Rank a Brand represents an interesting evolution in the role of gear reviews for outdoor clothing, footwear and equipment. Stepping back from individual product evaluation, the Netherlands-based independent brand comparison website for consumers assesses brands’ performance in several areas of sustainability and corporate responsibility.
To be assessed a brand must be nominated and reach a threshold of consumer interest. Whilst this could be manipulated, it’s hard to see why a brand without sound credentials would bother. Of course, the rankings can only be comparative within those selected rather than universal. In that way, it’s no different to many outdoor industry awards’ processes that require formal nomination, possibly with a fee due, and judged by an independent committee.
Its website notes,
Our position is that brands should demonstrate to their consumers that they have actually implemented sustainable and socially responsible policies. The brand has the responsibility to prove so and to be transparent about it. Therefore, we only use publicly available information. So it is crucial for brands to make all relevant information accessible on their website or in a public CSR report or sustainability report.’
A recent report on outdoor apparel brands posed the question, ‘So are these clothes not only good for enjoying nature, but also good for nature itself? Without workers manufacturing this clothing being exploited, of course?’
Environmental awareness has a high profile in the outdoor industries but is translated into meaningful action by relatively few brands. The report notes, ‘The outdoor sector does need to be more transparent, though. Especially climate reporting was limited. Except for VAUDE, few brands reported a climate footprint, let alone a smaller footprint than in the previous reporting year. Reporting about renewable energy was often also too limited to convince us that brands were really frontrunners in the energy transition.’
Product developments have taken centre stage for many years as also commented on by Rank a Brand, ‘Instead, brands often reported on their use of environmentally preferred raw materials and phasing out of suspect chemicals. Especially PYUA obtained a high score here. But it often remained unclear which materials exactly were used to what extent in the brands’ collections, and whether chemicals were eliminated during the manufacturing process, rather than only in the end product. Reporting on waste and packaging was also limited, VAUDE being an exception.’
Beyond product and the natural environment, the report also commented on the human dimension of responsibility, ‘Good labour conditions, finally, were actually emphasized by brands as much as environmental protection. Many readily disclosed a list of direct suppliers, are a member of a multi-stakeholder initiative and reported on human rights in their supply chain. Still, even frontrunners could not yet guarantee that all their workers overseas actually receive living wages.’
It came as no surprise to me that Vaude topped the list as an all-rounder. Consistent policy initiatives implemented, monitored and shared have underlined how the German brand has been an industry leader for decades. My Vaude Eco Log t-shirt is still in use almost 25 years after its acquisition. The only way I could consider recycling it would be as a museum exhibit – or maybe framed and hung on a wall at home to remind me of adventures outdoors.