Longevity, care, repair, and recycling. Each year we return to the same subjects, but are we getting any closer to closing the loop? Suston reaches out to experts to find out the current state of circularity in the outdoor industry. First: Jane Turnbull from European Outdoor Group.

We’ve seen more and more brands, retailers and suppliers coming up with new circular initiatives. What approach to cir­cularity does the European Outdoor Group (EOG) take?

EOG has been working on circularity for years, following and supporting different efforts. In our capacity as a member organization, we also act to help bring these various threads together to better locate the shared pain points and synergies, and then build upon common interests.

An important part of this work is collecting data and understanding where the sector is, and we have just concluded a Circularity Survey to establish the current level of circularity activities of our members. More information to come! Yet while things are picking up speed, I think we can safely say that as an industry there is more we could be doing to progress our journey towards circularity.

 

You’ve had a unique and privileged insight into many of the industry’s circularity initiatives. So, while we await the survey’s results, what do you think Outdoor is doing particularly well?

A crucial part of circularity is extending a product’s useful life, and designing for longevity and repair has been at the core of the outdoor business model from the start. One could argue that producing garments and gear that are both physically durable and functional is at the heart of the industry’s being.

Another concept that the industry has begun to understand better and added firmly to the discussion of longevity is “emotional durability.” Here again, outdoor products come out particularly strong: As they join us on our most memorable journeys, they quickly check the box of emotional durability as well.

So, I’d say in general, designing for and enabling longevity is where Outdoor excels in circularity. Reputations are built on precisely this, and you simply wouldn’t make it long in this business if your gear failed in the mountains when people are depending on it.

 

Production and end-of-life impacts have dominated circularity conversations for some time, but the use stage is also an important leg of the circular journey. How is the outdoor community doing here?

Even before the concept of sustainability and circularity went mainstream, product care and repair have been fairly commonplace in the outdoor community. Sharing the importance of and teaching how to reimpregnate hiking boots and jackets, for example, can have a defining impact of a consumer’s experience. And the same goes to be able to send a busted zipper or backpack hip buckle to the brand for repair, which keeps products out of the landfill and can enhance the customer’s experience.

But there are still knowledge gaps within the industry and outdoor community members regarding garment care. Many outdoor enthusiasts appreciate support and assistance when it comes to how to care for their equipment, and may discard them prematurely as a result of not being able to access support. So, I’d say that here, there are plenty of opportunities for educating the user.

And while some brands have been offering masterful repairs since their early beginnings, others are just getting started – and discovering there are many things to consider in order to offer a good service! The learning curve is steep and whilst achieving direct profitability can be elusive, brands are finding that if done right the rewards in terms of product design feedback, implementing circularity and gaining customer loyalty are well worth it.

 

Where would you say the greatest challenge lies in closing the loop?

I’d say that connecting the dots and scaling solutions remain the greatest challenges that we currently face. But through precompetitive collaborations, such as the Accelerating Circularity project, I also think that these connections are beginning to be made.

Many solutions are out there but ensuring that we don’t work in silos will really help us progress. Perhaps in no other part of the circularity model is this more apparent than in recycling. Since I first began at EOG, I’ve participated in enough projects to see that many aspects of textile-to-textile recycling now have feasible solutions. But attempts to scale up individual projects have made it clear that all pieces of the puzzle must fit together in order for this to work.

It’s also important to understand that in many cases, these are early days in the circular journey. But what is key is to ensure that we don’t try and take a linear model and bend it into a circle. To­day, growth remains the guiding light. This is not so surprising, as many of the technologies and systems needed for circularity remain in their infancy and represent risks and change for companies in an era already beset with uncertainty. But the environmental challenges we face require that we need to move faster just the same.

If we put recycling as the last resort, the outdoor sector is really well placed to keep product in use for as long as possible and we know from our members and their CSR teams, that there is a real desire for better circular solutions. So, it is here where I find the most hope!

 

Photo: iStock

Jonathan Eidse
jonathan.eidse@norragency.com
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