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Climbing Mt Everest is an arduous task, but it hasn’t stopped a lot of people from taking on this challenge. Similarly, cutting down emissions is not an easy feat, but only the bold are willing to step up to the challenge, whether as individuals or brands.

MEC, the iconic outdoor retailer, is embarking on their most challenging expedition yet. On April 22nd, they announced their new commitment to reduce their emissions in line with climate science. In short, it means they are wanting to cut down emissions 55% by 2030 and 90% by 2050!

But what spurred this bold commitment, and what challenges are they facing? Moreover, how will innovation play a role in their efforts to minimize their environmental footprint? To answer these questions, we (virtually) sat down with Laura Swaffield, Environmental Impact Analyst at MEC. She provided us with an exclusive look at MEC’s climate action plan, and how they’re engaging with their stakeholders and customers. 

Join us on this journey to discover how MEC is paving the way for a more sustainable future!

POWC: What inspired MEC to establish these climate targets and how does the company view its role in addressing the urgent issue of climate change?

Laura S: These targets weren’t inspired – they were necessary. MEC’s mission is to enable and inspire everyone to lead active outdoor lives, but we can only stand behind this goal by acknowledging that our business is impacting the outdoors. Although there has been a lot of work throughout MEC’s history to operate in a way that minimizes our impact on the planet, with global greenhouse gas emissions increasing year over year and the effects of climate change impacting so many people around the globe, we knew it was time to create a comprehensive climate action plan. 

It was really important for our climate targets to be grounded in science. We didn’t want to set goals that could easily be achieved and that wouldn’t take too much effort, because that won’t help the crisis we’re facing. We referred to a lot of thought leaders and organizations to inform our targets. 


POWC: I am sure a lot of businesses (small and large) are wanting to set targets but don’t know where to start. What advice would you give to them? What’s the first step towards a climate action plan?

LS: I think a natural starting point, and where we started too, is completing a baseline of your company’s or organization’s emissions. It doesn’t have to be perfect, just having a general sense of what your emissions are and where they come from is step one. You can’t start a race without a starting line, so you need to have that baseline of your emissions to help inform the best ways to reduce them.

From there, you can work to set your targets. The Science Based Targets initiative has some amazing free tools that make target setting quite simple – you can plug in your baseline emissions, and they have done all the work to ensure the suggested targets that are output from their tool are aligned with climate science. 


POWC: What are some of the challenges that MEC faces in meeting its climate targets, and how is the company addressing these challenges?

LS: As a retailer, one of the challenges we face is the products we buy from other brands. We don’t have the power to decide what material is used in those products, or what factories they work in, or how they ship their products to us. What this means is we need to rely on both our purchasing power and our brand partnerships to reduce our shared emissions from their products. 

One of the ways we are starting to address this is through a sustainability survey. New in 2023, we sent out a survey for our brand partners that asks about everything from their carbon footprint to the chemicals they use in products to their social impact efforts. This survey will not only help us increase the accuracy of our carbon footprint, but also inform us on what brands are doing across their sustainability programs. Through the results of this survey, we hope to support brands who are earlier in their sustainability journey and also learn from brands who are taking ambitious and inspiring action, all in an effort to help drive the outdoor industry towards minimizing the impact of all the products we know and love. 


POWC: What role does innovation and technology play in MEC’s efforts to reduce its environmental impact, and what are some examples of innovative solutions that the company has developed?

LS: Innovation and new technologies will be essential for MEC to meet our targets, but while we are outdoor specialists, we recognize we have a lot to learn when it comes to climate. This is why we are supporting organizations that are working to find solutions to the big problems. 

One example of this is our 2022 support for Fashion Takes Action’s Textile Circularity Project to build a Canadian recycling supply chain for polyester garments. You can read more about it here: Textile-to-textile recycling is an important technology that will be essential in not only our efforts to reduce our impact, but the entire industry’s. The amount of textiles that end up in landfill is absolutely shocking, so having a recycling pathway that allows for textiles to be remade into new yarn and new materials is crucial to reducing our industry’s environmental impact. We’re working on doing our part to expand this market and have started sourcing materials that are coming from post-consumer products but there’s still a long way to go until this is the norm.  


