In 2019, at the European Outdoor Summit in Interlaken, one of the largest events in the industry, activists from Fridays For Future took to the stage. Their plea for greater climate protection and the urgent need for politicians and businesses to take action really woke up Alpinetrek’s managing directors, Matthias and Ronny, to the situation. Back at their headquarters in the tranquil town of Tübingen, the two of them took immediate action and founded a new department with the aim of firmly embedding climate protection into the company. In the interview, the two talk about Alpinetrek’s exciting sustainability journey and why the outdoor industry has a very special responsibility when it comes to sustainability.
In 2019, you placed the topic of sustainability, in particular climate protection, at the top of your strategic corporate agenda. In 2022, Alpinetrek was named the most climate-conscious company by Capital magazine. What was the recipe for your success? And what role does sustainability now play within the company?
Matthias: Sustainability is now firmly rooted in our corporate strategy. In 2019, we were still focusing exclusively on the topic of climate protection; in the meantime, we have developed a holistic sustainability strategy that takes into account both environmental and social issues. We regard sustainability as a process. As a company, we are constantly learning and improving. The most important thing for us was to be brave and take the first step.
Ronny: It is also important that we practice sustainability within our own ranks. Every member of staff can make a contribution. Since we all have a passion for the outdoors and feel deeply connected to nature, our staff are highly motivated to promote sustainability within the company.
As a retailer – and hence the bridge between manufacturers and customers – Alpinetrek plays a central role in the value chain. Where do you see the greatest potential to make a real difference in terms of sustainability?
Matthias: We are aware of our special position in the value chain and therefore try to engage with our suppliers as well as our customers. We are confident that, together with our suppliers, we can make a real difference in terms of sustainability. A good example here is climate protection: the emissions caused by the products we sell in our shop are about seven times greater than our own corporate emissions. However, we have no direct influence on these emissions. That is why we have set ourselves the goal that by 2026, 75% of our suppliers (measured by turnover) will set themselves ambitious climate protection targets that are in line with the 1.5°C target of the Paris Agreement. With regard to our customers, it is our declared goal to enable them to make sustainable and conscious purchasing decisions. This is achieved through our selected range of products, as well as via the transparent and detailed presentation of product information in our shop. For us, one thing is certain. To really have an impact in the area of sustainability, we need to have both our suppliers and our customers on board.
And what are the limitations for greater sustainability in the outdoor industry?
Ronny: Sustainability is now a key focus in the outdoor industry. Innovative solutions are continuously being developed. But if you take a closer look at the various subjects, you quickly realise that the topic of sustainability is extremely complex. For example, sewing threads made from polyester are more tear-resistant and therefore ensure greater durability and longevity of a product. However, the material itself is not exactly sustainable. Sometimes you have to find a good compromise between functionality, longevity and sustainability. There is often no “one” sustainable solution.
Looking at the outdoor industry as a whole, what do you think could be done better in terms of climate protection?
Ronny: In my opinion, the outdoor industry has a special responsibility in the fight against the climate crisis. It is not only a matter of protecting the environment, but also about protecting the foundation of our business. If, at some point, there is no longer a real winter in Germany, then no one will need skiing equipment. The outdoor industry lives from nature and should therefore also protect it. An important measure to effectively promote climate protection in the industry is through cooperation. Working together is easier and we have a greater impact. That is why we founded the Outdoor Retailer Climate Commitment (ORCC) together with four other retailers in October 2021. This a voluntary network whose members commit to ambitious climate protection targets. Today, the network has already grown to ten retailers, but of course we hope that the ORCC will grow even further and become an ever stronger voice in the industry.
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