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Outdoor store MEC commits to cutting carbon emissions from products, supply chain

MEC said its goal is to slash emissions by 55 per cent by 2030 and 90 per cent by 2050
Bikes are seen for sale at a Mountain Equipment Co-op (MEC) store in Vancouver on Thursday, March 1, 2018. CEO David Labistour announced Thursday that MEC will stop selling several outdoor equipment brands owned by Vista Outdoor Inc., which is also a gun manufacturer. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck

Canadian outdoor retailer Mountain Equipment Co. has set sweeping new emissions targets for its supply chain, part of what the company is calling a stronger, science-based plan to help address the climate crisis.

MEC said its goal is to slash emissions by 55 per cent by 2030 and 90 per cent by 2050.

The targets apply to both direct operations, like MEC stores and buildings, and its supply chain, from the manufacturing of its in-house brand products to the vendor gear and clothing it carries, the company said.

“It’s easy in the environmental movement to have jazz hands,” said Adam Ketcheson, MEC’s chief commercial officer, referring to actions that may help the environment but don’t significantly reduce a company’s carbon footprint.

“What we are really trying to focus on right now is doing things that are measured and have the greatest impact.”

MEC has deep roots in Canada’s environmental movement. The outdoor recreation brand was one of the first retailers in the country to eliminate single-use shopping bags from its stores and pull plastic bottles with certain chemicals from its shelves. It also previously committed to a green building program, and only uses 100 per cent organic cotton in its MEC-branded apparel.

“It’s nice to remove plastic and reduce the size of your cardboard boxes and have LEED-certified buildings,” Ketcheson said.

“All of those things are good and important. But when we did the hard work to really look at the impacts of the business, the place where we can do the most good is really around product and supply chain.”

One of the areas that MEC is focusing on is its private-label brand, a logo with a stylized green mountain with two peaks.

“It’s a significant part of our footprint and one that we have the most control over,” Ketcheson said. “We have visibility to the entire supply chain.”

The company aims to use more recycled materials, which have a much smaller carbon footprint than new materials, he said.

MEC is also focused on consolidating its mills and factories to reduce the shipping required to make a product, Ketcheson said.

“In the past, we sourced materials from all over the world,” he said. “We may have found a great recycled nylon in Taiwan but if we have to ship it all the way to El Salvador … we may have just undone the good.

“We need to consider the ripple effects of choosing that fabric on the total supply chain and carbon footprint. We’re trying to avoid putting something on a boat or, even worse, on a plane.”

MEC is also planning to encourage suppliers to set similar goals and source products with a smaller carbon footprint.

While big brands such as North Face, Patagonia and Prana often “share the same ethos” as MEC and have a high level of transparency within their supply chain, Ketcheson said it can be harder for smaller brands “because it’s very expensive.”

“We audit aggressively our factories and mills and supply chain because we’ve made a choice to do that … but it’s not cheap,” he said.

MEC has set its targets to do more to fight climate change, Ketcheson said.

“For too long the onus has been on the consumer,” he said. “We’re talking about it publicly because this is such a huge challenge for the world. We’re going to try to be as transparent as we can … our the hope is it will be infectious across the industry.”

—Brett Bundale, The Canadian Press

READ MORE: Struggling outdoor equipment retailer MEC opposes efforts to pause sale to Kingswood