In 2023 We’re Taking the Next Steps On Our Path Toward Sustainability
In 2023 We’re Taking the Next Steps On Our Path Toward Sustainability
2022 was a big year in sustainability for Kahtoola. With a company-wide effort, we were able to officially go carbon neutral again by investing in projects that offset our GHG emissions. And we continued improving the sustainability of our packaging by reducing plastics and using more recycled materials. We also created a full-time position focused on sustainability and began phasing “forever chemicals” out of our product line.
While those are concrete steps in the right direction, we know they are only steps on a long and winding trail toward long-term sustainability. Getting there won’t be an easy task, but we’re constantly putting one foot in front of the other and making real progress. From eliminating unwanted bulk mail to improving inventory management, we’re taking steps—big and small—to manage our carbon footprint.
Moving ahead into 2023, our new Sustainability, Conservation & Philanthropy Associate has hit the ground running: in addition to continuing to offset our GHG emissions, we’ve committed to taking steps to reduce our footprint, which requires drilling down on our manufacturing supply chain to find out where, and how, emissions can be cut. We’re also further increasing the amount of recyclable material used in our packaging, continuing our work on eliminating harmful chemicals in our products and improving the efficiency of our shipping methods.
We’re in this for the long haul
Organizations all over the world are coming to the realization that sustainability is not only the right thing to do but also good for business. This is especially true in the outdoor industry. Because where would we be without a thriving natural world? But the learning curve has been steep. As a result, we decided early last year that we need someone committed to working on our sustainability program full-time.
In the summer of 2022, Betsy Harter took on the role of Sustainability, Conservation & Philanthropy Associate here at Kahtoola, which means we now have a dedicated and passionate leader to fully engage these important aspects of our business. And Betsy sees this as much more than a job.
“The world is running out of time to reduce our emissions…On a really personal level, the biggest effect I can have is to use the power of a business—this business—to do what we can to make a difference. This is a huge power we collectively have, and one I don’t take for granted…I have a son and I worry about the world he’ll be inheriting in 10 or 20 years, but I’m hopeful there is still time to ensure he’ll be able to enjoy a planet with coral reefs and the same diversity of wildlife that we have today.”
With that in mind, Betsy will be spearheading important initiatives through 2023—and beyond—that will accelerate our march toward sustainability.
Our continued commitment to carbon neutrality
Because eliminating our emissions altogether is an ongoing and complicated task, we’ve committed to, and recently renewed our pledge to offset 100 percent of our calculated emissions for 2022. We do this by investing in vetted projects chosen by our associates that align with our company values and make a real, positive difference for the planet. This year, our investments will be supporting three important initiatives:
The Pacajai REDD+ Project (through Offsetra) – With a goal of neutralizing net emissions of 264,116 tCO2e over 40 years, the Pacajai REDD+ Project is working to avoid deforestation in the Brazilian rainforest while allowing deforested areas to regenerate. They work with local communities to ensure land rights and improve social well-being and income generation.
Uganda Digesters Project (through Native carbon offsets) – This project is helping small and medium-scale farmers in Uganda reduce methane emissions from dairy and swine manure storage by installing 10,000 biodigesters that convert this waste into biogas (which can be used as a clean source of cooking fuel) and fertilizers.
Sky Wind Project in Maharashtra, India (through Native carbon offsets) – Sky Wind uses wind turbines to meet the electricity needs of small and medium-scale businesses that would otherwise draw their power from the fossil fuel-based central power grid in India. This grid is one of the dirtiest in the world, and investing in renewable energy here has a global impact. In addition to providing clean energy, this project is taking on initiatives around local infrastructure, drainage development and schools.
Digging deeper: how can we make our supply chains more sustainable?
For us, offsetting our carbon emissions is just a first step toward sustainability. Our goal is to achieve carbon neutrality, and ultimately, become carbon negative by removing more carbon from the atmosphere than we’re emitting.
Because more than 80% of our carbon emissions come from our supply chain, this is an area where we have an opportunity to make some real sustainability gains. But in order to be able to work with our manufacturers to lower emissions, we need to know who they are and how they work, and mapping that out is no easy task.
Notoriously difficult to track, the supply chain for a single product can be made up of a complex and dynamic web that extends from the finished product all the way back to the extraction of raw materials. Manufacturing inputs are often sourced from many different facilities, which can be located in disparate countries and on various continents, making the web difficult to untangle. For example, the manufacturer of a final product may have numerous component suppliers, and each of those component suppliers may have its own group of suppliers; this can go on and on for many levels all the way back to the provision of raw materials such as wood, minerals or petroleum products. On top of that, each supplier facility may be using different operations to process their materials or components along with different methods for dealing with the resulting emissions and other environmental and social liabilities.
