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Monday, February 05, 2007




I keep reading your comment (that has now become a post) over and over. What I hear you saying is, "Give TNF some slack when it comes to the interpretation of marketing their "green" story at Sundance because, well, it's better than nothing or it could be worse. I also hear you saying that we should praise them for the progeny that they have created. (I'm not quite sure what that has to do with their environmental message but more on that later--maybe.)

You are correct when you say that TNF reaches a larger demographic. Well, that's because they can. It's called capital; money; a shit pile of marketing dollars. Yes, it's called making their money like the rest of us try to do. To jump on the bandwagon of sustainability, environmentalism and social responsibility in the interest of branding in the hearts and minds of Sundance attendees (and I'm sure they weren't mountain bums at this event) is a little...well, to use your word, "mank".

If TNF (better yet, VF Corp as a whole) took the same percentage of the bottom line that say, Patagonia, contributes to environmental causes, maybe I would chalk it up to a not- well-thought-out marketing plan. And no, I do not nor have I ever worked for Patagonia. More over, I do not think Patagonia is the end all be all. And I do believe that like TNF, Patagonia (from my observations on the front lines) reaches a fairly large demographic outside the "core" customer who may or may not take up outdoor pursuits and "get involved" with the environment.

You say, "at least they try"-- Now Patagonia TRIES. Are they completely altruistic in their endeavors? I don't know-- but they donate a lot of print space to bringing issues to the end users attention. They must have spent some cash to develop the technology to recycle your stanky capilene. Maybe I will give Patagonia a break that it took them so long to switch to non-PVC based flotation for their PFD'S when Philip Curry had the plan all along when he was partnered with them. WHY will I cut them some slack? Because THEY are trying.

The point is, with the resources TNF has and the many demographics that they speak to, either be deliberate and authentic if you are going to walk the green line or don't walk it at all. Free down jackets and luxury hybrids don't speak to say, the shit loads of college kids that buy the brand and who are SO brand aware. That's just as lame as participating in the Green Steps program at Outdoor Retailer because your office has a recycling program. Whop-te-freakin' do. Why not put those dollars into the world's (and possibly our industry's) future? Why not give THAT demographic a message about the environment and raise awareness? Now there's some marketing power. TNF and other large companies rolling in cash could be industry leaders in this movement. They could be innovators again. (Note that a lack of, or divergence from, innovation is an aggressive catalyst for new start ups or former employees.) They have a louder voice to the end user than my small, independent brands do. To the TNF's defense, I have learned that they do participate in the Conservation Alliance which touts dues of $10K a year. Not too shabby but honestly, a pretty small drop in the bucket compared to their annual sales. But, I will say, THAT is trying.

I think this industry has a long way to go to become environmentally conscious. And it never truly will be but the least we can do is lessen our footprint. I struggle daily with the fact that my job is essentially about promoting consumerism and heavy use of petro-chemicals. I had some serious Catholic guilt when I took three flights and a 30 mile diesel engine boat ride to get to a remote fjord in Greenland this summer to guide a kayaking trip. Here the ice cap is melting partially because I spent my lifetimes worth of carbon output so that I could see the cap before it melts!! (Not to mention the oil in damn near every piece of mine and 8 others' gear for 2 weeks.) It's not just the TNF. It's all of us. To say they're trying is a weak argument to me. I'm not okay with jumping on that bandwagon because it will sell you some more shit. Do it because you want this planet to be around for your kids, your nieces and nephews. Do it because you want there to still be wild placed for those kids to experience. Do it because you want to be sure there's still a place for this industry that is about getting people off their asses and getting outside; feeling good; having fun with life.

Hosting this ice house bologna at Sundance is parallel to all the companies that have got on board with the Pink Ribbon campaign to fight breast cancer. They add pink ribbon logos on their product and say "Look at us! Buy our stuff because we support the fight against breast cancer. Now, come here and look at our anti-microbial (aka: pesticide) treated base layer." Pesticides next to my crotch. Genius. What were you saying about cancer?

Your reach to symbolize The Piton with the outdated tools that are rarely used in today's new ethic of climbing is "utter mank" as well. I would argue that a piton is a symbol that represents an anchor. Solid. Permanent. BUT... not impervious to the elements and something that should be examined carefully should it be depended on.

The Piton is not always my gospel. I don't always agree with their musings. I laughed at the Jewish mother bit-- seeing some truth in that comment. But I do believe that they are transparent and provide an anchor for this industry to think outside the bullshit kool-aide that we feed each other and to consider something other than our own manufactured truths. I would venture to say that even the authors of The Piton think that sometimes their shit stinks too. But at least they own it and put it out there for discussion, criticism, and praise. And that, my friend, is really TRYING.


AMEN Megan!


Megan's comment REALLY ought to be a post on it's own, as well.


I have a hell of a time reconciling environmental ethics with business performance anywhere in the outdoor industry. A big part of it for me is the China question. I accept the Tom Friedman logic that change is best achieved by having a constructive rather than adversarial relationship, but I am bothered by two aspects of US (and European) companies sourcing manufacturing in Asia. One is that at some point you have to own the fact that you are helping support repressive regimes. I don't give a rat's ass who is a communist and who is a capitalist, but I don't like repression (and there are plenty of repressive capitalists). My other issue is more germane to the topic—"developing" countries allow things in the name of development that we would never tolerate in our own back yards. I'm thinking of workplace safety, human rights, and to be really on-point, environmental issues. Don't forget air, water, and soil pollution, and how about damming rivers to generate power to run factories to make our toys?

If you want to talk about doing the right thing, how about starting by not doing anything in the closet that you wouldn't do in daylight? I don't know for sure, but my guess is that if offshore manufactruing were held to the same environmental and safety standards (I'm not counting wages, which will always vary from place to place) they would have to abide by in the US or the EU, the picture would probably look quite different.

So what do you do? Make sweaters from the wool of your own sheep? Cobble boots from the hide of your own steer? Damned if I know. What I do know is that we are all part of both the problem and the solution. Once you taste the modern lifestyle, it's unlikely you'll want to give it up for principles. But there is an obvious first step that we all need to take—stop wasting. Wasting is by definition using more than we need (not to be confused with more than we want). So how about we all cut waste? This is where the green crowd runs into holier-than-thou problems, and it's this attitude that turns people off. I'd say that rubbing people's noses in it and getting confrontational just makes things worse. What's needed, as I see it, is a way to unite the patriots and the environmentalists. To go to Tom Friedman again, green is the new red, white, and blue. But of course, he wrote those words when gas was $3 a gallon!


I'm smiling imagining how many folks have been introduced to the wonders of mountain climbing through their purchase of a highly fashionable North Face jacket. Indeed.

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