Last updated February 9, 2020
I’ve spent a lot of time enjoying the outdoors throughout my life. I spent hours exploring the forest in our backyard when I was little. As I got older, it’s no surprise I took to hiking, camping, and road trips. But those activities require (at least some) gear and because we’re young adults with almost none of our own, we’ve been slowly building our collection. When we buy outdoor gear, Jacob and I try to support brands that protect the places we’re exploring. Luckily, there are many outdoor brands that give back.
Outdoor brands are often leaders in environmental and social change, which makes sense since they’re all about getting people outside. If there’s no environment to enjoy, how would their brands survive? But it’s about more than their company’s survival to these brands. They’re run by people who truly care about the environment.
There’s no denying these brands have influence and they’re positioned perfectly to make a difference. And thankfully, many of them do.
Outdoor brands that give back
In such a huge industry, it can be hard to sift through all of the information. Which companies have a quality product and help the environment? It quickly becomes overwhelming trying to research all of it.
All you wanted was a new hat, but here you are reading about the shrinking parks and dying salmon. How did that happen? But more importantly, it makes you wonder what you can do to help.
How to help
To help make your choices easier, we’ve gathered some of our favourite outdoor brands that give back (in no particular order). It’s by no means an exhaustive list — there are simply too many to list them all — so I’ve only included brands that we personally use and love. Some of them donate time, money, or resources, whereas others support outdoor-related legislation, increased education, or eco-friendly resources.
In a world with serious environmental problems, I believe we should celebrate the brands that give back and defend our home. So without further ado, here are Jacob and my favourite outdoor brands that give back through our support.
Patagonia is arguably one of the most environmentally activist brands in the entire world — and not just among outdoor companies. Their gear isn’t cheap, but you’re investing in more than yourself when buying from them. You’re investing in the future of our planet. Their mission statement is “we’re in business to save our home planet”.
At their core, Patagonia is a gear company. Their environmental commitment permeates every aspect of their company, including the products themselves. They take great care to create quality gear that lasts a lifetime. Plus, their Worn Wear program repairs old Patagonia gear and keeps it out of the landfill. They also use Fair Trade Certified products that have a low environmental impact.
Since 1985, Patagonia has donated their time, services, and a minimum of 1% of all their sales to protecting the environment. They’ve given over $85 million to grassroots environmental organizations all around the world and co-founded 1% for the Planet which has resonated across the world.
Patagonia also isn’t afraid to become politically involved. They’ve endorsed US senators that align with their values openly criticized the Trump administration’s public land policies and tax cuts. They’ve even sued the government over it. And when the US’s tax cuts meant they owed $10 million fewer taxes, they donated the money to environmental initiatives.
One of its newest initiatives is Patagonia Action Works. It’s an online platform that connects everyday people like you and me with local environmental groups and events which makes it easy to get involved.
Tentree specializes in relaxed, lifestyle outdoor clothing and they plant ten trees in deforested areas around the world with every purchase. You can even see where your trees are planted and its impact on local communities. Our purchases have gone towards reforesting Madagascar and planting mangrove, moringa, palm, and acacia trees.
Tentree is pushing environmental change and wants to inspire others to do the same. They’re working to reduce the negative impact the clothing industry has on the planet — we’re looking at you, fast fashion. Their goal is to become the most environmentally progressive brand on earth and to plant one billion trees by 2030. It’s a lofty goal and one I’m happy to support!
Tentree’s environmentalism and social change goes beyond simply planting trees, though. By working with local communities in deforested areas, they provide employment, restore wildlife habitat, and educate locals on how to prevent the problems from happening again.
They also partner with ethical factories and only source eco-friendly materials such as organic cotton, recycled polyester, hemp, cork, and coconut. They ensure that every aspect of their products’ creation is sustainable.
Environmentalism isn’t the only way outdoor brands give back, often it’s through humanitarianism involvement, too. Lifestraw is known for their water filters, but they do so much more. As they say themselves, they’re a “social impact brand with a retail program”, not the other way around.
