Just as sustainability was becoming the defining trend of the outdoor industry, the pandemic showed up and canceled its most important forums. We decided to help keep the fire alive.

What would become of the sustainability agenda without the networking and inspiration of the outdoor industry’s cornerstone events, which have lead to so many great collaborations? Here at Suston, we didn’t want to wait to find out. So, together with EOG and the support of the event sponsors, Suston set out to gather the sustainability-minded actors from brands, retailers, suppliers and NGOs in a two-day event of presentations, panel discussions and brainstorming. Find out what we learned below – and be sure to follow the links to the event’s video recordings!

Day 1: From Active to Activism

After years of steady growth, the Summer season of 2020 was a time when thousands of outdoor novices discovered the benefits of spending time in nature. Some natural parks reported up to 30% rise in human activity. The spark, fueled by restrictions imposed to limit the spread of the Covid-19 virus, shows promise as well as threat and raises some important questions for the outdoor community: How can we support the novices, and help even more people get involved? And how can we encourage the outdoor community towards a conscious movement for better environmental stewardship?

Following an energetic morning workout with personal trainer Antowan Jones, Margo de Lange kicked the day off on behalf of It’s Great Out There Coalition with a presentation pointing towards the role of the outdoors to activate the population titled: “From Participation to Co-Creation of Outdoor Experiences.” She highlighted that being physically active is not a luxury but a necessity for society. The outdoor sector has a huge responsibility to help a large group of outdoor novices to find their ways in the outdoors, as well as a prime opportunity to inspire a significant proportion of society to behave responsibly in nature and give environmental protection a more central place in their life.

Communities working together

Professor Des Thompson subsequently continued to explore the importance of “Working with Outdoor Communities to Sustain Nature.” He highlighted that it is not about whether activity in nature takes place or not but rather how it is managed to support the natural ecosystem. He highlighted various examples of well-managed activity that contributed to biodiversity and public awareness of environmental challenges simultaneously. In many ways, it is a win-win for nature, for society and for outdoor businesses to engage the community.

The program then went on to ask “How retailers and brands can motivate communities” to be more active and to be more environmentally aware. Rob & James Turnbull, owner of the the Outside shop in Hathersage, United Kingdom highlighted key initiatives they have rolled out throughout the years to engage the wider community. Those initiatives have helped to build a strong community feel around the shop involving staff, customers as well as the wider local community.

Panel: Customers become activists

Hervé Dupied then presented how Patagonia Action Works wants to bring out the best in all of us towards better environmental stewardship by putting the customers directly in contact with conservation and restoration projects all over the world.

Rhiane Fatinikun, Black Girls Hike

Beyond the retail and brand perspective, an interactive panel discussion followed between various small not-for-profit initiatives, providing “An Activist Perspective.” The panel discussion included Hetty Key from Women in Adventure, Rhiane Fatinikun from Black Girls Hike and David Malacrida on behalf of Riders for Refugees and was moderated by Pamela Ravasio. The panel speakers highlighted how their target groups often do not feel fully included and what steps can be taken to improve inclusiveness of the community together.

The day ended with an engaging and interactive brainstorming session with event participants, asking “How we can encourage the outdoor community towards a conscious movement for better environmental stewardship?”

Day 2: When Less is More

Can less really be more? More than a cliché, that is. This question would be attacked from multiple angles throughout the second day of the event, carrying the audience through the relevant economic theories, market data, case studies and first-hand accounts. The conclusions reached by the presenters was that with strategic implementation, less can indeed be more – making not just environmental sense, but business sense as well.

Following a sunny yoga session by the water with Christa Maynard, Scott Nelson from EOG shared an optimistic presentation, “Getting More For Less.” Backed by cold, hard facts and formulas, Scott demonstrated how classical economic growth theories could be “hacked” to enable profitable business yet with low-production outputs.

But as compelling as Scott’s arguments were in theory, the question of whether or not circular business models can be implemented in reality required an answer.

Has the time for circularity come?

Gwen Cunningham, Circle Economy

This was where Gwen Cunningham and Helene Smiths from Circle Economy came in, with their presentation “From Talk to Action.” Providing the latest market research, projections and several contemporary examples of successful rental and resale circular models, they made the case that it’s not only time for circularity, it’s already happening.

To further prove the point, the founders of two successful companies took the digital podium in “Subscription and Rental Economies in Practice.”

Swapfiets is a micro-mobility start-up that offers bicycle subscriptions in over fifty European cities in seven countries. For its founder Richard Burger, viewing bicycles as a service has meant providing its subscribers with practical, affordable and always tuned-up products. But for this to succeed, only a circular model would work. To date, Swapfiets claims to currently have bicycles that have achieved 88% circularity compared to 36% of comparable linear models.

Outdoor Buddies is a Swedish outdoor equipment rental company that looked beyond skis and boot rentals to ask whether there weren’t other similar items people only need occasionally. And wouldn’t a rental model, which reduces the number of products needed per user, have a far smaller overall impact? Since its beginnings in 2016, co-founder Magnus Sellberg has enjoyed watching the demand for its assortment of performance apparel, camping equipment and other gear grow, proving his sceptics wrong, year after year.

Panel: Extending the product lifecycle

With alternative business models firmly addressed, the question of how to implement a “less is more” approach to the products and services these businesses sell was raised in the panel discussion “Extending the Product Lifecycle” with the esteemed panelists Martine Postma (Repair Café), Hilke Patzwall (Vaude) and Fabian Nendza (Frilufts AB/Globetrotter).

The discussion wove in and out of the impact reductions of taking a cradle-to-cradle approach, one that prolongs the use stage through reuse and repair, and recycles it at end-of-life back into the supply chain.

At last, the event wrapped up with another interactive brainstorming session with event participants, asking “What are the barriers to circularity, and how can we overcome them?”

Industry Response

“I believe that the event presenters did a great job illuminating our theme When Less is More from different perspectives, from research and theory to successful and specific business models and projects,” shares event co-host and Suston editor-in-chief Gabriel Arthur.

Event co-host Katy Stevens from EOG is also pleased with how the themes of the two days provided complimentary approaches to action and advocacy that the industry can take for the environment and society:

“In particular, we found the brainstorming sessions to be a fresh and informative approach and provided a number of points that need to be actioned for a better industry,” shares Katy Stevens.

Johanne Berthou from Picture Organic, an event sponsor, shared her reflections on the event:

“We really liked the exchange sessions between facilitators and participants, when we could all note ideas for improvements etc. on certain topics. It’s a very good idea to get everyone involved live and to exchange on each point mentioned.”

When asked whether there’s a continued need for such digital get-togethers in the outdoor sustainability community, Johanne Berthou replied:

“Keeping in touch with other brands and important players on the market and keeping an eye on the evolution and innovations of other brands is very important. These online events are therefore necessary for everyone. Especially in the sustainability sector, because things have to move forward and such exchanges are very important.”

With the event wrapped up, Gabriel Arthur is already looking forward to following up with future digital webinars. But for now, he feels the event hit its mark:

“All in all, these two days were important steps towards our event’s mission: To Sustain the Momentum.”

Jonathan Eidse
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