Tougher legislation, complex traceability and deeper CO2-calculations are just a few issues sustainability teams need to tackle – with the global environmental polycrisis as backdrop. How can outdoor companies find their ways, and not get swamped in daily operations? Suston reaches out to industry pioneer Vaude to hear their long-term perspectives.

From a CEO perspective, how can you avoid getting stuck with details or information overload, and keep a strategic long-term approach for the company?

When I took over as CEO in 2009, we already had a systematic approach to both environmental and social aspects of our business. But of course, both Vaude and our industry have developed a lot since then. Anchoring sustainability in the company and in global supply chains is complex, demanding, and full of conflicting objectives. In view of these challenges, it is necessary to understand and establish sustainability as a modern business discipline. This is the prerequisite for professional sustainability management.

We have been working for many years with management systems and frameworks that enable us to judge the strategic relevance of the various topics for our company. For example, we classify the risks of the effects of our actions within the planetary boundaries, analyze them and prioritize our fields of action and measures accordingly.

We also use these systems to collect all relevant figures and data. For example, we use the European environmental management system EMAS to record all consumption and emissions of our company, which are then analyzed and evaluated in detail. This enables us to identify the largest areas of consumption in order to derive strategic fields of action, targets and measures. We also use tools such as risk analyses to evaluate supply chains, production countries and other areas of action.

In addition, we ensure that we always follow the highest, science-based standards and are very well networked with external experts in all relevant fields of action. These systems and tools also enable us to harmonize the various areas of our holistic strategy.

 

How can you steer the sustainability teams in these directions, and help them navigate towards the bigger goals?

We have an interdisciplinary sustainability team with representatives from all departments. They drive forward our major strategic goals across the company. This is therefore based less on top-down announcements, however, and more on a broad anchoring in all areas.

From top down, my colleagues and I spread our vision – better quality of life for all through sustainable outdoor products and future-oriented management – and our mission: To operate within planetary boundaries.

In coordination with our Sustainability Team, we define ambitious, long-term targets at management level, such as our Net Zero target by 2040 in accordance with the Science Based Targets Initiative (SBTi). From these, we derive the corresponding targets for the supply chain, from which, for example, the conversion of materials or dyeing technologies is derived. This means that our focus on the circular economy in all aspects, including the creation of new business models, is a strategic requirement that also arises logically and builds on the work of the Sustainability Team.

From my perspective, it is also important that the specific targets derived are always discussed with the relevant teams. We need to take into account the operational aspects of implementation and the associated conflicts of objectives when making decisions and to achieve a joint commitment.

 

Vaude has a long history of being a forerunner, which often means that there is no roadmap to follow. How do you avoid going off in the wrong directions? And how do you define and prioritize what directions to explore?

The decisive factor here is that we use our management systems to measure everything we do comprehensively and in detail, according to the motto: Measure it or forget it. As a result, we have precise knowledge of the actual impact of our business activities at all levels. We compare these results, which are meaningful in themselves, with scientific frameworks such as the SDGs or the planetary boundaries in order to obtain prioritizing statements. This clearly shows us what is particularly urgent, and what can be postponed.

 

Complexity can slow down the pace. At the same time, climate change and many other risk factors are growing exponentially. If you could make some visionary wishes for the outdoor industry – what should be the bold, big leaps to focus on? And how?

We should work together to promote the circular economy because it will enable us to tackle several important challenges at the same time. The textile industry causes more emissions worldwide than global aviation and shipping, and accounts for at least 5% of global freshwater consumption. At the same time, resources are scarce – World Overshoot Day is approaching earlier and earlier. We need to move away from the current practice of manufacturing products purely for consumption.

At Vaude, we have been committed for many years to industry-wide textile recycling and to creating the necessary infrastructure from collecting to sorting and recycling. With our new Rethink products, which consist of at least 95 percent recycled mono-material, we demonstrate that recyclable products are possible. At the same time, we push the development of recyclable services and business models, such as the expansion of our repair workshop, our upcycling factory for residual materials from production or Vaude Rent, our rental service for outdoor equipment, and innovative second-hand concepts.

The circular economy offers great opportunities for resource and emission-saving textile production. I hope that in the near future, we will create the necessary standards and infrastructure in our industry to provide a real basis for the textile circular economy.

Vaude Headquarters

 

Images: Vaude

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Gabriel Arthur
gabriel.arthur@norragency.com
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