(This story was updated on 7/6/2023.)
When Kent Ebersole points out the Outdoor Industry Association’s efforts to improve sustainability and lessen the environmental impact of the outdoor space, he highlights the Association’s Climate Action Corps as an important example.
One of the Corps’ goals is to help OIA members become climate positive by 2030, and to do that, the Corps offers resources including case studies and playbooks.
“That’s playing offense,” Ebersole said in an interview with The Daily. “We’re out there on the leading edge.”
The OIA Board of Directors today tapped industry veteran Ebersole to lead the trade group after he served seven months as the organization’s interim executive director.
Ebersole came to OIA with a broad range of experience in media, business strategy, and non-profit consulting.
“Over the past several months, the OIA Board of Directors had the pleasure of seeing how Kent’s leadership, strategic mindset, personal connection, and dedication to collaboration will benefit an industry in change,” said OIA Board Chair Phyllis Grove, who is also senior vice president of marketing for Helen of Troy. “We are confident in the map he has drawn for us all and we are ready to work alongside him to move the industry forward.”
Founded in 1989, OIA has about 500 members, and serves more than 1,200 manufacturers, retailers distributors, suppliers, sales representatives, nonprofits, and outdoors enthusiasts.
Addressing the PFAS Problem
One area of concern for the industry that Ebersole has targeted is usage of per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances, otherwise known as PFAS.
“It’s going to impact our industry in a massive way,” Ebersole said.
Many states across the country are engaged in some type of legislation on the issue, and on March 14, the Environmental Protection Agency proposed its first-ever national standard to protect communities from PFAS in drinking water.
The proposal, if finalized, would regulate PFOA and PFOS as individual contaminants, and will regulate four other PFAS as a mixture: PFNA, PFHxS, PFBS, and GenX Chemicals.
“There’s a giant need to immediately answer that question – from a legislative standpoint, what does this mean federally or in my state?” Ebersole said.
That’s an example of how OIA is playing offense.
OIA would also like to help those companies who are affected by the guideline update from REI and need to be educated about PFAS.
For example, the companies might not know how to fix their manufacturing process to comply with REI’s standards.
The other prong of OIA’s action plan is to help retailers educate consumers about PFAS.
“I’m not even positive that retailers are prepared to have that conversation, and why it’s important for consumers to care about that, from an outdoor products perspective,” Ebersole said.
To address all of this, OIA will be announcing a PFAS initiative next month for manufacturers, retailers and other people in the industry that offers education and solutions for the problem.
Helping with it will be experts who can, for example, speak to footwear and apparel companies about ways to adjust their products.
“It could cost them a lot of money to deal with it,” Ebersole said. The companies that choose not to deal with it could also lose revenue, he added, because they won’t be able to sell into some states.
“It has to be dealt with. There’s still time to deal with it, but not a lot.”
To stay on top of the ever-changing demands and regulations, OIA has hired two staffers to help with the organization’s sustainability efforts.
“As soon as PFAS is over, there are another two or three coming,” Ebersole said. “Solvents are next. And we’ll be ahead of that game.”
OIA is also playing offense for the industry by working at the state level to galvanize bipartisan support for funding and policy “that impact our industry in a really positive way,” according to Ebersole.
He emphasized the impact of state-level work, including recreation policy and equity bills, to increase participation rates in the industry and access to public land.
“So that no matter where you’re from, or what your color is, you have an opportunity to be outdoors,” Ebersole said.
Once those people are introduced to the outdoor lifestyle, “they’re going to need backpacks, they’re going to need socks, they’re getting shoes, they’re going to need water bottles, they’re going to need to come into a retailer at some point to buy products to help them do this,” he added.
That trend has been on the upswing. According to OIA’s 2022 Outdoor Participation Trends Report, more than half (54%) of Americans ages 6 and over participated in at least one outdoor activity in 2021. The outdoor recreation participant base grew 2.2% during 2021 to 164.2M participants.
To increase that participation further, OIA is launching a new initiative in New Mexico that Ebersole hopes can be replicated in other states. More details are expected on this initiative soon.
“If we could do this in every state, it would be a giant victory for the industry, because of the rising tide in the number of people that will have better access to the land, and to outdoor activities,” he added.
Bart Schaneman can be reached at email@example.com.