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Sustainability: No longer simply an add-on business initiative

Focusing on supply chain management will help manufacturers meaningfully engage customers

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There’s a shift going on in the outdoor industry, and today’s customer wants more than just a product that performs.


Consumers are increasingly concerned about the environment and the impact the products they buy have on it. Not every company can be Patagonia, but any manufacturer can take steps to improve its track record with supply chain management — or sustainability.

To reach this customer on a deeper level, it’s not enough to focus on supply chain management after the fact, when business is good; it’s something businesses will have to target from the start.

“Sustainability is about being part of the next generation of business — one that encompasses responsible sourcing and innovative designs and efficient operations,” said Nikki Hodgson, corporate responsibility coordinator at OIA. “It hinges on a generation that expects not just a product, but positive impact and authentic engagement.”

Luckily, there are a number of tools from the Outdoor Industry Association to which everybody (not just members) have access. Though the updated Higg Index 2.0 for supply chain management won’t be launched until December, other resources are available now.

“It can be overwhelming to get involved with supply chain management; the global supply chain is very complex,” Hodgson acknowledged, but there are steps to take.

Directions to the tools
The Outdoor Industry Association launched the Sustainable Working Group (SWG) in 2007 — then called the Eco Working Group — to streamline how the industry monitored sustainability. Several outdoor industry companies had already been doing their own thing.

“It became evident that it was better to address [sustainability] as a collaborative group,” Hodgson said.

The group developed the Eco Index, later adopted by the Sustainable Apparel Coalition, which combined industry information with Nike’s Materials Sustainability Index.

The next iteration, the Higg Index 1.0, is one of the resources currently available for manufacturers to use for apparel and footwear supply chain management. OIA, in conjunction with the Sustainable Apparel Coalition, which has members across multiple industries, is releasing an updated version of the Higg Index — now version 2.0 — in December.

It offers tools in four areas: chemicals management, sustainability indexes, materials traceability and social responsibility and fair labor. For more information on how to get started in each of those areas, visit this page.

“One of our guiding priciples for the SWG is transparency and making sure that everything is open source and available,” Hodgson said.

Making a business case
There aren’t hard numbers on how sustainability can positively impact your business, but OIA and the SAC are currently gathering that data.

“One of the things we’re really focused on right now is getting the metrics around sustainability to have that data on ROI,” Hodgson said.

Hodgson said though outdoor companies have led the charge on sustainability, she’s not sure if there are more companies interested in focusing on improving supply chain management.

“As we’ve moved forward it’s been more about innovation and managing risk,” Hodgson said. “Moving forward and looking ahead, even though in the beginning it was a group of very dedicated individuals pouring everything they had to get initiatives forward, it’s become evident that it’s become a smart business strategy.”

Stay tuned to SNEWS as the staff at OIA will be filling our readers in on the updated sustainability, or supply chain management, issues.