How Arc'Teryx drives social impact through ESG

In today's episode, we explore How Arc'teryx is making a social impact through their ESG programs. We discuss which ESG pillar they is focused on and impacts to the business and employees. We look at challenges the team went through and how companies new to ESG can build long-lasting programs, challenges. Finally, we chat about biggest changes in the space and how business commitment to ESG will evolve.

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Karl Yeh:

So today we have an amazing show. We got two special guests. So my first guest she's a cohost. Her name is Erica Graham Jordan. She is the Regional Vice President with Benevity and our special guest is Dan Walker, who is the social impact lead with Arc'teryx

Erica Graham Jordan:

Hi, Dan. So great to have you on today. [00:01:00] We're going to jump right into it. So we have so many conversations around ESG within the Benevity client community and with the larger social impact community.

So my question to you is with all these ESG areas in environmental, social, and governance, which pillar is the most important to Arc'teryx.

Which ESG Pillar is the most important to Arc'Teryx?

Dan Walker:

It's a great question.

And thanks for having me, both of you. It's good to see both.

I almost feel it's a trick [00:01:30] question.

I think we start off in that place, they're so interconnected.

The piece for us as well, I think

We're a brand really focused on building gear to connect with nature that sits of the heart of who we are when we initially built the climbing harness for the first time, it was really inspired by that, that connection to nature.

That really reflects in our work too.

It's about the importance of connection to nature, the importance of creating access to nature, so [00:02:00] people can connect with those spaces.

What we then see, and the research continues to show is the power of that connection to nature starts to promote environmental behaviors too.

So really that I see them very much interlinked and that shows up in our work.

I think, as a brand, so many of us gravitate towards it, through our appreciation of nature and our appreciation of us being part of this ecosystem, that flows down into the work that we do, both the environmental [00:02:30] space and the social space and tying it together through the governance.

So yeah, I really see them all as important, I couldn't separate them and I almost think to do so would do it an injustice in some ways.

Erica Graham Jordan:

Thank you, that was quite a lovely insight, into just also the culture of your team.

And how it sounds as though ESG, when you connect it with the core culture of the organization.

It's not something you just talk about. It's something that's a living, breathing [00:03:00] aspect within the organization.

Dan Walker:

I totally agree. I think that's the key to me.

It's almost the core values. I think we've always had those since the founding of the brand.

We've just continued to get better at how we express them and how we focus our work in the most impactful areas possible.

I think that's the thing that we've continued to get better at, but it really comes from our core values. And I think anybody who's moving in this space, that's where it needs to come from.

Erica Graham Jordan:

Excellent. So [00:03:30] we're going to drill a little bit deeper into this.

We know that some companies are like you, are further on the ESG spectrum, some are just getting started, right?

We have conversations and they say, "My C-level team, our board, we're being pushed for the ESG from top down or our employees, grassroots up. And we're not quite sure where to start."

So the question for you, more advanced in this journey, is for companies eager to enhance their ESG programs [00:04:00] or start them from scratch, what advice do you have for them?

Maybe even where to focus first for some of these new entrance into the ESG space?

Where would businesses start or how can they enhance their ESG Programs?

Dan Walker:

Yeah, I think it almost goes back to your previous point of, it has to start with your values.

I think that's the first step, is really to understand your identity as an organization, ask those questions of:

  • Why do we exist?
  • What is our role in the world?
  • What are the core values that we hold?

And then start to layer [00:04:30] in and map out the impacts that you have as a business, within the social realm and also within the environmental realm.

And once you can start understanding the scope of your impacts.

And I think doing that in partnerships with this too, is really important.

I would say, I definitely don't feel you need to do it in a vacuum.

I think there are many others within the industry, I think we certainly benefit from partnership with other Browns who are leading in this space too.

We asked those questions, "How are you approaching [00:05:00] this? What are the areas of focus for you?"

And then starts forming a strategy, marrying that impact with those areas where you can start to build momentum.

I think through our experience, what we've really found as a key, is building momentum.

