The Norrøna brand ethos is built on an appreciation for the outdoors. So, it is only fitting that the Norwegian technical clothing company is among those setting a strong example for other small businesses looking for ways to protect and preserve the natural world.
Under its 1% for Nature initiative, Norrøna has been donating 1% of its annual sales to social and environmental projects each year since 2015. From investing in the development of renewable feedstocks for synthetic fibers, to supporting ocean clean-ups in Norway as well as the Pacific Ocean and land management programs in Kenya, the fund allows the company to leverage its position as a small business to help to improve outcomes for biodiversity.
Coupled with the work it is doing on its roadmap towards 100% recycled, reprocessed or organic materials as well as zero waste by 2029, Norrøna exemplifies how brands can effectively address their impact on nature both through their supply chains and beyond.
Textile Exchange spoke to Brad Boren, the company’s Director of Innovation and Sustainability, about the 1% for Nature initiative, Norrøna’s learnings for other businesses and why when it comes to biodiversity, he believes brands should prioritize collaboration over competition.
Textile Exchange: What is the 1% for Nature initiative and why did Norrøna incorporate it into its strategy?
Brad: 1% for Nature is our self-imposed tax to improve the condition of our planet. Since 2015, 1% of our sales each year, regardless of profitability, have been financially supporting organizations and projects that create meaningful social or environmental change.
We have worked hard to develop relationships with different partners and as a small company, we see the need to focus our energy where it can have the greatest impact. If we do not find the correct projects in a year, that money is put aside for the next year with the hope that we can invest it in larger projects in the future.
Textile Exchange: One project you are supporting through the 1% for Nature fund is the Renewable Carbon Textiles Project with other Fashion for Good partners. What exactly does this project involve and why is it important – from a biodiversity standpoint – to invest in it?
Brad: Our company is heavily dependent on synthetic materials, which make up for around 70% of our fiber use. If we want to continue creating the best technical products with the smallest footprint, we need to invest in new materials.
The Renewable Carbon Textiles Project focuses on trapping greenhouse gases such as methane and carbon dioxide from waste to create the feedstock for synthetic fibers that will be recyclable and hopefully biodegrade in both marine and soil environments. It is one way to combat the negative impact that textiles have on our climate which can help prevent further destruction of biodiversity.
Textile Exchange: Norrøna is also supporting the Basecamp Explorer Foundation in Kenya to fight the extinction of wildlife by teaming up with the local communities. Can you share some more about the aims and progress of this project, and why Norrøna chose to support it?
Brad: Basecamp Explorer Foundation is part of a coalition to facilitate long term leases in Kenya to provide sustainable sources of income to the landowners while increasing the protection of the land and wildlife. We believe this project is important on so many levels and we want to see how we can learn from it to develop positive change in other communities.
There is a 25-year lease agreement with more than 80% (613) of the landowners in the Naboisho Conservancy covering 53,446 acres, who receive a monthly lease payment in exchange for dedicating their land to wildlife conservation. In addition, landowners benefit from controlled grazing, community projects and vital jobs for Maasai youth.
We support ecosystem restoration activities including the planting of trees and the long-term leasing of land to protect the grasslands. It has been interesting to talk to the Mari tribespeople and hear their stories about how they have shifted from hunting the wildlife to protecting it. Earlier they killed wildlife to protect their cows, sheep and goats, but now they are finding ways for them to coexist.
Textile Exchange: How does the 1% of Nature initiative allow you to leverage your potential to improve outcomes for biodiversity, and what opportunity does this represent for other brands wanting to make a positive difference?
Brad: As a small and medium-sized enterprise (SME), Norrøna wants companies of all sizes to understand that together we can create positive change. What is interesting about our 1% fund is that it shows that even small companies can and must make a difference.
We don’t believe that sustainability should be used to give a company a competitive edge – it is not about being first to market with cleaner technologies or exclusive conservation projects, it is about inviting interested parties to work together instead. We encourage large and small companies to work and support innovation, to help innovators create positive change.
When we joined Fashion for Good, we were an experiment for them in taking on a small company. We hope that as we gain experience, we can help to shape projects for the larger members as well that create opportunities for innovation.
Textile Exchange: Norrøna is working towards 100% recycled, reprocessed or organic materials by 2029. What actions have you taken towards this goal so far?
Brad: Norrøna’s 2020 road map, which we started publishing in 2015, provided us and our suppliers with clarity on actions required to meet our goals for material use. We’re now using 100% organic cotton, and 98% of our wool is traceable or reprocessed. 83% of our polyester styles and 93% of nylon styles are now recycled. 98% of our materials have third party certification.
We also measure goals including 1% maximum air freight, 98% of employees commuting to HQ with non-fossil fuel-based transportation, 83% percent of waste being recycled at HQ and 100% of energy at our HQ coming from renewable sources. Each of these goals has an environmental impact affecting climate and biodiversity.
Textile Exchange: What would be your call to action to other brands – small or large – to come together in a direct, hands-on approach to protect our ecosystems?
Brad: Collaboration is the most powerful tool we have. How can we make textiles more sustainable? Whether it is the feedstock from tier 4 or the chemicals we use, we must work together.
If every company tries to use developments which reduce negative impacts to protect their competitive advantage, it may reduce the speed at which we can make progress. Instead, we must come together and think about how we can use an example like the Basecamp Explorer Foundation to propel action that helps a community and could even provide us with sustainable feedstock at the same time.