The European Outdoor Summit titled “The New Era – Business and Beyond” just concluded last week in Berlin. A diverse range of outdoor topics were discussed, but it was outdoor diversity itself that really got the discussion going.
The European Outdoor Summit is an annual event hosted by the European Outdoor Group (EOG), which seeks to gather some of the outdoor industry’s largest business and thought leaders together to brainstorm and collaborate on some of the toughest, pre-competitive challenges facing the outdoor sector.
For the first time, the summit was moderated by representatives from two of the European outdoor inclusivity & participation scene’s heavyweights:
Keme Nzerem represented Opening Up the Outdoors (OUTO), an organization that strives to increase a sense of belonging for everyone – regardless of ethnicity, religion, gender, sexual identity or ability – in the outdoors and to promote a more diverse, equitable, anti-racist, and accessible outdoor community.
Joining Keme Nzerem on stage was Margo de Lange, representing the It’s Great Out There Coalition (IGOT). IGOT is a not-for-profit that advocates for widespread outdoor recreation, active lifestyles, well-being, and environmental stewardship through diverse initiatives across Europe.
Fuelling diversity in the Outdoors
The first inclusion-themed panel, titled “Opening Up the Outdoors: Fuelling diversity in the Outdoors today,” welcomed Anthony Owoseken from Empoca on stage.
Empoca is a unique organization that links Black youth with nature in Europe. Since 2018, it has used outdoor camps to inspire Black kids and teens, fostering environmental awareness, health, and self-discovery.
Following the panel, an interesting discussion ensued with the audience during Q&A that wrestled with the question: ‘Should we separate activities based on a person’s skin color?’ Arguments against seemed to lean in on this being contrary to the goal of an integrated, multicultural society, where people of all colors and creeds can join together in any and all activities.
Arguments for, meanwhile, took the stance that this notion of integration and access – however noble in theory – has had plenty of time to demonstrate that it simply does not work in practice. Moreover, this approach ignores real and significant barriers to access and has led to the systemic exclusion of People of Color from many outdoor spaces.
At one point, an interesting parallel was presented. Here, it was argued that just as women-only swimming groups are an accepted way of creating a safe space to discover the joy of swimming, so too can exclusive activities for People of Color help foster their joy for the outdoors.
Can “Minimalism” promote greater inclusion?
The next inclusion-themed panel was titled “Minimalism: Towards more sustainable and more inclusive outdoor experiences.” Suston Magazine’s editor Jonathan Fraenkel-Eidse moderated the discussion and was joined by textiles engineer Bowie Miles and the president of IGOT, Andy Schimeck.
The essence of the conversation was that the outdoor industry’s constant pursuit of performance and the extreme is having the unintended consequence of excluding vast groups of would-be outdoor enthusiasts. Over-engineered products, for example, raise the prices to levels that are unaffordable by lower-income groups. Similarly, by consistently marketing the extreme outdoor experiences of the few and privileged, the industry inadvertently excludes and sidelines the “everyday outdoor experiences” of the many. You can read more in Bowie Mile’s op-ed on the subject here.
With the discussion concluded and the microphone handed over to the audience, it became clear by the barrage of questions and comments that this subject had hit a nerve. Some audience members didn’t see a problem, as everybody is welcome in the outdoors. Others still were provoked by this assertion, noting that it revealed a persistent blind-spot of an industry still primarily led by wealthy white men.
Time unfortunately ran out too soon for both panel discussions to properly hash out these perspectives – but participants from the European Outdoor Summit undoubtedly left this year’s event with something to chew on.
About European Outdoor Summit
This annual summit convenes approximately 300 senior executives and decision-makers from the outdoor industry in Europe and beyond. The event features inspiring speakers, timely topics, and educational seminars, fostering networking and interaction with outdoor industry thought leaders.
This year marked the 9th summit, and was hosted in Berlin, Germany for two days of education, networking, and shaping the European outdoor industry’s future.
Lead Photo: European Outdoor Group / Pete Webb