A Field Guide to Reaching Peak Sustainability

Welcome to the Global Goals, Local Leaders series, where we highlight innovative American businesses that are acting as local leaders to support and promote the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals – also called Global Goals!

Company: The North Face

Sustainable Development Goal: #12 Responsible Consumption and Production

Since 1966, The North Face has created top-notch gear for athletes and explorers, while supporting preservation of the great outdoors—a mission that’s intentionally woven into the very fabric of its products. James Rogers, Director of Sustainability at The North Face, knows better than most what it means to assume responsibility for the health of our natural world and exceed customer demands at the same time. We spoke to James about how The North Face is stepping up for the world and taking action on SDG #12, Responsible Consumption and Production.

Why is SDG #12 and supporting projects around sustainability so important to The North Face? How does The North Face make this a part of its culture?

James Rogers, Director of Sustainability at The North Face: The North Face was built on a love for the outdoors. Without clean air, clean water, and public lands to explore, we’d be out of business. We make responsible decisions because it’s the right thing to do for the planet and for our business.

A big evolution of our approach to sustainability lies in the design of our products. When we make sustainability a fundamental component of everything we design, then we can move toward making innovative products that have a positive effect on the environment and society. One way this shows up in our current product lineup is through recycled content.

Through life cycle analyses, we learned that 65-85% of the environmental impact in our products occurs at the materials manufacturing stage of production. Therefore, one of the most impactful ways we can reduce the footprint of our products is through adoption of recycled fibers instead of using virgin materials. We’ve since switched over many of our products to recycled materials, including our best-selling Denali fleece jacket, our Bottle Source Collection made from plastic bottles recycled from the waste streams of national parks, and many other product lines. We also recently launched our Renewed platform, which is a re-commerce shop for previously worn  and repaired The North Face gear, giving those products yet another life and making our products more accessible to consumers.

How does The North Face strive to preserve and sustain Earth’s resources through sustainable development?

James Rogers: It’s really important  for us to create responsible products from ever more sustainable materials. The Cali Wool Beanie is a great example. The beanie is a product that utilizes Climate Beneficial™ Wool sourced through regenerative agriculture farming practices that have a net negative carbon impact at the ranching stage of production and support soil health. In general, brands are trying to be ‘less bad’ by reducing their environmental impact but Climate Beneficial Wool goes beyond that and becomes part of the solution. We need to make up for all the environmental destruction that has occurred in the past.

“Without clean air, clean water, and public lands to explore, we’d be out of business.”
Our partners at created the Climate Beneficial™ Wool program to encourage ranchers to adopt new carbon farming techniques that draw carbon dioxide from the atmosphere down into soil. We use the wool sourced from this project in our Cali Wool Beanie, in part to prove it is feasible and also to inspire others to consider what’s possible. The beanie was featured as one of Fast Company’s 2018 World Changing Ideas, and we’re excited to say that more products with Climate Beneficial™ Wool recently launched – a scarf and a wool jacket.

As the global community strives to be committed to sustainable production, how is The North Face a leader in these initiatives?

James Rogers: Given the sheer size and scale of production of a global leader in the Outdoor Apparel sector, even the smallest changes that we make towards sustainable production send ripples throughout our entire industry and with the industries’ suppliers.

A couple of years ago we became aware of the potential mistreatment of animals in the food supply chain from which we sourced our down. Given the complexity and lack of transparency in the feather and down industry, we recognized the need for change and partnered with Textile Exchange and Control Union Certifications to create the Responsible Down Standard (RDS), to ensure that down does not come from animals that have been subjected to any unnecessary harm, such as force-feeding or live-plucking. It helps validate and track the down used in our products from farm to finished garment.

When it comes to something like ethically sourced down, we recognize that there is no competition here and that the entire industry is made stronger by using standards such as RDS, and so we opened it up for other companies to use. To date, over 90 brands and counting have adopted the standard across multiple industries. Earlier this year, the Outdoor Industry Association recognized all of the partners in this project with a Together We Are a Force Award to celebrate the strides the group has made toward sustainable down.

“The more companies create products that support values of the Sustainable Development Goals, the more success we’ll all see globally.”

How can other companies and organizations around the world step up to promote a more robust approach to protecting the UN’s Sustainable Development Goal #12?

James Rogers: We recognize that the demand for sustainable products among consumers is at an all-time high and that the business opportunity for sustainably and ethically made products is significant. It’s important that businesses recognize and meet this need, because the more companies create products that support values of the Sustainable Development Goals, the more success we’ll all see globally.


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