I think it's how we building buy-in throughout the company continually and shifting the strategy of the organization to build this more centrally.

So I would say that those are the pieces for me.

It's almost like start [00:05:30] with your identity:

  • Who are you?
  • What are your values?
  • What is the belief of the organization?

Then map out the impacts that you have social, environmental, understand that, and then start to bring together those conversations of those small projects that you might be able to start building momentum behind.

Because I think once you do that, people can then start to see, "Oh, actually there is benefits in this."

And it starts become and it starts to snowball. And I think [00:06:00] that's the power.

So it can be overwhelming.

I say, when you look at it in full scope, even for us, there's places that we still want to get to that are really out there, really big and scope, but I think you just have to start and start in an intelligent way, people in the space are willing to share information.

So leverage that.

Erica Graham Jordan:

I love two things you just said there.

One, collaboration, I think at Benevity we talk about that all the time.

And I think one of the most beautiful [00:06:30] things about this social impact space is the ability for companies that are competitors in real life and business, be able to tackle social impact challenges together and not to be fearful of sharing that information.

So I love that you said that, it's very kindred spirits on that.

And then two, just start with small stuff, small steps, right?

Achieving small steps to hit the larger goal.

If you just start at running that marathon, it becomes really, really [00:07:00] tricky. But if you think about the small steps to build the momentum, I love that.

I hear that as a great foundation and it's wonderful to hear it's so successful for you as well.

Dan Walker:

Yep. I think, just adding, and knowing it's possible.

I think from wherever you are on that journey, everyone has a role to play and everyone can play a role.

And even if you move it just a millimeter forward, that's a millimeter further than it was.

So I think people shouldn't be overwhelmed by it and yeah, should lean into that really. [00:07:30] 

Karl Yeh: So Dan, you mentioned buy-in so...

Dan Walker: Yep.

Karl Yeh:

That's always, for me, I'm pretty new to the CSR space, but I've learned a lot about, a lot of it has to come from your grassroots.

So as a successful manufacturer and retailer,

How has Arc'teryx's commitment to ESG affected the employees and its people?

Dan Walker:

I think in many ways, I go back to that, I return [00:08:00] to often because it's true.

It's really the expression of the values.

I think we have so many people who at their core have concern for people and planets. I think that's kind of reflective of why people gravitate towards that brand.

That reflects in this grassroots movement, everybody has this desire to try and get involved and how can they build stronger communities and ecosystems.

What's our role in that?

I think then our expression of the work really needs to center. [00:08:30] Yeah.

The importance of justice, equity, diversity, inclusion is a really important topic within the scope of ESG for our organization too.

How do we embed that and create an environment within our workplace, that is receptive to those principles that we have around justice equity, diversity and inclusion?

It's shifting in terms of the education that we have, it's considering our recruitment practices.



And not to say, I think as I mentioned [00:09:00] before, we're all on a journey.

And I think we are on a journey in that space to really trying to understand the impacts that we have and trying to continue to get better.

But it is creating primarily a safe space where everyone within our organization feels supported and welcome and included, and then starting to bring them into the work as well.

I think that's something we're continuing to try and do more, is identify opportunities all across the business where people can get involved in this work [00:09:30] that we're doing.

We look at areas around the way we tell our stories, the way we design our products, how we doing that in a way that is mindful of the need to include people in the outdoors, to invite a welcoming space.

So everywhere within the organization there are opportunities.

And I think our role is really to create a safe environment, welcoming environments, and then provide people that connection to our ESG work, so they can get involved in and feel part of it too.

Karl Yeh:

And [00:10:00] have you noticed a change with the team or the business or the culture over the past couple of years since you've implemented?

Dan Walker:

Yeah, I would definitely say, I think we're getting more focused in the way we provide opportunities to our team. I don't think the baseline commitment has changed.

I think that's always been bubbling along within the organization.

I would say the way we're now structuring it so that we can provide opportunities to our team, it is getting better all [00:10:30] the time.