In 2023 and beyond, we’re taking on the challenge of mapping our supply chain by working with our Tier 1 and Tier 2 suppliers to understand who their suppliers are so we can work together to reduce carbon emissions, other sources of pollution, and ensure social responsibility in our supply chain. This type of in-depth process can be slow—and we acknowledge we will only get so far in a year—but it’s an important start, and as technology and tracking software improves in this area, we hope to be able to accelerate this process.
Progressive packaging: A little can go a long way
As we dig deeper into our supply chain, we’re taking additional steps in areas that can make a real difference now. Last summer, we set out to redesign all of our product packaging to be less resource intensive and we’re working with our manufacturers/shipping partners to improve efficiency and reduce the use of plastics. These changes may seem small but are significant when added up over tens of thousands of individual units and will have a profound environmental effect.
MORE SUSTAINABLE BY DESIGN
Full packaging redesigns don’t happen often, so when the opportunity presented itself, we were determined to take full advantage.
Across all products, we’ve removed plastic laminate and aluminum coatings (which we discovered are not recyclable at most local centers, including ours here in Flagstaff). This makes recycling our cardboard and paper packaging much more accessible. And to help simplify the process for consumers, we’ve partnered with How2Recycle to add standardized recycling labels and instructions to all of our packaging.
We’ve also improved the sustainability of our gaiter and hiking crampon packaging through some more specific changes: We’ve replaced plastic cords on our gaiter hang tags with natural fiber cords; removed all twist ties from our hiking crampon packaging; switched from plastic to paper enveloped for our snow release skins, and reduced the size of the packaging while increasing durability.
There are still improvements to be made. For example, some small parts, like the metal and elastic barb (which attaches gaiters to the packaging) and the cord around the gaiter instep strap are not recyclable. But over time, our goal is to create 100% recyclable packaging.
EFFICIENT, SUSTAINABLE SHIPPING
Our new packaging has been optimized for efficient shipping. Box dimensions for stretch-on traction and hiking crampons have been adjusted to fit more efficiently onto a standard shipping pallet. This means we’re able to ship more products from our manufacturers’ warehouses to ours in fewer shipments. We’ve also worked with our manufacturers to optimize the dimensions of our shipping boxes, making them more easily reusable, so we can reduce the number of new boxes we use to ship our products to customers.
Behind the scenes, we’re also working with our manufacturers to eliminate the use of individual polybags for our gaiters. Polybags are used to protect products during shipping and are widely used by default by clothing manufacturers. Made of LDPE, a type of plastic that is notoriously difficult to recycle, polybags usually end up in landfills, and when used in large numbers, their impact on the environment can be sizable. While eliminating these bags might mean our gaiters end up a little dustier while in storage, we believe a drastic reduction in the use of these plastics is worth it—our gaiters are meant to be worn on your shoes after all!
Eliminating harmful chemicals
While we work on lowering our emissions, we’re also working alongside other outdoor brands to eliminate environmentally harmful and long-lasting per-and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS), or “forever chemicals,” from our product line. Very good at repelling things like water and grease, a number of PFAS substances have become prevalent (and relied upon) in the outdoor industry. Unfortunately, because these substances don’t break down over time, they linger in the environment and can eventually make their way into humans through contaminated water and food.
To date, we’ve tested all our product components for PFAS using an independent third party, and we are now working with manufacturers to either eliminate these chemicals from all components or replace those components with ones that have no PFAS content.
At present, we’re on track to meet our commitment to eliminating all PFAS content on all newly manufactured products by January 1, 2025 (after that date, we expect there to be a transitional phase-out period before all remaining products containing PFAS are gone from stores).
The drive toward sustainability never stops
There is always more we can do when it comes to sustainability. As a company, we’ve set our sights on environmental responsibility, and eliminating our carbon footprint, which we know plays a role in climate change. By taking achievable steps now, we open the door for other opportunities to do more. One day, as part of our ongoing effort to protect and preserve this amazing planet and the living beings who live on it, we hope to go a step further and meaningfully contribute to the health of our planet in only positive ways. We’re proud that each day, month and year, Betsy, our design team, and all Kahtoola Associates are working hard to make that dream a reality.