April 2020. This is just the latest recognition of what has otherwise been a sustained sustainability effort:

“We started our sustainability journey in 2012,” explains Aiko Bode, Chief Sustainability Officer at Fenix.

“Back then, we created the so called The Fenix Way and it is still today the engine of our sustainability work on individual brand level and group-wide. The focus of our sustainability efforts is to make a positive contribution or as we call it, to leave the basecamp in a better shape than we found it.”

A digital crash-course

As with everybody else, when the coronavirus began to lockdown offices and shutdown supply chains, Fenix to reinvent their operations with no playbook to refer to. Priorities needed to be weighed and rearranged virtually overnight.

“Certain activities, such as assessment tasks and social auditing, were put on hold during the lockdown out of necessity,” explains Aiko, before continuing:

“However, CSR activities were able to continue quite well, as we were already used to working remotely and in a global virtual team set-up. Surprisingly, some digital activities were actually accelerated as a result of the pandemic, such as the roll-out of our CSR block-chain technology project and the expansion of “A Greener Choice” program in our retail business.”

One of the highlights among many Fenix brand staff and its partners is the biannual sales conference known as the Fenix Kick-Off. Alternating between venues in Sweden (Spring) and Germany (Winter), roughly 250 representatives from all Fenix brands and partners from across the globe gather for product and project presentations, networking and fun activities. In short, a four-day deep-dive into products, intensive conversations and meetings between colleagues from around the world.

“But as March 5th approached, it had become apparent this just wasn’t going to happen,” explains event organiser Lars-Ola Brolinson, Deputy Director of Brands at Fenix.

“This was when travel restrictions began, meaning that without travel there could be no traditional kick-off.”

The team quickly decided that they would have to host some sort of online event in order to provide their brands with a platform to present their new products. But at the time, there was little in terms of successful case studies to refer to.

“If you googled online sales meeting at the time, you’d find almost nothing. And what little you did find was terrible. So, we got to work. And while it’s normal for big events to take a lot of work, this was really a lot of work!” Reflects Lars-Ola.

But the work paid off, and seven weeks later a dozen presenters were sending from multiple locations. Fjällräven’s Head of Sustainability, Christiane Dolva hosted one of the events, and recalls her initial response:

“It was strange, we were standing in the same room as we did last year, but with 3 cameras instead of 250 people.”

On the other side of those cameras, however, now sat between 600-900 viewers from across the world.

Is virtual the “New Normal”?

With the event wrapped up and COVID-19 restrictions being slowly lifted, the event team is beginning to evaluate what the new normal might look like as they continue planning for the year. As many are discovering, there are indeed exciting new possibilities and solutions coming out of an otherwise dismal global health and business crisis:

“Previously, we couldn’t invite everybody who wanted to come each year. Now,  more people globally could take part of the presentations, from all areas of their respective organisations. That is a great new opportunity, as well as the fact that all the presentations we had are now available to view on-demand with great recorded quality,” shares Christiane.

“The know-how gained and materials produced during this event also has the advantage of being replicable in future digital sales meetings of Fenix subsidiary brands.” shares Lars-Ola, who also sees other clear advantages of the digital format:

“Previously we would have two to three hundred people flying from all across the world, staying in hotels, eating out etc. The positive impacts on the environment, time not wasted travel as well as the financial savings of a virtual event are huge.”

In short, the event was considered a success for its organizers and participants alike. But even so, distinct barriers became evident along the way that virtual has yet to overcome:

“A 2D screen experience clearly doesn’t match meeting in real life, where you can actually feel a product, try it, see its natural colours – all things that are extremely important at a traditional sales meeting,” explains Lars-Ola.

Once the cameras were turned off, Christiane recalls how she was similarly surprised at just how well the event went:

“Many of us had an ‘aha!’ moment about all those meetings that once had us flying in from several countries. This is also true for internal meetings, which have become much more efficient digitally.”

But Christiane isn’t completely sold on virtual’s ability to fully replace face-to-face:

“We can’t sweep under the carpet that there’s an obvious lack of networking opportunities. The challenge is, of course, that it becomes a much more one-way communication without all the coffee break discussions. I find it’s often in informal conversations with my peers that the best solutions to challenges are found, not during formal presentations.”

“So, I think we’ll see a combination of online and offline in the post-corona future, but I’m confident many types of meetings that were previously commonplace will be replaced by equally efficient, if not more efficient, online meetings.”

Jonathan Eidse
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