There was no missing Climate Neutral at Outdoor Retailer Summer Market. Signs announcing the new carbon-neutrality–certification program were plastered on every entry door at the Colorado Convention Center. And while the nonprofit’s mission reaches far beyond the outdoor industry, it makes sense it launched at the show. After all, the leaders behind Climate Neutral, Peak Design founder Peter Dering and BioLite founder Jonathan Cedar, run energetic businesses in the industry themselves, and outdoor brands make committed national stands on environmental issues more than those in other industries. Summer Market was also the perfect place for encouraging personal commitment. The nonprofit was able to ask brands, in person, to sign on and pledge to go carbon neutral, the first step in earning their Climate Neutral certification and label. Once signed on, a company begins the certification process by undertaking a third-party analysis of its carbon footprint. It then reduces that footprint and offsets what can’t be reduced through Climate Neutral’s approved offset partners.
“Because of Outdoor Retailer, we had a flood of inbound interest, and we have been very busy ever since. It was a huge step forward for us,” said Jack Horowitz, Climate Neutral’s program manager.
Hundreds of brands and retailers stopped at the Climate Neutral booth to learn more. Many signed up on the spot. “We had 18 brands coming into Outdoor Retailer, and now the cohort has roughly doubled,” Horowitz said. Brands who signed on at the show included Nomad, Tentsile, and Thousand helmets, and Gear.com announced its commitment after the show.
Any hesitation to sign on at Summer Market often came down to cost. “What we are saying, conservatively, is that it will come down to .4% of annual revenue to become Climate Neutral [certified],” Horowitz said. “So oftentimes companies and their in-house teams just need to mull those numbers over and think critically about how this fits into their sustainability plans.”
According to Shira Norman, Climate Neutral’s director of brands and partnerships, a lot of those who approached them at the show were already thinking about their carbon footprints. “Some of them have been looking to create their own climate neutrality certification systems, and they were relieved to find they didn’t have to reinvent the wheel.”
With rising public concern over climate change, consumers are actively seeking out conscious companies. Climate Neutral launched a consumer-facing initiative, including a Kickstarter in the fall, breaking its $100,000 goal well before its December 12 deadline. “A big piece of the eco-label challenge is marketing and consumer awareness,” Horowitz said. “When consumers have a clear understanding of what it means to be Climate Neutral, and what the logo means, companies will want to sign up, because they’ll want to meet that consumer need.”
As an easy-to-understand label, Climate Neutral aims to become as well known for carbon neutrality as “USDA Organic” or “Fair Trade Certified.” To that end, the certification program has its sights set beyond the already eco-aware outdoor industry. Climate Neutral has been engaged in talks with Lyft, SalesForce, and several other large companies. “In the outdoor industry, there’s much more of an organic fit with our mission,” Horowitz said. “But of course, we’re looking to expand beyond it. Our goal is to have every company on the planet become Climate Neutral.”
The outdoor industry is still the best barometer for public response to Climate Neutral. “For us it was a pretty obvious no-brainer,” said sunglass maker Sunski’s co-founder Tom Stewart, who joined before Summer Market. Sunski is a 1% for the Planet member, and the company spent several years sourcing injection-moldable recycled plastic to use for its frames. Stewart wasn’t sure the label would instantly translate into increased sales for Sunski, because its customers already know the company is paying attention to sustainability, but the certification is another layer that fits the brand’s mission.
“For the people who know enough about Sunski to know this is in our DNA, it will further deepen that connection with that core group of followers.” says Stewart.
Climate Neutral will be making some big announcements and signing on more brands at Outdoor + Snow Show 2020 in Denver, January 29-31.