If I’m being honest, I will admit that I fall squarely on the crunchy-granola, tree-hugging spectrum. I turn the water off while I’m washing my hair and shop religiously at local farmer’s markets for things that I can’t make or grow at home. I believe that driving an old truck is better for the environment than buying a new Prius, and resole my climbing shoes until Rock and Resole tells me that it is literally no longer possible.
When I started playing around with the idea of College Outside, Yvon Chouinard’s book Let My People Go Surfing fundamentally changed the way I viewed running and owning a business. I knew that if I was going to create something, that it needed to have a positive impact in the world, and that I could use the power of Business (with a capital B) for good instead of evil. As College Outside grew, so did our reach and influence with the clubs and programs that we worked with. I knew that these programs trusted us to not only provide them with the best gear, but to also use their support for the greater good.
All of this is to admit that there is an internal conflict that I hold with a business model that is designed around selling shiny new products. Our mission is to provide students with the tools they need to get outside, connect with nature, and ultimately build their own personal relationship with our natural spaces. These tools and products often take energy and water and chemicals to make, a necessary evil in order to adventure outdoors safely and comfortably…right? As much as movements like Patagonia’s “Worn Wear” make my heart warm, I certainly cannot elongate the life of something like my rope or harness without seriously compromising safety.
I’m constantly on the lookout for companies that share my passion for environment, especially ones that have woven it into the fabric of their business beyond just a checklist to complete. I worked with Black Diamond and the Access Fund on their ROCK Project campaign, and learned first hand what it meant to throw your brand behind ethics and education. We recently started working with the new Edelrid North America team who is changing the baseline for what we consider necessary evils in safety equipment.
Edelrid is an incredible example of a company that makes me jump for joy. In 2009, Edelrid converted all of their rope and sling manufacturing over to the strict standards of the Bluesign system, which (compared to their traditional rope manufacturing,) has yielded a 62% reduction in CO2 emissions, 89% savings in water, 63% less energy consumption, and 63% less chemicals. I can now shout it loud, “I resoled my climbing shoes three times, AND my rope is eco-friendly!”
So here’s my refurbished goal: if we’re going to sell shiny new products, we also hold a responsibility to support companies who truly care as much as we do. We have an obligation to thoughtfully spend our money on equipment that causes less harm, and to support the people and businesses that are working to close this gap.
Founder and CEO, College Outside