Welcome to this Extra Edition.
I’m frequently approached by companies and organisations who want to be interviewed on the podcast to showcase their sustainability. I turn quite a lot away, but there are still many interesting ones. I’ve decided to publish them separately because otherwise the regular episodes get far too long.
Today I’m talking to the CEO of Alpkit, suppliers of equipment for outdoor activities. It’s a sustainable company. Let’s find out how.
Anthony: Last month I facilitated a panel discussion called Sustainability from the Ground Up about small and medium businesses making their sustainability journey. Today's interview is about sustainability and the great outdoors. My guest is David Hanney, CEO of Alpkit. David, welcome and thanks for talking to The Sustainable Futures Report.
David: Hi Anthony, nice speaking to you and thanks for inviting us onto the podcast.
Anthony: Now, Alpkit provides a wide range of equipment for outdoor activities. David, tell me about the six principles, which guide your business.
David: Yeah, so we've always, since we were founded in 2004 had internally a whole raft of almost practices that we followed and a few years ago, we tried to coalesce those right into principles and values by which we run the business and they are in order moving towards a circular economy, which is reduce, reuse, repair, recycle, it's treat animals humanely, so we always look for the most humane methods of when we use things like wool and leather, that kind of thing. It is to work with people we believe in, so we, in the factories we choose to work with, we generally think they're world-class and we know them personally and spend time with them, so we always work with positive people.
It's respecting our environment, so it's the things like with challenging at the moment as to how to measure scope three carbon emissions, which is important task we've got on right now. It is build a better business, which is just being responsible, you pay your taxes, we pay a living wage foundation, so we're living wage foundation employer, and it's give back. So we give a minimum of 1% of our turnover to a charity that we've got and that racks up, that's a minimum, we've given something like 40% of our profits over the last five years to outdoor activity through the charity. So those are the six principles, which is circular economy, respect the environment, work with people we believe in, treat animals humanely, give back and build a better business.
Anthony: So you could say like a stick of rock, you've got sustainability through and through?
David: Yeah, I mean, it's something we deeply, deeply, deeply believe in and it's what we're about. And almost we've known about these issues for 30 years and I remember as a teenager reading James Lovelock's book about Gaia and now 30 years down the line and you're running a business, we're in the hot seat now. And we've just got to do in a complex world what we believe in.
Anthony: Now, you actually use suppliers all over the world, you have an extensive supply chain and you were saying that you deal directly, you go and visit.
Anthony: It must be quite a task because they are very widespread your suppliers and inevitably there's going to be a carbon footprint in your supply chain because things come from so far.
David: Yeah. So ultimately the raw materials we use, a lot of the raw materials, the fabrics that we use are products of the petrochemical industry, which tend to be made in Taiwan, in Japan, the factories we use tend to be in Far East Asia, in China and in terms of the footprint, you're right, I've been going to China for a good while. We don't actually have that many factories that we work with, there's probably about 10 or a dozen key factories, and I've known them over 20 years, we know them very well and we know the owners very well, we spend time on the shop floor with workers there and a lot of them are based in China, some in Taiwan, so we are a global business, even though we're small, we are a global business. And that obviously has challenges and supply chain challenges and the contradiction of working in a global business whilst you're attempting to do the right thing, obviously there's a huge contradiction there, which is something we rappel with.
Anthony: Tell me more about your approach to the circular economy and what's the take back project, is that part of this?
David: Yeah, so we're very keen on reduce, reuse, repair recycle, which are those elements and those have been around for a long time. And by reduce, we mean choosing lower impact materials and those lower impact materials is understanding with the fabric developers that we use, where the materials come from, their materials, it's long lasting and durable. Repair, all of our stores, we've been running repairs since 2004, and all of our shops have got a repair stations, some actually in the shop and some we take from the stores that where we don't have the repair station physically there say for example in Ilkley, they're currently repaired in places like Hathersage and Keswick, their Ilkley store is going to have a repair station very soon and so we repair any brand.
