Evaluating products using a sustainability lens: learning from Mountain Equipment Coop

As shopping season ramps up, a growing number of consumers will keep the environment in mind as they make purchasing decisions. These eco-conscious consumers consider business practices such as, working conditions, environmental protection and sustainability, materials used, and where and how a product was produced.  Take for example the scenario of someone preparing for a cycling event. The cyclist will need a bike, bike-specific clothing, maybe a knapsack, a water bottle, air pump, repair kit, bike lock and possibly a replacement tire. He or she may also purchase a tour package from a travel company and food and accommodations near the route. Eco-principles can be considered during the purchase of each one of these items and services.

For an eco-conscious consumer to be able to make a fully educated purchasing decision, he or she must be able to easily access reliable information about goods and services. Thus, transparency about a business’ commitment to sustainability is essential. For 45 years, Mountain Equipment Coop (MEC) has taken the lead on environmental protection, conservation and sustainability and provides open communication around progress towards established goals as a part of this commitment. barrie_storefront

Founded on triple bottom line principles , Mountain Equipment Coop seeks every opportunity to minimize packaging, to support ethical providers, and to improve the sustainability of product offerings.  Mountain Equipment Coop (MEC) shows us what can be accomplished when a business fully embraces environmental sustainability and helps consumers understand what they should consider before making a purchase.

As an assurance of compliance with standards, MEC looks to third-party certification programs for verification.  Reliance on these certification programs helps (but does not eliminate) the challenges inherent in gaining compliance with standards down the supply chain. The stamp of an established, respected third-party certification program gives consumers assurance that stated principles are consistently applied. For example, fair trade certification applies to food, jewelry, clothing, sports equipment, flowers and wine  and represents products that support fair wages, fair working conditions, and fair terms for trade. Another certification that MEC looks for when sourcing suppliers is Bluesign®. Compliance with this certification ensures textiles are produced in a sustainable manner. Other third party organizations that may be relevant include: Fair Labor Association  or the Sustainable Apparel Coalition. When purchasing from smaller, local-based organizations for which these programs may not be relevant, use established certification programs as a guide to help formulate questions to ask before making a purchase.

Design is an important consideration, and looking forward, MEC evaluates not only at what goes into a product, such as organic fibres  and recycled content , but which elements should be phased out.  MEC also considers the treatment of animals that supply wool and down for their products. Other considerations include: sustainable energy and water use during production, levels of waste products generated, and transportation options.

Of course, MEC applies the same values used to evaluate supply chain partners to the operation of its stores. Watch for future Explore Lake Simcoe articles to learn about MEC’s employee initiatives, waste diversion, and energy and water conservation efforts.

About The AuthorAileen MacMillan holds an Honours Bachelor of Environmental Studies degree from the University of Waterloo, and has worked as an independent consultant on environmental projects related to waste management, water quality protection, and environmental education. She has many years of experience working in small business and working collaboratively with teams and individual stakeholders.

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