Majora Carter urges companies to invest in urban outdoor development

“Eco entrepreneur” Majora Carter has a message for an industry traditionally concerned with wild places: Don’t forget about the city.

Throughout the next month, SNEWS will recap its coverage of Outdoor Retailer Winter Market 2013 with select stories from the O.R. Daily we published at the show Jan. 23-26. It’s an opportunity for you to catch up on stories you might have missed in O.R.D., and for us to update and upload the articles to our searchable archives.

“Eco entrepreneur” Majora Carter has a message for an industry traditionally concerned with wild places: Don’t forget about the city.

The keynote speaker at the Jan. 23, 2013 Outdoor Industry Association breakfast at Outdoor Retailer Winter Market urged attendees to invest in inner-city development projects — not just philanthropically, but as a business strategy in a changing world.

Carter, an urban revitalization specialist, consultant and 2005 MacArthur Fellows “Genius” first gained prominence for implementing a major green infrastructure program in her native South Bronx. Her nonprofit, Sustainable South Bronx, began building parks and greenways, cleaning up the Bronx River and starting green-job training programs in 2001. Wednesday, she drew connections between projects like hers and the outdoor industry.

“We all want people enjoying the outdoors, whether we want them to be advocates for it or consumers,” she told an audience of hundreds. Acknowledging that “asking companies to do good will only go so far,” Carter said city sustainability projects can make good business sense. “Directing money in ways that meet industry’s goals and strengthen communities — that’s true responsibility.”

What can companies do? “I’d love to see them invest their operations domestically in inner cities,” Carter said, noting that moving manufacturing to developing urban areas and starting up design programs for community members would be mutually beneficial steps.

She encouraged companies to support initiatives like Sustainable South Bronx’s greenway rangers, which employs neighborhood residents to help maintain new parks and gardens, and to educate community members about the benefits of green space. Carter said one of the major draws attracting people to the program was a Timberland boot giveaway. The ambassadors became “walking, talking billboards” for the brand.

Carter offered companies a clear way forward: “Create new markets and let it scale in a way that’s good for the bottom line.”

Before Carter’s speech, OIA President and CEO Frank Hugelmeyer announced an Outsiders Ball to be held at the next Summer Market. Proceeds from the event will fund Outdoor Nation, a three-year Outdoor Foundation program aimed at getting five million more young people outdoors. “In this time of great change, we’re not evolving fast enough as an industry — if you look at the faces in this room, we’re not diverse enough,” Hugelmeyer said. “This is our fiscal cliff. Let’s make this industry the face of America. We cannot wait for this.” The Outsiders Ball will be held July 30, 2013.

–Elisabeth Kwak-Hefferan