But it's commercial, we cover the cost so we don't have a huge markup, but we cover the cost of the teams to doing their work and it's wonderful. So we do things like zip swaps, heat patch repairs, if you nick a waterproof jacket, we reproof your waterproof jacket, we reproof your tent, we wash it down, wash your sleeping bags, we'll wash your tent, so all the kinds of aspects really reinforcing that it's a partnership with outdoor product and the more you look after it, the line is, the more it'll look after you. And we're really keen on encouraging what we call the emotional durability of a product. So a whole design ethos is gear you'll love for longer, really wanting to encourage a lifelong love, so three years, 10 years, my new tent is now, I bought in the mid nineties and I still think of it as my new tent kind of thing, so that repair aspect is very important to us.
Reuse, through the charity that we set up we've got lots of connections with people who are desperate for kit, and when I was in Manchester, it was probably two, three years ago and it's November now and we're seeing homeless are on the street, I was thinking, geez, we must be able to do something about this and it was a fairly naive view and the idea developed from that point, but effectively, we've got, through our returns process, the capability to get product from our customers back to us really quickly and really inexpensively. So we take back any branded product, any product, so we're about to launch a send us your duvets, bedding, we'll take the duvets and then through the connections we've got through charities, we promised to find a home for it, so there's people like Birmingham City Mission, there's a whole heap of outdoor centers that are desperate for kit.
And with the duvets, we know a factory in Hungary called Re:Down that effectively recycles down and makes it into new bedding products and new outdoor garments that we may use, but also the likes of Ikea use for bedding and Patagonia use. So again, we really like the idea of giving people ownership and being able to take small actions that make a difference and it's kind of in the. When you read a lot about the challenges in the climate crisis we're facing, I sometimes feel a little bit helpless and what difference can I make? So it's a proper kind of butterfly wings kind of aspect that you can take a small action like send us your duvets, we'll send them to Hungry, there'll be made into new down, that'll go into bedding and it's something that you can do yourself, so. We don't incentivize through discounts, it's a genuine, send us your bedding and we will recycle it into new. So recycle is almost at the end of the chain, if you can't reuse it, can't repair it, we'll recycle it. And we've taken back last year, it came to about three tons of outdoor gear that we re-homed and we're up to, this year, we expect to go through 15,000 repairs. So it's of a scale now, it's significant for us.
Anthony: Indeed. And are you unique in providing this sort of service in this sector?
David: Oh, no we're not unique because other people do do repairs. I think what's unique about us is that it's every day of the week, it's not a marketing formation where one day a month you may do things you repairs. And the other unique thing for us, I struggle with how people, other brands, retailers do it to incentivize a discount off of new, because for me that isn't actually getting to the essence of repair, reuse, recycle, so don't send us a product and to get 20% off a new sleeping bag, that isn't fulfilling what my, my perception of what circular economy is. Does that make sense?
Anthony: You were talking about emissions.
Anthony: You were talking about scope three emissions. Now, as I understand it, scope three is the emissions created by your customers using your product and notoriously scope three emissions are the most difficult to do anything about, so what's your approach on this?
David: So scope three, we include is both customer and end-of-life use, so that's things like washing and end-of-life. We also scope three the supply chain as well, so it's emissions that our factories use on our behalf and in extracting the raw materials. So the people who are not familiar with scope one, scope, two scope three greenhouse gases. Scope one is what we burn ourselves, so it's gas, fuel, we've got a fossil fuel principally and we're burning it is the emissions that are coming from our assets. Scope two is things where we're using energy, which is fossil fuel base, so electricity is a good one, that kind of aspect. Scope three is the harder to measure stuff. So we do use scope one, we calculate scope one, scope two, scope three, there's a lot of public information actually and something like two thirds of the garments CO2 full life emissions, actually coming from raw materials and the make stage and shipping it to us, so for us, the line's share is actually upstream into raw materials and factories rather than downstream into customer use, which is obviously important.
And end-of-life is important, what that means is if you think you've got a garment, almost the thing you can do with that garment to reduce your impact is to use it for a long time. Use it for year after year, truly wear it out, have a partnership with that garment that can reduce your impact significantly. So how are we go and measure it? We're going upstream first, like I say, and it's with our factories and understanding their fossil fuel use, which is principally energy, their fossil fuel use in the supply chain and then you go back further, go back further and it only includes logistics, so it includes the emissions from getting product from wherever it's made into the UK. And those are fairly manageable and measurable, they have to make fairly broad estimates. I read, so say for example, with delivery into the UK, we use the Royal Mail and Royal Mail published that some figures saying that the average emission is sometimes 250 almost grams of CO2 per delivery, so we know how many orders we send through Royal Mail, times by 250 grams gives an estimate of the amount of CO2 that is being used.
