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Study of the sincerity of the social and environmental commitments of mountain and outdoor sports brands in 2024

Mountains are one of the environments most affected by climate change. Mountain enthusiasts are therefore among the public most aware of the profound changes that must take place in our societies. As a result, most mountain sports enthusiasts are adapting their practices and consumption to protect as much as possible the extremely fragile environment that makes them tick.

For these reasons, brands active in mountain sports and activities are often the most advanced when it comes to seizing environmental topics. The outdoor sports brand best known for its commitment is Patagonia, which is the best-known international example.

This study is dedicated to analyze how outdoor brands express their commitments on social and environmental issues. How transparent are they? How do they handle evidence? How humble are they (their admissions of weakness)? What is their marketing sobriety score? How visible is the commitment? What are the different types of engagement? It will also be an opportunity to detect some greenwashing practices where we'd rather there weren't any!

The study will also be used to feed the methodologies of our responsible communications agency.

Methodological notes on the study

The study is evolving. It will be updated regularly.

Searches were carried out exclusively on the French-language pages of the sites analyzed, where available. Otherwise, the English version was selected and the terminology translated as best as possible.

The study is collaborative. So don't hesitate to contact us to suggest additions. Each contribution will be credited.

Here is the complete list of the 60 brands analyzed: Patagonia, Picture, Vaude, The North Face, Burton, prAna, Snap Climbing, Aigle, Arc'teryx, Lagoped, Ortovox, Julbo, Millet, Salomon, Zag Skis, Jetboil, La Sportiva, Scarpa, Petzl, Rab, Béal, Black Diamond, Atomic, Oakley, Grivel, Lange, Arva, Camp, Odlo, MSR, Rossignol, Forclaz, Simond, Quechua, Dynastar, Völkl, Black Crow, Helly Hanssen, Buff, Fischer, Osprey, Gregory, Scott, Dynafit, Garmin, Cimalp, Lafuma, Movement, Pieps, Backcountry Access, Mammut, Opinel, Blue Ice, Plum, Looking for Wild, Leki, Hoka, Gignoux, Tecnica, Blizzard

Versions, credits and licenses

3 mail 2024 - v1.0 - Initial version of article

Authors :

This article and its contents are published under CC BY 4.0 Deed license. You have the right to use, modify and share it, as long as you specify the original authors, provide a link to the license and indicate whether any modifications have been made.

General comments on the geographical distribution of the brands analyzed

Of the brands analyzed in this first edition of our study, it is important to note thatmost of them are French. This is a bias that we felt it important to address as transparently as possible. As this is a collaborative study, we encourage you to contact us to suggest other brands from a wider range of countries (which will be added in next year's update).

This is an important point because the level of maturity with regard to ecological and social commitments seems to differ widely based on the geographical origin of the brands.

We will therefore include a geographical dimension in most of our analysis categories. This is to confirm or refute this hypothesis.

Here is the geographical breakdown of brands by location of international headquarters:

  1. France - 43.33%
  2. USA - 16.67%
  3. Italy - 13.33%
  4. Germany - 6.67%
  5. Austria - 6.67%
  6. Switzerland - 6.67%
  7. Others - 6.67%

Semantic analysis of outdoor brand engagement

What are the words and concepts used by the various mountain sports brands to characterize their commitments? This is the question posed in this chapter.

Main concept of engagement page titles

Section update date: May 3, 2024

In this section, we analyze the concept represented in the title of the main page dedicated to brand commitments. If several concepts are present, the one with the most weight (for example, in the information hierarchy) is chosen. In the absence of a main title, the title present in the page's tag is used.

