Breaking Trail: Adam Mott, The North FaceApril 11, 2013
Sustainability is becoming impossible to ignore in the outdoor industry. In this series, we look to our industry leaders for guidance, inspiration, and best practices in sustainable business in the outdoor-product space. Breaking Trail is an Outdoor Retailer Series that is powered by Walden Hyde. Here, Walden Hyde speaks with Adam Mott, Senior Manager of Corporate Sustainability at The North Face, about The North Face’s priorities and the power of collaboration.
What does sustainability mean to you? To your company?
From a company perspective, sustainability is a license to operate. It is about ensuring your viability to continue to do business by recognizing your impact and implementing responsible business practices that promote the long term health of the planet and its inhabitants. It is about considering environmental and social responsibility in your everyday decision-making.
Environmental responsibility is a personal passion for me, so I feel so fortunate to work for a company that is on this path. Sustainability is rooted in our values at The North Face. We inherently want to protect the places we love to explore. And given our size and influence in the industry, we have a responsibility to act as a leader.
What are you doing that is exceptionally important?
Our biggest impact is in manufacturing. We took a step back and asked ourselves how we can make technical products without doing harm to the environment. We focused in on the factory level, working with bluesign® to help our vendors make changes in their facilities to address energy, chemical and water use as well as onsite health and safety.
We also use our size to bring more sustainable practices to our supply chain to hopefully have a positive influence on the whole industry. The industry will benefit from better practices at factories, and The North Face can be the tipping point to push factories to make those changes.
The North Face also works with other outdoor organizations such as Outdoor Industry Association (OIA) to establish best practices, such as the Higg Index. People from other industries have been impressed at how much collaboration there is in the outdoor industry.
How will the Higg Index fit with The North Face’s current measurement system?
Since we were part of the development and beta testing of the original Eco Index (before it was incorporated into the Higg Index), what we’ve been measuring internally has helped inform the development of the Higg Index. We’ve seen this tool evolve and there is a real opportunity for the Higg Index to guide companies in the development of products in the future. We are currently testing the implementation of the Higg Index and contributing to its development, while continuing to use our internal evaluation system which is a more basic evaluation tool. When the Higg Index is scalable, we will decide how we can integrate it into our product development process.
What are other areas of focus for The North Face, in terms of sustainability?
Getting people outdoors to explore is really important to us. This exposure to the outdoors creates a virtuous cycle where people learn to care about the places they explore and become invested in protecting the environment.
Partnerships and support of groups we trust are essential to moving ideas into action. We are proud of the relationships we have built through our Explore York Parks and Explore Fund programs and the significant investments we’ve made in organizations such as the Conservation Alliance. We’ve also been collaborating with organizations to talk about climate change to kids and adults. It’s usually such gloom and doom, but we take a different approach with these groups to make the topic more interesting and relevant.
So what’s your approach?
To engage kids, we worked with Protect Our Winters and Alliance for Climate Education to create the Hot Planet Cool Athletes program that we present at schools. The North Face athletes show videos of their exciting outdoor sports and explain why they care about climate change. It engages students who may aspire to be like them. At the end of the presentations, they ask the students to sign up to just do one thing to help the environment and post it to the Alliance for Climate Education site.
The North Face also supports and promotes James Balog’s Extreme Ice Survey which provides a visual image to the threat of climate change. No one can see glacial melting in real time, but if you can show people what’s really happening in a two-minute time lapse video of 3 years of footage, it is much more impactful than charts and graphs. Recently we took this partnership even further by creating the Everest Ice Survey since Mt. Everest is such an iconic premier mountaineering destination that is representative of what we do as a brand.
What’s keeping you from doing more?
We have had significant success in addressing material selection and resource efficiency; however we need to make systematic changes to create true, long term sustainable success. This is challenging and takes time. It requires people to rethink how we make things and redefine success to add environmental considerations to the typical business considerations. It requires a commitment to developing innovative solutions that benefit the environment, customer and business. Environmental and social responsibility need to be more deeply embedded in the design ethos so we can avoid problems before manufacturing; we won’t have to fix mistakes later if we never create their precursors in the first place. We make highly technical gear, so it is complicated and can’t happen overnight. However we are optimistic that we can create innovative solutions by applying the same dedication to environmental and social responsibility that we apply to product performance.
Where do you see this going in the next 5 years?
I think more outdoor companies will adopt the Higg Index and we’ll see it expand to other industries. As this happens, collaboration within and between industries should also expand. Addressing the impacts of products through their entire lifecycle is complicated, and no one is an expert at everything; a collaborative model will allow us to move faster.
In the past, paying a lot of attention to environmental and social responsibility was a progressive concept. Now it is a requirement for operating and doing business. Customer demand, climate change and regulation are already affecting business decisions and their influence will only become more prevalent. Over next few years, resources will diminish and we won’t be able to operate in the same way. Things will happen quickly so companies need to be thinking about radical innovation now. We will do things that were thought to be impossible because we don’t have a choice. Ignoring these issues is not an option.
About The North Face®
The North Face, a division of VF Outdoor, Inc., is the world’s leading outdoor brand. Headquartered in Alameda, California, The North Face creates and distributes athlete-tested, expedition proven products that help people explore the world and test the limits of human potential. The North Face products are guaranteed for life and available in specialty mountaineering, backpacking, running, and snowsport retailers, premium-sporting goods retailers and major outdoor specialty retail chains around the world. For more information on The North Face, please visit www.thenorthface.com.
Bio: Adam Mott oversees the Corporate Sustainability program at The North Face. In his role, Adam develops and integrates The North Face sustainability strategy across the business, focusing on the development of environmentally responsible products, greenhouse gas emission management and reduction, community engagement and the elimination of operational waste.