ARE THEY GREENWASHING OR NOT?
REVIEWING BRANDS' SUSTAINABILITY CLAIMS
We use our expertise and digital sleuthing to analyze brands' sustainability claims and determine if they are greenwashing.
SUMMARY OF OUR OPINION ON OUTDOOR VOICES
I was impressed with Outdoor Voices, as they at least recognize many of the most important elements of a strong sustainability program. They claim that about 70% of their impact is in the products they sell (usually it’s as much as 90% for a retailer or brand, but I assume 70% is within reason, depending on how they define the scope of it), and the remaining 30% of their impacts result from their headquarters, stores, events, etc. So, rightfully, they focus their efforts on improving their product impacts – sourcing more sustainable materials (with some certified materials), reducing packaging, etc. – while not ignoring their other impacts.
I am also excited to see their commitments for sourcing more bluesign certified materials, further reducing packaging wastes (especially polybags, which help protect products in transportation but are a nuisance for recycling), and designing products for circularity. One of the most major shortcomings is that they do not describe their production processes, chemical usage, etc. And it would be valuable if they became a Certified B Corp, so we can know that they will be focused on their social mission in perpetuity.
I would like to see them continue their journey by updating us on their progress against those commitments. Also, it would be valuable if they released an impact report so we can see all of their efforts in one place, especially for more details on their production processes.
WHAT TO ASK OF OUTDOOR VOICES
We know that brands respond when they hear from their customers. So, we always recommend you contact brands' sales or support lines to share your interest in their sustainability practices. And if you want to see them improve, ask them:
1. Have you considered becoming a Certified B Corporation, so we will know that your corporate purpose is to provide social benefit forever?
2. Can you publish a periodic impact report that comprehensively describes your environmental and social impacts, and what you are doing to mitigate them?
Here’s their contact information:
• Email: email@example.com
• Text message: 512.960.3144
Do you know something I didn’t find? Tell me and I’ll update this.
Details of Outdoor Voices's sustainability efforts
I focus on five elements of a leading sustainability program: (1) Sustainable leadership, (2), Sustainable materials, (3) Sustainable production, (4) Sustainable quality, and (5) Sustainable transparency. In each category, I post their claims, as well as the substantiation (proof) if any is provided. In some cases, I also include a brief analysis of my own.
01 SUSTAINABLE LEADERSHIP
Certified B Corporation: Outdoor Voices is not a Certified B Corporation
Sustainability executives: Not clear if any employees at Outdoor Voices have a specific focus on sustainability.
Outdoor voices public set goals for itself on its website:
- “Eliminate all waste from community events, with 90% landfill diversion” // Analysis: useful to see they’re focusing on their operations, beyond just the materials in their products.
- “Increase percentage of traceable fibers from recycled sources seasonally (Goal: 80% by 2022)” // Analysis: This is an industry leading commitment.
- “Increase number of bluesign certified fabrics seasonally (Goal: 50% by 2021)” // Analysis: As bluesign is one of the leading certifications for fabrics and factories, this is also an industry leading effort. I assume it implies that they are currently using bluesign; however, I did not see any specific information on that.
Claim: “We design our product through the lens of longevity and circularity to reduce our environmental impact.” // Analysis: This is good, but more information is needed to determine the validity of this claim.
Other sustainability efforts:
- Headquarters: “Run a stipend-based carless commuter program”
- Stores: “Incorporating sustainable design elements in new builds, such as recycled rubber flooring”
- Events: “Eliminated single-use plastics from all community events”
Analysis: Most younger clothing brands only discuss their products; few focus on their sustainability efforts related to their headquarters, stores, events, etc., so I am pleased that Outdoor Voices is considering those other impacts.
Partnership: “Launched partnerships with WWF, The Nature Conservancy, and CHOOOSE to generate funds for and drive education around sustainability, conservation and carbon offsetting” // Analysis: I couldn’t find any information on their website or WWF or TNC’s websites. CHOOOSE includes Outdoor Voices’ logo on their site; partnering with CHOOOSE allows companies to offset their or their customer’s carbon emissions, but it’s not clear whether Outdoor Voices is doing that.
Claim: “Launch circular product take-back and repair programs” // Analysis: While they have not yet launched a circularity program, it is good to see that circularity is on their radar.
02 SUSTAINABLE MATERIALS
Claim: “We have prioritized solutions for raw materials — specifically, fabrics and packaging — as they account for nearly 70% of our environmental impact.”
Specific materials listed on Outdoor Voices’ website includes:
- RecPoly — Made from recycled PET(Polyethylene terephthalate)
- Merino — Made from ethically-sourced wool from New Zealand and Australia
- MegaFleece — Made from recycled wool
- CloudKnit — Our first bluesign certified product
- Room to Grow
- Cotton Terry — Being developed with BCI(Better Cotton Initiative) Cotton
- CloudKnit — Being developed with recycled PET(Polyethylene terephthalate)
- Sweatee — Being developed with recycled PET(Polyethylene terephthalate)
Analysis: I’m glad to see they are using recycled and bluesign certified materials. They do not provide any substantiation for the claims that they are using the materials, but I’ll give them the benefit of the doubt. Also, I know there are ethical sources for wool in New Zealand and Australia, but without certification, it’s hard to know if this is accurate.
Claim: “We are committed to only ever using packaging that is both recycled and recyclable.” Details about their packaging from their website:
- Reusable Totes — Distributed to in-store customers in lieu of paper or plastic bags
- e-Commerce Deliveries — All customer shipments arrive in 100% recycled paper envelopes or recyclable boxes
- Room to Grow — We are piloting a program to replace poly bags (the plastics that protect clothing in-transit) with paper alternatives
Analysis: Even some of the largest companies are not using 100% recycled paper or trying to replace polybags. So Outdoor Voices’ focus on these are significant.
03 SUSTAINABLE PRODUCTION
Chemical usage: No information provided.
Production processes: No information provided.
04 SUSTAINABLE QUALITY
Claim: “Built with materials for a lifetime of activities in mind to keep it in our gym bags and out of landfills.” // Analysis: Share any information you know about the quality of Outdoor Voices’ products. We need to understand how long their products last – the higher-quality and longer-lasting, the better its sustainability profile.
Commitment: “Circularity — Expand the use of closed loop materials. Design for the end of life of a product by developing lifecycle solutions to repurpose, repair, and recirculate our used product.” // Analysis: These are leading edge practices, but of course more details are needed once they integrate them into their production processes.
05 SUSTAINABLE TRANSPARENCY
Sustainability report: None provided.
Website: Moderate details provided about their sustainability practices.
Claim: “Outdoor Voices is on a path toward a more sustainable future, but we aren’t there yet. Our aim is progress, and our promise is transparency.”
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