Anthony: It's not just yourselves who measure your impact, tell me about B Corp.
David: Yeah, so last summer, we were certified a B Corp and B Corp gives a framework for sustainability, and they verify your procedures, to get B Corp accredited you have to go through a verification process and it's fairly rigorous overall. And the power of B Corp and the verification is B Corps generally have got an ethos and a mindset across all B Corps where you feel you're working with your kin, it gives a framework and also it gives a framework of how you can develop. We touched earlier about just the contradictions of being a brand, a product brand, which is a polluter through what we do naturally, how do you then balance that with things like social justice and things like paying your taxes, being a good business? And B Corp is based I can see the pathway through the UN sustainable development goals into actions that brands can actually take.
And for us as a small brand, I kind of think, far bigger, better brains have worked on this than me, so I really see it as a handrail for things that we can do tangibly to be a better business. And the nice thing about B Corp as well is that a lot of the assessment is publicly available and free, you can just do the assessment yourself, and it gives you a score yourself so you can see how you rack up, and it can also help how you plan the next development, but to get the accreditation, that's where they come in and verify the results that you've given them.
Anthony: Just taking a broader view for the moment. There are always downsides and one of the problems with outdoor adventures and so on is that some places are overwhelmed and overwhelmed to a chronic extent, I'm thinking particularly of Everest and also Snowden, what can we do about that?
David: When I look at that photo and you look at the great expanse around you, you've got a queue of people just trying to get to the top of one particular peak and around you, there's like a lot of wilderness and wild space and there's something about Alpkit that I think our customers get, that you can see this queue up somewhere, but an Alpkit customer would be somewhere else on their own. And where I live, you've got Manchester on one side, Sheffield on the other and history of particularly where I live for years, for decades, a 100 years ago, people were coming out from Manchester on the train to Hayfield and 3000 people come walking into the weekend, we've always had a lot of visitors knows that place of the Mass Trespass in 1932 and it's still around here on a weekend.
If you go around Kinder Downfall, that can be really busy on a Saturday, Sunday, but literally go 200 yards onto the plateau and you're by yourself. So there's an aspect that I think to a certain extent, the outdoors is big enough for all of us, we've got concentration to hotspots. Where the infrastructure can't cope, it used to be trains, it's now cars that people come out on and the car parking can't cope, the toilets in the local area can't cope, the litter collections can't cope. So there are things that we can do through education by helping people, navigating the places they can walk and also putting infrastructure in places and in the places that people want to go, people want to go to Snowden and it's wonderful, it can be a really fantastic introduction to the outdoors and start a lifelong love of the outdoors going up Snowden and there is a train and a cafe at the top, so [inaudible 00:16:40] we need to put the infrastructure in place because we're bringing people to those areas. So I think a bit of education, helping people come through, investing in infrastructure because generally the outdoors is good, but also the outdoors is big.
Anthony: Thank you very much for that. Now, as we draw this to a close, just come out a bit further still, and look at the broadest picture, have you any thoughts or hopes for COP26 next month?
David: What I'd love is government regulation. Phase out the use of fossil fuels, set some stringent targets. I think we all know that the market won't solve this on their own. I heard on your podcast that the financial community is moving and money is moving into renewable in a kind of good impact businesses, which is really positive, but we need coherent government regulation to help us otherwise we'll be going round in circles.
Anthony: David Hanney, thank you very much for talking to The Sustainable Futures Report.
David: Good day. Thanks Anthony.
Many thanks to David Hanney. You’ll find Alpkit at alpkit.com.
I just want to make it clear that these interviews are not advertorial. The Sustainable Futures Report accepts no advertising, sponsorship or subsidies and I have total editorial control. Of course I am always grateful for the support of my patrons who pay a small monthly contribution to help me cover my costs. If you would like to join their number you’re more than welcome. Find the details at patreon.com/sfr
I’m Anthony Day.
That was the Sustainable Futures Report.
Until next Friday, for a regular episode.