High functionality combined with durability and lasting design have always been at the core of Arc’teryx brand, making sustainability a focus area for the company. However, in a drive to integrate social and environmental priorities deeper into practices of the company, sustainability is being increasingly linked to the design process of the products, as Arc’teryx Director of sustainability Drummond Lawson points out.
We live in an age of transparency and companies are expected to create value in the surrounding society beyond their operating sector. The idea that businesses exist not only to produce wealth and wellbeing for their owners and people who work for them is however relatively new. It wasn’t until the early 1960s when environmentalist Rachel Carson wrote on the effects of toxins on the vulnerable environment and people, that the concept of social and environmental responsibility was born.
Today, we take for granted that businesses communicate their desire to solve global problems and make statements for better future for all of us. This sentiment is especially true to the customers of Arc’teryx.
“Arc’teryx customers already have high expectations not only toward the products but to us as a company. It is not enough that we do our part based on customer expectations, but I see this as a question of challenging our designers to see sustainability an integral part of everything we do”, Lawson says.
Sustainability as part of the core business
There are four main areas of focus for sustainability at Arc’teryx. First, the product, which is designed to perform optimally, be durable and made from safe, low impact materials. Secondly, the whole supply chain, where environmental impact and the impact on the community around it are vital issues. Other areas of focus are transparency and community.
Drummond Lawson’s road lead to Arc’teryx five years ago. After studying and working abroad for almost ten years, Drummond was eager to return to his native Canada. An avid outdoor sports lover, he was familiar with the Arc’teryx brand.
“It appealed to me because although Arc’teryx had real leadership in the design and quality of its products, there was not yet a strategic approach to address sustainability as part of its core business. Not only written in strategy but the actual design of the products. I loved the challenge of adding this dimension to the existing expertise.”
The first person at Arc’teryx to hold the position of director of sustainability, Drummond Lawson has a degree in chemistry and environmental sciences. Through his studies and early career he found the approach to ecological issues being often more reactive than proactive.
“I felt in many cases reacting to environmental questions meant catching up with the problem rather than solving it. Responding, rather than saying”.
After joining Arc’teryx, Lawson wanted to put the forward leaning approach into action. His first task was to investigate the whole production process, to see how creative, proactive approach to sustainability could be achieved in everyday operations of the company. The work started with a very fundamental thinking process.
“We started by thinking if we as a company would like to build a sustainability strategy that is proactive and in line with our values, we should probably know what our values are,” Lawson describes. To define the values of the company, Lawson and his partners spent much time in discussion with Arc’teryx employees to further define the character of the company.
“We arrived at four values for the company, which are all brief but powerful concepts. They are evolve, commit, live it, and do right. This effort was more archaeology than design and it involved uncovering our beliefs and making them clear.”
Drummond Lawson emphasizes that the values are not something that the company aspires to be, but rather lived and learned experiences.
“Defining the values means reminding ourselves to live up to them continuously. Only then are we able to follow up with the question: what actions should come out of this?”
Better performing products, better lives
Arc’teryx aims to create always better performing products for customers. But is there a contradiction between sustainability and growing as a company? Drummond Lawson agrees that in a lot of the cases with sustainability, continuous economic expansion and growth is part of the problem.
“Our ambition as a brand is to grow, and we want to do it by operating in a way that has as small impact on people and environment as possible. I do see how these two goals can be in tension. However, you have to believe in the way you choose to grow – that you are better than what you are replacing and the products you bring to the market do actually improve people’s lives.”