Kathmandu’s Commitment to Sustainability
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Society-wide changes like the shift to sustainably sourced products tend to happen slowly—and then all at once. Take the banning of plastic straws, for example, or the New Zealand gear and apparel maker Kathmandu. More than 20 years ago, the company, which was founded in a shed beneath Mount Cook in 1987, was one of the first manufacturers to upcycle used plastic bottles into apparel. And every year since, it has expanded its company-wide sustainability program by sourcing renewable or recycled materials whenever possible and doing things like replacing environmentally nasty chemicals in favor of organic water-repellents. Along the way, Kathmandu has also supported transparency in how it makes its products and contributed hundreds of thousands of dollars and countless volunteer hours to various community-minded projects.
As a testament to its efforts, this past September Kathmandu became the second-largest apparel maker in the world to qualify as a Certified B Corporation. For those not familiar with the certification, B Corporations are businesses that balance profit and purpose by meeting the highest standards of verified social and environmental performance, public transparency, and legal accountability. Becoming one is a big deal, requiring an independent advisory board to certify a company's efforts across five categories: governance, workers, customers, community, and environment.
"Sustainability is part of Kathmandu’s DNA. It’s integral to our entire operation, from our supply chain to our materials and products and our operational footprint."
It’s worth the effort. Getting the B Corp stamp allows companies like Kathmandu to instantly communicate that they’re dedicated to using business as a force for good. It's an extremely relevant and powerful message, especially given that consumers are increasingly looking to support brands that share their same values, and how well a company takes care of its employees, its community, and the planet matters as much as the actual products it makes. In Kathmandu’s case, it also provides a new framework through which to tell its unique story. The company is New Zealand’s first publicly listed B Corp and Australia’s biggest B Corp. “Start naming medium to large outdoor brands that were started by a woman and adopted sustainable practices early on,” says Ben Ryan, Kathmandu’s general manager of product. “You won’t get far. We’re also unique in the market because, unlike other brands, we offer a complete green solution. It’s not just one sweater: sustainability runs through all of our lines.”
Fittingly, the company didn’t achieve B Corp status and then take a breather. Kathmandu has gone beyond the B Corp standards by also achieving a fair labor accreditation and is quickly approaching its company-wide goal of sending zero waste to landfills. “Sustainability is part of Kathmandu’s DNA,” says CEO Xavier Simonet. “It’s integral to our entire operation, from our supply chain to our materials and products and our operational footprint.”
Australia and New Zealand currently produce more B Corporations per capita than any other region. But other parts of the planet are starting to catch up, and there are now more than 3,000 certified B Corps, across hundreds of industries and dozens of countries, including heavyweights like Ben & Jerry’s, Kickstarter, Patagonia, Eileen Fisher, and Stonyfield Organic. This is a good thing. As the movement gets bigger, it’s getting louder. Earlier this summer, the co-founders of the B Corporation movement took out a full-page ad in The New York Times imploring major corporations that are starting to take a more holistic view of their business to get even more serious—and take the next major step by getting certified as a B Corp. The reason is as simple as it is profound: if we’re going to collectively figure out solutions to combat climate change and rising inequality, we need everybody’s help. It’s a movement that’s much larger than making outdoor gear, and one that Kathmandu is proud to be a part of.
Want to find out more about Kathmandu's sustainability efforts? Check out their 'Our Footprint' page for an in-depth view of Kathmandu's programs for Worker Wellbeing, Responsible Materials, and Environmental Impact.