A somewhat moody industry, but at the same time some bold steps within footwear and a stronger focus on biodiversity. Suston’s editor-in-chief Gabriel Arthur reports from OutDoor by ISPO in Munich.

I was one of the lucky ones: My train from Berlin to Munich on Sunday, June 2, was only two hours late on arrival. The rains and floods in Bavaria and other southern parts of Germany created logistical chaos, which meant that many visitors to the OutDoor by ISPO trade fair were significantly more delayed than me. Some didn’t arrive at all.

It made me think that one of the first industries to take climate change seriously was the insurance industry, and in particular reinsurance companies. Decades before outdoor companies started asking how a changing climate might affect their business, global reinsurers like Munich Re and Swiss Re were trying to raise awareness of the issues. The industry has long known what hurricanes, landslides, avalanches and floods cost – and will cost. Low-lying ski resorts, for example, are already said to be finding it increasingly difficult to obtain affordable insurance.

Has the broader outdoor industry performed similar analyses and risk assessments on climate change? I certainly haven’t seen them, other than as brief notes in the sustainability reports of the larger companies.

(Photo: TomKieslichMedia)

Spring / Summer 2024: Sales over sustainability?

Perhaps the regional weather disaster contributed to a slightly subdued mood at the fair. But also the fact that several major brands chose not to exhibit this time. Was it a temporary measure to save money, or a permanent change? This question was discussed by many.

In any event, what is clear is that the outdoor industry in Europe is having a tough time, financially. Cost cuts and/or sales are being made at all levels. This in turn was also affecting sustainability efforts, as many people told us “off the record” at the fair.

After the record years during the pandemic, there was a lot of talk about “degrowth” in the industry. Many agreed that the growth at that time was environmentally unsustainable. That we needed to find other ways to create profitable, prosperous businesses, rather than ever-increasing production and consumption based on finite natural resources.

But now, a couple of years later, it is still clear that business models have not changed much. Many CEOs are faced with the currently impossible task of growing their turnover and profits. To do so, they opt for “safe” linear business models instead of less financially risky circular solutions.

(Photo: Thomas Plettenberg)

More partnerships, new steps in footwear

That said, there are of course plenty of sensible and important things that can be changed even in linear businesses. The fact that companies are increasingly collaborating on such initiatives is very positive, whether it’s helping suppliers to “go solar,” or finding more unified ways to communicate about sustainability (RAB’s open source “Material Facts” model is a good example).

Another clear trend is that footwear has started to change on a broader front. Pioneering companies such as AKU, Keen, Ecco and Icebug are increasingly being followed in the industry. The issues around materials here are more complex than in textiles, but there are many lessons to be learned.

One question remaining is whether the hardware pioneers such as Petzl, Deuter and Edelrid will similarly inspire and guide others in their segment?

Biodiversity and social diversity

As before, the Sustainability Hub featured two stages – the main stage and EOG’s smaller stage – and an extensive poster exhibition (in which Suston participated). The EOG program in particular was both knowledge-intensive and inspiring. If I were to point out two themes that were particularly in focus, it was biodiversity and the importance of getting more people out into nature. For example, Textile Exchange is investing a lot in raising the issues of biodiversity loss versus regenerative farming in the textile industry.

The EOG’s organization It’s Great Out There reported that the share of Europeans who want to be active outdoors has increased from 40% in 2018 to 47% today. This is encouraging – but it is one thing to want, and another thing to do. Obesity is increasing, screen time is increasing, and alienation from nature is increasing.

(And on a side note, I must admit that I’m skeptical about one of the most commonly proposed solutions: Sharing inspirational content via social media. Do we really need another inspirational reel to get people to stop getting stuck in front of inspirational reels…?)

Gabriel Arthur showing where to find a copy of Suston at the the Sustainability Hub.

Growth could be good!

I go home from the fair strengthened in the conviction I have had for many years: We need to shift the focus when it comes to Growth and Degrowth.

FIRST, the outdoor industry needs to focus on growing the number of people who actually go out into nature drastically (i.e. not just look at it on their mobile screen). And to protect and expand natural areas – the Great Outdoors. Growth is an excellent maxim when it comes to physical and mental health, diversity, protected nature and biodiversity!

And instead of trying to sell even more stuff to existing converts (which is what many of today’s outdoor companies are mainly concerned with), there must be an economic potential in, for example, doubling the number of outdoor enthusiasts – and reaching a market twice as big?

If this were to succeed, then perhaps it would be a good thing that the outdoor industry also grows in economic terms? And that the “degrowth” rather takes place in industries that currently deplete nature and humans much more and much faster. Industries like oil and gas, salmon farming, fashion, and maybe even social media – Degrowth is really needed here.

 

Lead Image: TomKieslichMedia

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Gabriel Arthur
gabriel.arthur@norragency.com
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