The Outdoor Industry is Facing an Ethical Dilemma

Eco-friendly, REI, Research -

The Outdoor Industry is Facing an Ethical Dilemma

The Issue

The outdoor industry as a whole faces an ethical dilemma to produce outdoor products that are good for the outdoors. Companies and brands such as Columbia, Patagonia, REI, Inc. focus on manufacturing and selling products to consumers that enjoy the outdoors and nature and the majority whom are interested in being environmentally friendly to minimize their carbon footprint.

Keeping this in mind, these brands face the ethical dilemma to produce products that are quality as well as environmentally friendly while still making as much revenue as possible.

The problem that they face is that most manufacturers are overseas in poor countries such as China, Indonesia, Vietnam, and Pakistan among others. Often times manufacturers are switched after each contract if someone can offer a lower production cost. The bottom line is the cheaper that product development is, the more money you can make in the end. The ethical dilemma that outdoor brands face is balancing the values of the brand and consumer with the dollar.

The Truth About Manufacturing

For example, REI, Inc. is a retail store that sells many outdoor products to nature-minded consumers. They have a store brand with their own products as well as hundreds of other brands and items. REI’s store brand is no exception with trying to produce products that are marketed to its customers that want to be environmentally friendly.

The truth is, most manufacturers can only do the best they can in regard to minimizing their carbon footprint because of the reality of producing and importing goods. This is where effective marketing is crucial to the image of an outdoor industry brand, so it dims the shadow of the reality of mass manufacturing. This is not necessarily wrong or untruthful, it is the truth of manufacturing.

Different approaches REI can use to soften the ethical dilemma is to use better fabric and material sources, working with a reputable or its own manufacturing facility to limit bad press and inhumane work conditions, and minimize its shipping frequencies.

The main concern of outdoor brands is to produce quality products without compromising the environment. I am particularly passionate about the outdoor industry because I love the outdoors and I have over 10 years’ experience working with outdoor related products for women with the brand Hotleaf Camouflage.

There are many important issues within the outdoor industry that I focus on but this particular issue is important because it’s unethical for a brand to tote the message of conservation and the outdoors and then have a mass factory operation creating products that are essentially a lie. Outdoor brands have the responsibility to remain ethical in their business approach to product design if they intend to sell to consumers who really place a value in being environmentally friendly.

Wrap Up

This issue has been in the media spotlight for over a decade but is not one that is talked about for too long. I believe from experience that this is because at the end of the day, it comes down to the bottom dollar. How much revenue can a business make to not only survive, but thrive? Manufacturing carries a hefty price tag, often one that can’t be altered too much without product integrity compromise. It is a constant struggle and ethical dilemma of outdoor brands that can’t be forgotten.



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Bainbridge, S. M. (2007). The Sarbanes-Oxley Act: How we got here, and what it means. In The complete guide to Sarbanes-Oxley (pp. 1–37). Cincinnati, OH: F+W Media. Retrieved from here

Love, B. (2020, June 25). Ethical dilemmas put company lawyers in the spotlight. Retrieved from here 

Kenton, W. (2020, February 4). Sarbanes-Oxley (SOX) Act of 2002. Retrieved from here

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