NATURE AT THEIR CORE - ALTITUDE SPORTS’ B-CORP JOURNEY
I absolutely love thrifting for clothing, household items, furniture, etc. However, when it comes to outdoor gear, I find that my thrifting adventures often end in more disappointments than victories. While there are increasing options available, I most of the time reluctantly resort to buying new items. Nevertheless, when I do so, I try to support brands and retailers that are aligning with my values. Altitude Sports is one of them and bonus, they tickle my Quebec pride.
This week, we (virtually) sat down with the good people at Altitude Sports to ask some questions about their journey in becoming certified B-CORP… B-what you say? B-Corp is a certification requiring a rigorous assessment of for-profit companies ensuring they meet the highest standards in social and environmental performance, public transparency and legal accountability.
So grab a coffee and come learn as we gain valuable insights into Altitude Sports’ motivations, challenges, and aspirations in shaping a more sustainable outdoor industry.
POWC: What was the motivation behind the goal of getting your B CORP certification?
Altitude Sports: We chose the B CORP certification to help us structure our approach towards a more sustainable business, which allowed us to determine several actions and initiatives to undertake in the short term across all our departments, in connection with our environmental footprint, while also taking the community impact among our employees into consideration.
We chose this specific certification because it’s aligned with our vision of improving our impacts over time, while generating a profit.
It’s not just about the environment: The organization must outperform the industry average in five sets of performance standards. Those being, in order of importance: environment, workers, community, governance & customers.
We think it will help attract and engage top workforce talent, as well as collaborators and peer partners.
It is one of the most well known certifications in business in the world (there are over 4,000 Certified B CORPs from more than 70 countries and 60 industries).
We already carry many brands that are B CORPs, and with whom we share common values, such as Patagonia, Burton, Cotopaxi, Tentree.
POWC: Beyond the obvious benefits resulting from sustainable practices, have you noticed any other advantages? For example, employee pride, media coverage, favorable public opinion, etc.
AS: We are just starting to talk about it publicly, so I don’t think we’ve seen the full impact of it yet. Of course, when we launched our electric delivery, we got some media coverage. Once we voiced our decision to pursue B-CORP certification, however, the employee pride and engagement towards our goal was extraordinary. When we set out on this path, the first steps were to audit our impact, therefore assess our GHGs, our use of chemicals, water consumption, and more to have a baseline understanding of this impact year over year. We then shared the results internally during an all-hands meeting that we do at the end of each quarter. After we began talking about our ambitions to be B-CORP certified and prompted a discussion about the number of tonnes of GHGs we were emitting per year, people started to get involved, committed, motivated to do more, determined to do better and feel proud to work for a company that takes action.
We are also seeing some support from our partners to share knowledge and help us in our journey which is also great. You need a community to be able to change on a large scale.
POWC: We would love to know more about how executives are making this process and impact work a priority for your company (is this a request coming from the employees or is it part of the company’s core values and vision?)
AS: It’s definitely a subject that is important to our employees as well as the executives. Sustainability is a top organizational goal, which means that the board of advisors and our executives all voted to prioritize this now and in the future. We also have a Director leading the project across the business and supported by Alex, the co-CEO to make sure everyone’s aligned.
POWC: We love that you make it clear and accessible to shop in a sustainable way on the site. What is the current % of sustainable brands offered? Additionally, do you have any plans to expand this section in the future? Is this something you have to look into to get B-CORP certified?
AS: In all honesty, it’s difficult to answer on a brand level because a lot of brands are offering only a selection of sustainable products within their total assortment. However, I can say that we have more than 3,000 products in our sustainable collection and 9 B corp certified brands (Tentree, Patagonia, Picture, Cotopaxi, Burton, Kathmandu, Rip Curl and Oboz, Bellroy). There’s also a lot of brands that are publishing a sustainability impact report each year like icebreaker, Mammut, Salomon, Outerknown, Levis and more. We plan on expanding this selection each year. We are also working on a supplier code of conduct to reinforce this value and are adding elements to our buying guides to respect some key ESG features. Plus, by communicating more information about sustainable brands and products, we see ourselves occupying an active role in educating customers to include this criteria when shopping, if it were not already the case.