Here is the complete list:

  • Durability: 26.67%
  • Commitment: 20.00%
  • Absent: 18.33%
  • Protection: 10.00%
  • Responsibility: 8.33%
  • Save, Mission, Change, Eco-design, Unclear, Eco-responsibility, Vision, Impact, Right way, Better: 1.67% each

Important to note: the "Absent"This means that there is no page dedicated to the brand's social and environmental commitments. The value "Unclear", means that the concept put forward is not clear 😉

Here is also a graphic representation in the form of a word cloud:

Main concept of engagement page titles - Word cloud

It's interesting to note the major geographical differences. We will limit ourselves to a comparison between France and the rest of the world. The volume of brands analyzed does not necessarily allow us to make comparisons at other levels:

For French brands :

  • Commitment: 38.46%
  • Absent: 23.08%
  • Protection : 15.38%
  • Responsibility : 7.69%
  • Eco-design, Eco-responsibility, Sustainability, Better : 3.85% each

For brands from other countries :

  • Durability: 44.12%Absent: 14.71%Responsibility : 8.82%Protection, Commitment : 5.88% eachSave, Mission, Change, Unclear, Vision, Impact, Right Way : 2.94% each

  • Conclusions

    The sustainability conceptoften extended to the sustainable development concept, accounts for more than a quarter of results. This is hardly surprising, given that it is based on three aspects: social action, ecological action and profit. The concept is therefore very well accepted in business circles.

    In this respect, it is particularly interesting to note that for French brands (representing 43% of the brands analyzed), the concept of sustainability falls to last place. In France, it's the notion of commitment, which is used by more than a third of brands.

    In a way, French outdoor brands are not only pursuing a strategy of validating their actions through the prism of sustainable development, but are also seeking to highlight the diversity of their commitments. And in many cases, these commitments go far beyond this framework.

    Screenshot of the Patagonia commitments main page

    Patagonia's use of the infinitive to emphasize a militant dimension

    Another interesting point, most of the concepts represented are nouns (commitment, protection, responsibility, sustainable development...). A single infinitive verb has crept into the list, and it's the verb "to save". It's on the main page Patagonia's commitments that this word was extracted. Compared to the meaning of the title of their commitment page, it would not have been correct to transform it into "la sauvegarde".

    The militant aspect of this title requires that we keep the infinitive verb. Keep the idea of action.

    Remarkable and unremarkable elements

    • Unclear! The English brand Rab has a lot to say on its engagement page. The structure, however, isn't quite there. It's a pity, because in terms of content, there's a pretty broad coverage of the issues. Judge for yourself:
    • Sometimes it's vague! Two brands surprise with very vague concepts. Such is the case with the Hoka brand, whose concept is "betterand C.A.M.P. whose concept is "vision.
    Rab's DNA presentation page.
    Focus on prAna

    Clothing for positive change

    PrAna is a brand of clothing for outdoor sports, yoga and climbing (among others). It is unique in that it was born in the early 90s with a direct focus on sustainability. And this is clearly reflected in the commitments presented.

    On their commitment pagechange is the key value. And it's not just a question of changing ecological practices. Respect, progress rather than perfection, inclusivity, climate, animal welfare, circularity... Many topics are covered.

    Unfortunately, the evidence is lacking. If figures are present on the pages dedicated to the various commitments. Figures that represent past or future trajectories, these figures are not sourced. There is no trace of a CSR report on the site.

    If you look hard enough, the only relationship is the "Columbia Group's 2022 "impact report including prAna. A little light for a brand with such strong, comprehensive messages.

    Study in progress

    What you see now is only the very first stage of this study into the sincerity of outdoor brands' commitment. It will be progressively expanded to cover various aspects, as listed below. This list will also evolve as our reflections progress:

    • Semantic analysis What are the concepts and key words used to express brand commitment? What use is made of activist communication codes when speaking out?
    • Visibility of commitments How many clicks are required between the home page and the first pages dedicated to commitments? What types of commitments are presented on the home page?
    • Objectivation of commitments What evidence is used to prove commitment? Has a recent carbon assessment been carried out for the 3 scopes? Has a product life-cycle analysis been carried out? Is there any mention of biodiversity or suppliers? Does the company have a label? Does it support NGOs or set up a foundation?
    • Maturity scores What are the marketing sobriety scores of different communication objects? How representative are the social and environmental issues presented? What types of commitments are covered?
    • Sincerity analysis Are brands admitting their weaknesses? Are marketing tactics aligned with commitments? Is there a sense of maturity in the brand's transition tactics? Are legal status and governance aligned with commitments?

    Do not hesitate to make contact with Jonathan Loriaux if you'd like to discuss the methodology or apply it for yourself.

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