POWC: Speaking of circularity, where are you at with your research on a circularity program at MEC?

LS: We’re still working through how we can best help MEC customers keep products in use longer. We have a Yard Sale program, which is our in-store solution for getting gear that still has some life left in it back into the hands of people who will use it. While our research phase into other solutions continues, we encourage everyone to share, barter, exchange, and sell old gear to keep it out of the landfill. We also have lots of resources on how to care and maintain gear on our website: 


POWC: How does MEC engage with its customers and stakeholders on climate issues, and what role do they play in supporting the company’s climate targets?

LS: We put transparency at the forefront of our engagement, both with customers and staffers. It’s great to celebrate our successes, but we feel it’s equally important to share what is hard for us and where we’re struggling. Engaging on climate issues especially in this authentic and honest way helps customers understand the nuance and some of the challenges we’re working through. 

Engagement is really a two-way street. Our members definitely have a role in helping to push us towards greater emission reductions. One of the many ways they can do this is by “voting with their dollars” by looking for products made with sustainable materials. 


POWC: What future plans or strategies does MEC have in place to further advance its sustainability efforts?

LS: We have a number of goals and strategies within our direct control, including objectives for sustainable materials and product attributes in MEC Label products for 2030, improving the energy efficiency of our stores, and looking at solutions for sustainable packaging. 

We are also diving deeper where we can have the greatest impact: with the brand partner products we buy. We’re exploring how we can better empower our teams to have the important conversations about the sustainability of products with the many brands we work with. Our position as a retailer can help us drive change across the industry, and we’re building plans around using this position in a positive way. 

Sustainability at MEC also goes beyond just environmental impact and includes our social impact program, which focuses on workers in our supply chain and is accredited by the Fair Labor Association. We use a collaborative, continuous improvement approach to partner with suppliers for our MEC Label products and ensure safe, healthy, and fair working environments. We have goals toward increasing our Fair Trade Certified product offering and making progress towards fair compensation for workers. 


POWC: How does MEC plan to integrate climate considerations into its overall business strategy, and what are the potential benefits or opportunities associated with aligning its operations with climate targets?

LS: Currently, our main approach is through education – educating the key decision makers and helping them understand how the decisions they make can really change the climate impact of a product or a store. Having an understanding of the climate impacts that are tied to people’s decision making can help us catch some of the knock-on effects that may have been missed before. 

As an example, within our supply chain, we’re working to consolidate our mills and factories to reduce the shipping required to make a product. The benefits of a recycled material made in one country can be quickly diluted or even negated if we need to ship it across the world to another country for manufacturing. By co-locating mills and factories, the impacts from shipping can be nearly eliminated and all of the benefits from that first decision to source recycled materials remain. 

Down the road, we’ll have to look at additional ways to really cement climate considerations into every business decision, but these tactics and strategies are still under development. 

POWC: MEC has committed to the climate positive goal set by the Outdoor Industry Association’s Climate Action Corps, which includes advocating for broader systemic change. We’re curious to know what this looks like for MEC specifically?

While the OIA’s Climate Action Corps supports outdoor brands with advocacy for the US Government, there isn’t really a coordinated effort for Canadian companies. We look to and collaborate with other groups in Canada to support the message we want to send, including the Retail Council of Canada, and partners like Protect Our Winters. While broad systemic change is hard, we see working with others as the most effective way to shift our perceptions and practices.


 Laura Swaffield 

 Mountain Lover &
 Environmental Impact Analyst
 at MEC





It’s really encouraging to see big companies like MEC stepping up to the challenge of addressing environmental and social impacts within the outdoor industry. We hope their climate action plan serves as an example for individuals and businesses alike to take responsibility and bold actions towards cutting down emissions. 

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