POWC: When onboarding a new brand, how do you ensure that new brands align with your sustainability standards?
AS: We put together a point system in order to measure and be able to qualify how brands align with our values: Responsible Living, Form that function, Aesthetic Vision, Human Touch.
Each value comes with desirable criteria such as: origin, point of deliveries, any type of certifications (ex. BCorp, 1% for the Planet, ZQ, etc), reach (customer base), diversity and inclusivity values (ex. Inclusive sizing, minority representation / leadership).
POWC: We understand this is a very important, but also very complex process to go through. We are curious if you have encountered any challenges along the way? If you are comfortable sharing, we would love to hear about those obstacles and how you overcome them.
AS: First of all, the cost of analyzing our impact (GHG, chemicals, waste level 2, water consumption), is one of our biggest challenges. To be able to follow the results of our efforts, we will need to do these analyses on a regular basis, so this will become a regular expense needed to be integrated into our business model. And one key lever to help us achieve our objective is to apply for subsidies and funds.
Also, finding the time to develop official policies, learning, and educating internally is tricky.
Due to the industry we operate within and the fact that we are a retailer and are not in control of every step of our supply chain, it is more difficult to have all the data and to implement new practices. The size of the company also makes it more challenging in this very large ecosystem.
POWC: Back in April, I came across the article in Le Journal de Montréal about your electricity-powered delivery program, and thought it was such a great initiative! Can you share with us how it has been going so far and what challenges you have faced since its launch? Do you have any plans to expand this service to other cities in the future?
AS: Yes, last March, we launched our partnership with Courant Plus. We plan on delivering more than 110,000 parcels in Montreal with 100% electric delivery in 2023, an environmental commitment of unprecedented magnitude for a Canadian retailer.
Deliveries made within what Courant Plus describes as the ‘green zone,’ where more than 60% of Montrealers reside, are carried out aboard the very first Ford E-Transit electric vans as well as with electrically-assisted bicycles. The delivery times are the same as those usually promised by Altitude Sports, a company recognized for the speed of its deliveries. The service is offered free of charge for orders of $74 or more for the time being.
It’s going very well so far. The main challenge is to make sure our clients know that we offer this service and that the delivery will be as quick as with the standard service.
There is definitely a plan to expand the service, but it mainly depends on Courant Plus.
POWC: If you had all means in the world, what would be the one thing you would improve in the outdoor industry?
AS: First, transparency: it’s really difficult to have the exact information about a product material, a working condition in a factory, the litres of water used in manufacturing, etc. It’s better than it has been in the past, but it’s still very closed in terms of information. And I think that if the information were accessible, no one would be able to turn the eye on it - consumers would be able to make better decisions, retailers would be able to purchase knowing every element involved, and lawmakers would be able to base their regulations on the data.
Second, regulation: To change an industry you need to regulate it and reinforce those regulations. There’s not a lot of laws or guidelines to make sure that fast fashion will stop or that businesses are considering the impact their decisions have on people, the environment and their communities. It’s also important that these regulations are upheld in different countries since we are working in a global industry: there are no borders when it comes to a sustainable, ethical future.
As we bid farewell to our insightful conversation with Altitude Sports, we are inspired by their journey. They serve as a reminder that even in the realm of outdoor gear, where thrifting may prove challenging, there are brands like Altitude Sports working diligently to shape a more sustainable and responsible industry. We couldn’t conclude this blog without shining a light on this quote from co-CEO of Altitude Sports, Alexandre Guimond:
“We hope to inspire other e-commerce companies to make a significant impact towards a more sustainable economy. An appreciation for nature is part of Altitude Sports' DNA, and it goes without saying that we must protect it. For us, that means aspiring to become a leader in sustainable e-commerce in Canada.
Learn more about Altitude Sports sustainability standards here.
Shop sustainable & responsible brands here.