Sustainability at ISPO Munich 2023

Suston editor-in-chief Gabriel Arthur shares his “mixed emotions” on the sustainability scene at ISPO Munich 2023.

Gabriel Arthur moderates panel discussion.

There’s no doubt about it – there’s a great energy when lots of committed people come together. The Sustainability Hub at ISPO Munich is such an environment – this year with two stages instead of one. “The green stage” was for larger presentations and discussions, while the European Outdoor Group’s smaller stage was for specialists in different areas. I listened to several interesting talks and also had the privilege to learn more from the experts during our two “Suston Panels,” which I moderated.

As usual, the “hub” also hosted the poster exhibition organized by Greenroom Voice, with around forty exhibitors (including Suston Magazine). Above all, I am interested in various “solution providers” who can support brands in their transition, whether it is about making fiber from European wool that would otherwise be discarded, or systems with QR codes for Digital Product Passports. Several meetings and workshops were also taking place in the conference rooms upstairs.


Some things never change?

Suston’s poster in Sustainability Hub.

Both from a journalistic perspective and on a personal level, I found the conversations during the three days of the fair valuable. New story ideas, new thoughts, new meetings. Guilio Piccin, sustainability manager at the Italian footwear company Aku, spoke about their life cycle assessment (LCA), which they want to offer to other companies as a kind of open-source solution. The French brand Lagoped has launched a new eco-label that – it seems – meets future EU requirements. The Swedish shoe company Icebug won the Scandinavian Outdoor Award – where my fellow Suston team member Victoria Reim was on the jury – in the “Sustainability” category for their use of FSC-certified natural rubber.

As Debbie Read, Head of Corporate Communications and CSR at Equip Outdoor summarized it:

“As always, I was enthused by the level of collaboration that like-minded brands and retailers have towards developing solutions to minimize impact and jointly look at solutions – this ranged from data sharing projects like the EOG’s SDEX project to many examples of innovation around circularity and reuse.”

Things are happening, both at the company level and across the industry.

But at the same time, there is something that bothers me when I walk around the large halls. Because even though hundreds of positive steps are being taken towards greater sustainability, the foundation is still the same as when I first visited ISPO in 2005. It’s about developing, producing, and selling a hell of a lot of clothes, shoes, and gadgets.

These are the clothes I and many others really enjoy wearing when we go into the forest or up into the mountains. Boots that give us traction on the trails. Skis that take us down snowy mountainsides.

But are these quantities really necessary?


What if systemic change is possible?

“Collaborations” roundtable discussion.

Within the sustainability bubble, we talk about Degrowth and circular business solutions. Outside the bubble, growth and linear business solutions are still the order of the day. Should we settle for improving things at the margin? Reduce CO2 emissions and water consumption by a few percent here and there?

I’m talking to Benjamin Marias, founder of the French consulting cooperative Air Coop, and now Deputy Mayor of Annecy. This is the first time he has visited the fair in several years. I find that he and I share more than a few sentiments:

“Clearly a lot has happened since I was here last, three years ago. The topic of sustainability has definitely grown. But on the other hand, I still see a lot of ‘business as usual.’ Mixed emotions!”

I return home with the difficult question: Maybe it’s just a matter of making the best of the situation? The long, hard road. Or does the outdoor industry rather need some companies to break away and go their own way at a much faster and more radical pace? What would happen if twenty or thirty pioneers got together and said “Let’s go! We’re going on an expedition together. A real adventure, with big risks, hard work and, at best, a big reward down the road.”

After all, wasn’t it exactly this kind of courage that many of the outdoor industry’s brands were born out of once upon a time?


Photos: Messe München (lead photo), Gabriel Arthur (inset photos)

Gabriel Arthur

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