In late November, Outdoor Industry Association (OIA) unveiled a new 'climate change' platform: a fresh twist to their national position statement that could easily be interpreted as totally new, long overdue, overshadowed by sibling issues, or potentially controversial.
Or maybe all of the above.
OIA is the Boulder-based organization that is the title sponsor for the Outdoor Retailer trade show, as well as the trade "voice" for all the brands and individuals that see themselves as part of something called the Outdoor Industry.
Historically, the Outdoor Industry has been anchored by human-powered outdoor recreation. And among this crowd of enthusiast-driven businesses, climate change is one area where just about everybody gets along, as hunters, anglers, paddlers, skiers and afternoon hikers are all continuing to see the aggregate effects of global warming as it impacts their individual passions.
On the other hand, for a trade organization comprised of both independent and publicly-traded companies, it can be a bit dicey to step into the capitalist kitchen, particularly over the holidays.
To shed some light on the new OIA Climate Change platform, I was lucky enough to catch the attention of Alex Boian, OIA Senior Director of Government Affairs.
While I feel like it was a cool and interesting bit of news last month, I’m sure that this announcement took a long time to put together and hammer through the details. How long has it been in the works?
AB: Outdoor Industry Association first began actively engaging on the climate change issue about seven years ago. We partnered with Business for Innovative Climate & Energy Policy (BICEP) on our advocacy efforts around this important issue and continue today to be the only member trade association of the organization.
The OIA Board of Directors decided last April at the OIA Capitol Summit to reengage and redouble our efforts around climate change policy and so an updated position statement was appropriate. OIA government affairs and corporate responsibility staff jointly developed a draft statement for the OIA policy advisory councils and BICEP to review and comment on. After input from those councils, the statement was sent to the OIA Board’s Government Affairs and Corporate Responsibility Committee for review and approval.
Going a little deeper … how long has the OIA had a “platform” at all?
AB: Whether it was through our initial engagement and now through our renewed commitment to the issue, or through the exhaustive efforts of the OIA Sustainability Working Group to provide the industry with tools and best practices to measure the impact of their products, OIA has been engaged on the issue of climate change, in some way, for almost a decade.
And when was the last time a major thing like Climate Change was added to the OIA platform? Has it ever happened?
AB:This past year has been a very exciting one for OIA, from a government affairs standpoint. In addition to reengaging on the climate change issue, OIA also launched a local recreation advocacy program, a pretty significant addition to our government affairs’ advocacy efforts. We also laid the groundwork for a collaborative process with OIA’s CR department to frame out and build a regulatory/compliance program for the industry.
Do other trade groups have a climate platform? i.e., is this rare or totally normal?
AB:There are of course, dozens, if not hundreds of local and national advocacy organizations working on climate change. Within the outdoor industry, Protect Our Winters has been a leader on this issue and among the groups outside the industry, the Sierra Club has been working on the issue for many years. OIA, however, is unique in that we represent outdoor industry businesses that will uniquely be impacted by the worsening effects of climate change. We look at our work on climate change not only as the right thing to do from a values standpoint, but as a business imperative. Climate change is an existential threat to the outdoor industry.
I am unaware of any statements several other groups that we work with on our public lands or trade agendas have published on this issue.
So, is adding a Climate Change aspect to the OIA platform "long overdue" or "ahead of the curve”?
AB: Our recent climate change policy position statement is an evolution of our work on this issue, but some might argue that our reengagement and renewed commitment is long overdue. As many policymakers have said, we are nearing the point of no return on climate change and so hopefully the work of OIA and our partners, and organizations across the country and around the world, makes a difference.
Is there an expectation that this will be controversial in any way?
AB: As we have seen, the issue of climate change is controversial for a small minority of U.S. policymakers, some of whom we work with on our public lands and trade agendas. I have also received questions from some parts of the industry as to why OIA is investing time and resources on this issue and I anticipate like nearly all policy matters of significance, that the issue itself and OIA’s engagement will be controversial, but the OIA Board and staff believe this is the right thing to do.
I’m sure as with all things policy related, every word is chosen carefully. And the "carbon sequestration part” is one part that catches an eye. This seems like a pretty major deal … that in addition to preserving land for access, the OIA position is to conserve open lands specifically to offset carbon emissions. Is this as unique as it seems, and will it help set OIA apart from other groups (like the Conservation Alliance) who are also advocating for public lands?
AB: Yes, the wording was carefully chosen to focus on ambitious and meaningful, but practical and achievable goals. Some say we didn’t go far enough and perhaps should have stated some aspirational goals, but we believe the statement strikes the right balance among the multiple interests across the industry.
Carbon sequestration is, of course, a long-standing proposed tool to reduce carbon pollution and help mitigate the effects of climate change. The strategy relies on healthy forests and protection of green spaces, so presented an elegant, if not obvious, harmonization with our public lands agenda.
OK … so you also have a line in here about encouraging “ market-based instruments” for carbon reduction, which at the moment means either a carbon tax or a cap-and-trade system. Does this line mean that OIA doesn’t have a preference between those two, or does it mean something else?
AB: The statement itself and the use of “market-based instruments” acknowledge that some form of carbon pricing is likely necessary to address carbon emissions in a meaningful way. We have been and will continue to work with the outdoor industry to analyze and understand the pros and cons of both cap-and-trade and carbon taxation. The language is intended to give the OIA policy professionals the flexibility to explore both options, and perhaps new ideas that are presented, to get to a balanced and desirable solution. It is important to us, though, that these instruments do not harm the outdoor recreation economy, or more generally, the larger U.S. economy and that any legislation or regulation in this area be focused on incentive-based solutions versus punitive measures.
As a policy wonk, what do you think is the most interesting part about this whole thing?
AB: There are several fascinating policy elements around the climate change issue in a macro sense – the politics in Washington, D.C. and states across the country - and also specific to the outdoor industry. One of the elements I find interesting around the issue generally is how the consistent and tireless efforts of advocates for climate change policy is finally paying off and we are seeing tangible, substantive results. I think the COP21 agreement in Paris is obviously a huge and historic milestone that reflects that progress. It is fascinating to also see how entrenched special interests in Washington. D.C., primarily those representing the fossil fuels industries have been so successful at delaying real policy solutions and obfuscating the issue in the face of what seems to be overwhelming scientific evidence and agreement among objective, third party researchers. When 98 percent of the scientific community agrees and presents verifiable data that climate change is real, is worsening, yet can be mitigating through a variety of policy tools and proactive actions by nations down to individuals, it is very compelling. The willful cognitive dissonance occurring among a small minority of policymakers is absurd to the extent of being harmful.
Specific to the outdoor industry itself, many brands and organizations have been working for years to fight climate change and come up with some real solutions. For many in the industry, environmental responsibility is in their DNA and climate change policy has been an important aspect of that. OIA has worked to reflect that through our Corporate Responsibility department and the Sustainability Working Group, but from a government affairs, policy perspective, I look forward to reengaging on the issue and bringing the industry’s unique perspective and voice to the debate in D.C. and across the country!