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Summit Hut involves customers, employees with its green efforts

Heading into the 2012 nominations for the SNEWS/Backpacker Retailer of the Year, opening in June, SNEWS takes a look back at this year's winners, starting with Summit Hut -- winner of the award's best in conservation.

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When Summit Hut ( won the 2011 SNEWS/Backpacker Retailer of the Year award for best in conservation, it wasn’t just for another retailer being green and sustainable.

Summit Hut has been practicing environmental conservation since Dave Baker founded the Tucson, Ariz.-based outdoor retail shop in 1969. The tradition has continued with new owner Dana Davis, who Baker credited as boosting the store’s green efforts when she was general manager.

What sets Summit Hut apart is the store’s recent push to communicate and integrate its sustainable practices with its customers and employees.

“We always had environmental efforts, but it felt like we were doing it on the DL,” Davis told SNEWS. “We realized instead of just donating money or volunteering, this was an opportunity to get out information about the causes, and give our customers a say – to find out what was important to them. It gives them a connection back to the community and environment through their shopping.”

A perfect example is Summit Hut’s Decline-A-Bag program, where customers can decline a shopping bag to have 5 cents of their purchase donated toward one of two outdoor environmental nonprofits. The participation doesn’t end there, as customers also can vote for the upcoming benefactors, which are changed out every six months. During the past two years, customers have declined more than 79,000 bags for about $4,000 in donations, Davis said.

A similar program is in place for Summit Hut’s revenue from the Banff Film Festival, which the store hosts in Tucson. Proceeds go toward five grants awarded to outdoor nonprofits voted on by customers. The top two receive $2,000 each and the remaining three receive $250 in cash and $250 in gift cards. When funds fell a little short this past year, Patagonia stepped in to help cover the rest, Davis said.

Also helping educate consumers, Summit Hut calls special attention to eco-friendly products at its two stores in Tucson and online – pointing out either the material’s environmental benefits or the sustainable way it was made.

In another program supporting the environment, Summit Hut pays for up to 100 days of combined compensation a year for any of its 43 employees to take off work and volunteer for an outdoor-related cause. It could be trail building, teaching skills to scouts or helping study and count an endangered frog in the area. The program not only helps the environment, but also helps staff morale with a chance to get outdoors, Davis said.

There’s still a long list of sustainable practices Summit Hut conducts behind the scenes. It offsets its energy use with wind power, it reuses packaging and shipping materials, and most of its store fixtures are previously used or recycled. Even wooden pallets have been converted into store displays, Davis said.

In addition to all the time, effort, and money donated above, Davis said the store donates about $5,000 in products and cash to outdoor causes per year.

Summit Hut was one of five 2011 SNEWS/Backpacker Retailer of the Year winners announced earlier this year. Stay tuned to SNEWS for 2012’s nomination forms, scheduled to open in June.

–David Clucas