PS: Lifestraws are a great resource to have in your ten hiking essentials.
Lifestraw provides safe, clean drinking water to some of the world’s most vulnerable countries. They firmly believe that safe water isn’t a privilege, it’s a human right. Every product sold provides one child with safe drinking water for an entire year.
In addition to providing water, they also educate communities about the importance of hygiene, sanitation, general health practices, and more. Lifestraw believes that it’s not only about making contaminated water safe, it’s about protecting the water so it doesn’t become contaminated in the first place.
Lifestraw also ensures that their product’s production uses environmentally responsible manufacturing and sourcing practices. They’re aiming to be Fair Trade certified by the end of 2019.
And although many of their products are made of plastic, they’re durable and have contributed to a drastic reduction in single-use bottled water. They’re also actively looking into a recycling program for their products.
Although Lifestraw’s main purpose isn’t environmentalism, it’s great to see they’re taking it into consideration.
PrAna works hard to have a continuing positive impact on both our planet and its people. They have a large line of lifestyle outdoor clothing and were the first North American apparel brand to create Fair Trade Certified™ clothing.
Sustainability runs in prAna’s veins. They source sustainable materials like organic cotton, recycled wool, and responsible down. Plus, they partner with farmers and factory works to help bridge the gap between living and minimum wage.
They believe that small changes add up. Progress not perfection, as they say. Just like switching to energy-efficient light bulbs reduces your energy consumption, switching to sustainable materials lessons your impact on the environment. PrAna also works with local and international charities and donates a portion of their proceeds to Outdoor Outreach which helps bring kids into the outdoors.
United By Blue
United By Blue is another outdoor brand that gives back. They’re committed to bringing people together to improve the health of our water. For every item purchased, United By Blue removes one pound of trash from our oceans and waterways.
They don’t just sign a cheque for this — they roll up their sleeves and actually get outside. United by Blue also hosts local cleanups and bring communities together to fight plastic pollution and ocean trash.
In addition to removing trash from the oceans, their entire brand has environmentalism in mind.
They are a Certified B Corporation, which means they’re legally required to consider the impact their brand has on various things, including their employees, community, and environment. United By Blue firmly believes that products made for enjoying the outdoors shouldn’t be harmful to the environment.
The North Face
The North Face is one of the oldest outdoor brands on our list (founded in 1968). For over 50 years they’ve been creating quality gear that stands the test of time. They’re also involved in a myriad of environmental initiatives. They support conservation and fight climate change through funding, activism, and various programs.
In recent years, The North Face — along with Patagonia, KEEN, and others — has become extremely outspoken regarding the Trump administration’s public land policies. They jointly submitted an open letter to the US government which was signed by hundreds of the outdoor industry’s CEOs.
More recently, they’ve advocated for the protection of the Arctic Refuge.
The North Face’s commitment to environmental conservation and protection goes beyond outdoor advocacy.
They co-founded the Conservation Alliance in 1989 with Patagonia, REI, and Kelty which helps protect threatened habitat and outdoor recreation. Their Explore Fund provides opportunities for people to learn about and explore the outdoors.
The North Face also has a lifetime warranty on their products. Their Clothes the Loop program rewards people for dropping off their used products. Those products are then re-purposed, repaired, or recycled.
Additionally, the brand works with their suppliers to reduce chemicals and waste within their factories. The North Face also uses sustainable materials such as recycled polyester and responsible down in their products.
REI, which has been around since 1938, is a co-op which means they can focus on their members’ priorities instead of shareholders. They sell all of the top outdoor brands, as well as their own self-labeled brand.
Thanks to their co-op business model, their brand is able to give back very easily. They give 70% of their profits annually to the outdoor community through member dividends and investments in outdoor nonprofits.
If you’re in the US, it’s very likely that REI invests in organizations that maintain the trails and parks in your area.
REI supports sustainability both through its own products and the entire outdoor industry. They do this by encouraging other brands to pledge as advocates for the outdoors.
