What The North Face’s Earth Day Petition Tells Us About Brands Taking a Stand

Since 1970, Americans have marked April 22 as a day to advocate for protecting our planet. This year, The North Face wants to take it a step further: The company launched a petition to make Earth Day a national holiday, giving people the opportunity to use the day to explore their surroundings. The company believes that when people have an established connection with the planet, they’re more likely to fight to protect it. As part of the effort, the company closed all of its 113 retail stores in the U.S. and Canada today so their employees can do just that.

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“We have all these national holidays where people get time off to stop and reflect. They’re all for very good things, people who’ve been important for the history of our country or religious holidays or whatever it is. But we kind of looked at it and said, there’s one day when we’re supposed to celebrate the Earth … and it isn’t a formally recognized thing. So, we thought this could be a great opportunity to give everyone that moment of pause, that moment of real-life connection,” said Tom Herbst, global vice president of marketing at The North Face.

Since the petition launched last week, it’s received more than 110,000 signatures in total. The North Face’s effort signifies the latest example of how the relationship between businesses and consumers is changing. As consumers increasingly look to companies to take a stand on societal issues, more companies are realizing the importance of putting their values into action.

“We’ve all seen the reports that talk about consumer trust, people’s trust in institutions. More than ever, they don’t trust the standard institutions, like government, to make the change that they believe in. Brands and companies are in a great place to help with that,” Herbst said.

Nearly two-thirds of consumers around the world are now considered belief-driven buyers, according to a 2018 Edelman Earned Brand study, which means they “choose, switch to or boycott a brand based on its stand on societal issues.” That’s up from 51 percent in 2017. The study also found that “more than half of people believe brands are better equipped to be a force for change than the government, and nearly half think brands have better ideas than government.”

“Brands are now being pushed beyond their classic business interests to become advocates for a better society,” said Edelman president and CEO Richard Edelman in the 2018 Earned Brand executive summary.

Examples of companies taking a stand on issues that relate to their business are more relevant than ever before. But for REI, this is part of the co-op’s DNA. For more than 80 years, the co-op has made a commitment to put purpose over profits and act in the long-term interests of our members. Last year alone, REI gave back more than 70 percent of its profits, investing in the future of the outdoors.

With the future in mind, REI has established rigorous sustainability standards for all brands and products on co-op shelves to ensure that the things we make and sell help protect the health of the outdoors. Plus, with a new focus on used gear and rentals, REI is looking inward to make more changes that reflect the co-op’s values when it comes to issues related to the outdoors.

“REI does many things every day to help shape a positive future for the outdoors,” according to Greg Gausewitz, product sustainability manager at REI. “Examples include designing products that utilize leading sustainability attributes like bluesign-approved and recycled materials, to engaging our brand partners via the REI Product Sustainability Standards, to working with the suppliers that make REI Co-op brand products to complete the Higg Index Facility Environmental Module assessment, to minimizing our operating waste and using 100 percent renewable energy for our operations,” Gausewitz said.

Beyond the outdoor industry, the list of companies taking a stand on environmental issues continues.

Target set out to reach what the company referred to as its most ambitious climate goal yet by examining greenhouse gas emissions along every part of its supply chain in a three-scope process. (Scope 1: Emissions generated from Target facilities; Scope 2: Emissions from energy Target purchases to power its facilities; Scope 3: Emissions generated from the entire supply chain, such as the creation of the products and services Target sells.) So, what is the goal? In a press release, Target said it intends to, “reduce its absolute Scope 1, 2 and 3 greenhouse gas emissions by 30 percent below 2017 levels by 2030.”

“We have a responsibility to our guests and the environment to set high expectations and encourage ambitious reductions in greenhouse gas emissions, promoting positive change throughout the industry to have an even greater impact for generations to come,” Chairman and CEO Brian Cornell said in the release.

“Target is a very large organization, with many thousands of suppliers. With this new goal, not only is Target committing to reducing their own emissions, they’re also committing to working with their suppliers to set reduction goals. With these efforts, they have the ability to have a ripple effect throughout their value chain,” Gausewitz said.

Walmart is also working to reduce its environmental impact. In April, the company announced three new textile sustainability goals. Walmart is “committing to work with suppliers to source 100 percent more sustainable cotton … and 50 percent recycled polyester fibers for our private brand textiles by 2025, reduce the discharge of priority chemicals from the manufacturing process by 2025,” according to its news release. Additionally, by 2022, it aims to “source only from suppliers working with textile mills that use the Higg Index FEM to measure and help improve their environmental performance.”

“When you see a company of that size making it easier for their customers to buy more sustainable products, the impact can be huge. By committing to using more sustainable materials, they’re lowering the impact of the products they sell, and this will likely result in significantly fewer resources being used to manufacture their products,” Gausewitz said.

Earth Day began as a response to major environmental disasters in Ohio and California. But Earth Day Founder Gaylord Nelson, governor of Wisconsin (1958–1962) and U.S. Senator (1963–1981), saw a need to educate people on the importance of environmental activism.

“Our goal is not just an environment of clean air and water and scenic beauty,” Nelson told a crowd in Denver on the first Earth Day in 1970. “The objective is an environment of decency, quality and mutual respect for all other human beings and living creatures.”

Nelson’s initial vision wasn’t a flash in the pan. Rather, a spark that started the movement which is now nearly 50 years old. Speaking with Herbst, it’s clear The North Face seeks to carry on the spirit of that tradition. “This is a multi-year effort,” he said.“The good thing is that Earth Day happens every year, so, it’s something we’re going to stick with and try to grow this thing as big as we can.”

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