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The Triple Bottom Line Part 2: Social Sustainability

By: Mackenzie Griesser

The first blog of this series discussed the most obvious factor when determining a company’s sustainability: their environmental awareness.  Another important element that contributes to the triple bottom line of sustainability is social sustainability. This can be defined many ways, but for the purposes of this blog we will define it as a company’s efforts to give back to the communities in which they operate. This can be done several ways. Some companies organize fundraising events and donate the money to local environmental groups while others send volunteers to help with ongoing projects. No matter their level of involvement however, every brand we carry invests in their community in some way. Part two of a three part series on sustainability in the outdoor industry, this blog will highlight some of the social sustainability initiatives that different brands we carry at Roads Rivers and Trails have to offer.

Patagonia definitely takes the cake when it comes to community involvement and outreach. They work closely with several environmental organizations and donate 1% of all profits to nonprofit groups across the globe. Another way they raise funds for these groups is by organizing the Salmon Run, a 5k community “fun run” in Ventura, California. They also created an environmental internship program for their employees, which is one of the best internship programs I’ve ever seen. Not only do they allow the inteexte842rns to work with whatever environmental group they want, they continue to pay and offer benefits for the duration of the internship, which can be up to two months! Patagonia also takes steps to give back to its namesake, Chilean Patagonia, by sending employees at the company’s expense to help create a new National Park from a former sheep and cattle ranch. Volunteers help remove non-native plants and restore grasslands, build trails, and even built a visitors’ center and other necessary infrastructure. When it is finished the park will span 173,000 acres and be a home for over a hundred species of native fauna, including the four-eyed Patagonian frog and the near extinct huemul deer.

While Patagonia’s community outreach and dedication to environmental protection is truly astounding, Arc’Teryx is right behind them in giving back to communities and protecting beloved wilderness areas. However, they differ from Patagonia in that most of their involvement and outreach is through partnerships with other organizations. For example, they partner with the North Shore Mountain Bike Association to help maintain and protect mountain biking trails on Canada’s North Shore. They are also a sponsor of the Trail Builders Academy, which utilizes both on-site and classroom settings to teach proper trail building and maintenance techniques. They are also members of the European Outdoor Conservation Association, which requires a membership fee that directly funds projects that Arc’Teryx employees regularly volunteer time towards, and the Conservation Alliance, which engages businesses to fund and partner with organizations to protect wild plaArcteryx_BirdNestCape_Delivery_Day_1ces. The membership fees for this organization also go towards funding projects that are voted on by members. One project that Arc’Teryx created and organizes itself is the Bird’s Nest Project. Staff members volunteer time to sew discontinued Gore-Tex fabrics into garments for homeless citizens in Vancouver, which are distributed by local police departments and homeless shelters.

Another brand that invests a lot in their community and organizations across the country is Osprey. Like Arc’teryx, many of their social sustainability initiatives are through partnerships with other organizations. They helped Conservation Next organize and execute an event where volunteers spent the day removing invasive species and performing much needed restoration work on trails in Eldorado Canyon State Park. They also act as a sponsor for Telluride by financing renewable power for Lift 12, as well as sponsoring the Wild and Scenic Environmental Film Festival. On their own, they donate $2 of every pro deal sale to non-profit organizations, including the Appalachian Trail Conservancy and Continental Divide Trail Alliance, and donate 5% of profits from their biannual community “Locals Sale” to nearby non-profit organizations. Donations from these two fundraisers totalled around $7,000 in 2009. Financial donations aside, they also allow employees to do 8 hours of volunteer work on their clock, racking up 200 hours of paid volunteer work in 2009 alone.

These three companies definiteindexly do the most when it comes to social sustainability, but all of the brands we carry give back in one way or another. Rab and Prana contribute to multiple service projects, including restoration work at Peak District National Park (UK) and sending aid to natural disaster sites. Big Agnes and Sea to Summit support Leave No Trace, an international organization that teaches outdoor ethics. These two also support several other environment-focused organizations such as the Conservation Alliance, the Association of Outdoor Recreation and Education, and the Outdoor Industry Association.

Some businesses see giving back to nearby communities as a great PR move, but it’s incredibly important to account for how their operations affect local people. Companies benefit from these communities and everything they have to offer, so it is crucial that they invest in them to ensure their longevity. Social sustainability is often overlooked or assumed, but the brands we carry here at RRT do an awesome job of making sure local neighborhoods and the organizations that support them are taken care of. However, they cannot truly be sustainable unless they follow the criteria of the triple bottom line, which includes social as well as environmental and economic sustainability. You can read about our apparel brands’ environmental sustainability here . Stay tuned for the final blog of this series, which will discuss the thrilling world of economic sustainability, coming soon!