They also believe there are more important things than profits, so every year since 2015 they’ve closed their stores on Black Friday and given their employees the day off to #OptOutside with their friends and family. They’re not the only ones, either. Since then, over 700 organizations have joined them.
In addition to that, they’ve created the Force of Nature Fund which has invested $1 million into organizations that increase opportunity for women in the outdoor industry.
MEC is Canada’s REI equivalent and is the largest co-op by membership in the entire country. Created in 1971, MEC offers great prices, rentals, and a fantastic guarantee on their gear. Purchases go towards conserving the environment and supporting Canadians in the outdoors. They want to leave the world better than we found it.
In 2019, they were even named Canada’s most trusted brand!
They are a proud member of 1% for the Planet and partner with Canadian outdoor nonprofits to promote conservation and ethical enjoyment of the outdoors. Since 1987, they’ve contributed more than $44 million to Canada’s outdoor recreation and environmental conversation.
It doesn’t stop there. 95% of their self-labeled clothing are packaged without plastic and unnecessary packaging. Since 2008, they’ve removed all single-use shopping bags from their stores which has accounted for about 3.4 million bags a year.
MEC’s clothing line is Fair Trade Certified™ and they’re very transparent about their supply chain and how they work to reduce waste, water consumption, and their carbon footprint.
Columbia is another well established outdoor brand that gives back. They’re based in the beautiful Pacific Northwest and began as a family-run business more than 80 years ago. They’re well known for making high quality, no-nonsense gear that performs well in all kinds of weather.
They place great emphasis on creating gear that’s made from responsibly sourced materials. Columbia actively tracks their supply chain so that they can continually improve their environmental impact.
They also run Rethreads, a program that keeps clothing out of landfills by rewarding customers for bringing in used clothing and shoes (even from other brands). That clothing is then recycled or donated.
Columbia also donates money and products to a variety of environmentally-focused nonprofits such as The Conservation Alliance, Leave No Trace, and the National Park Foundation, which are all working to help the environment.
KEEN is an outdoor shoe brand whose commitment to environmental and humanitarian efforts are a core aspect of their company. As they say on their website, they “make shoes to make a difference”.
Founded in 2003, KEEN’s pivotal moment in their brand’s story came only a year later in 2004. They took their entire $1M annual marketing budget and put it towards disaster relief following the Indian Ocean tsunami. It shaped their culture into a brand that gives back and does the right thing.
Since then, they’ve donated over $15 million to outdoor nonprofits and organizations around the world. Their KEEN Effect Grant Program focuses on improving coastlines around the world and connecting kids with the great outdoors.
Many of their shoes are proudly American made in Portland, Oregon. They voluntarily push industry standards and research sustainable chemistry for their products. KEEN also uses the Higg Index (as does Columbia) to measure their sustainability throughout their products’ entire production.
S’well was created with the sole purpose of significantly reducing the amount of single-use bottle consumption worldwide. By combining beautiful, quality products with a single-minded, eco-friendly goal, this amazing women-owned company is making amazing strides to reduce plastic waste.
A single person can displace 167 single-use bottles within a single year simply by switching to a reusable bottle. Armed with that knowledge, S’well created their Million Bottle Project. Its goal is to raise awareness about single-use plastic and how each of us, simply by making small changes, can have a huge impact on the environment.
Their project aims to remove the use of 100 million single-use plastic bottles by 2020.
S’well also partners with UNICEF and has donated $1.4 million since 2017 to provide safe and clean water to some of the world’s most vulnerable communities. Going into 2020, they’re supporting UNICEF’s water programs in Madagascar. This includes building infrastructure, educating communities about water-borne diseases, and promoting national reform for sustainable change.
Although S’well isn’t necessarily an outdoor brand, their environmental goals land them firmly in this list for me. Plus, if you’ve been following along with us for a little while, I’m sure you’ve heard about my love of S’well. Not only do I love the bottle itself and have used it almost every day since 2013, I firmly believe in their goals.
What are your favourite outdoor brands that give back? We’d love to hear what they are!