I'd say too, I think this moment, the racial justice reckoning, the pandemic has really highlighted the inequities that exist across society.

They are not new.

They have existed for many centuries, but I think the awareness of the impacts and the existence of those inequities has come to the fore.

I would say that continues to promote shift of what is our role, what is our responsibility? How might we [00:11:00] be creating some of those barriers that exist?

And I think that's a shift that I'm witnessing within the business community and society as a whole. And I think it's a positive one that society is coming to terms with the inequity that exists.

And the real challenge for businesses in this conversation is really what is our role and how do we actually move that conversation forward?

Yeah. So it's a significant shift that I've seen in the last few years.

Erica Graham Jordan: [00:11:30]

When you think more broadly about the ESG space, knowing even some of the dynamics that have shifted over the past couple of years, what challenges would you say you've seen in the ESG space, whether in coming up with programmatic plans, even your core values? Yeah.

Just a bit behind the curtain on what are some of those challenges for you?

Challenges with ESG

Dan Walker:

Yeah. I would say, probably many would share this, the scope is huge. What we're trying to [00:12:00] tackle. Yeah.

The scope of that is huge and it requires a collective effort.

And I think it requires us to unpick the way things have been done. It requires us to question.

I see with it fear whenever I see it mentioned that we need to go back to business as normal, as quickly as possible.

You look at the inequity that exists in society, climate challenge we're facing right now, businesses normal has led us to that position.

So I think [00:12:30] that's the big question of, how do we in this moment of challenge, take the time to question, take the time to sit in that discomfort and understand maybe different ways of approaching the work.

I would say guys at the heart of it, I think it's this piece of how do we truly shift to equity within society is the big challenge.

And then I think on a slightly more practical level the point that I touched [00:13:00] on with your answer Karl, it's really, how do we unlock the potential within our team?

We see this every time, I am fortunate enough to do the onboarding for our sustainability work and people who join are always so energized and so engaged.

And this is the reason I came here and this is what I want to do.

And how do we unlock that potential? Because there's so much potential everywhere, but we have a very small team.

How are we able to unlock that? Because if we can unlock [00:13:30] that work and start to truly embed it within each of the departments, then we're in a radically different place than we are today.

So yeah, those are the challenges I would say.

Erica Graham Jordan:

And with that in mind, I do always come back to, what is a brand new company first tackling in ESG?

I always come back to this piece because I think they're looking to learn from the experience in this space, knowing maybe taking the how do you unleash the power of your people and the scope in mind, [00:14:00] what advice would you have to do differently for a company brand new to this space?

Knowing what you know now, what would you say of how to tackle some of those challenges as a company first starts?

How a company new to ESG can grow their programs and address challenges

Dan Walker:

Yeah, I think listening and I'll be honest.

I think listening is at the heart of it. The more you can can listen.

And I say that from my belief that really what we're seeing shift is is that, a lens of equity is being applied at a greater depth than it's ever been applied before. [00:14:30]

I still think we're a long way to go from where it needs to be.

That piece, I'd say that is not as critical in this work, within our space I think it's looking at, you've seen in the conservation movement within Canada, a shift over time that continues to happen and needs to happen more, to understanding the indigenous people's perspective in conservation.

I think historically conservation has been done in the absence of that perspective, [00:15:00] being included, we're starting to see more due credit given to indigenous peoples and their work around, how are we conserving these lands?

What does that mean?

I would say applying that in all contexts, really listening to the people you're intending to serve and how are that group informing the programs, building the programs and continuing to develop them.

And for the businesses too, [00:15:30] I'm very much inspired by the trust-based philanthropy projects, which if nobody's seen it's well worth checking out.

Really towards this idea of the power that's held in the hands of the funder.

How do you start to shift that and transfer the power and resources to those most impacted by inequity?

I think when you start to get into that place, then we really start to see shifts in the world.

And it requires a movement of where businesses [00:16:00] have traditionally held this power to shifting it into the hands of other groups. And it's a change, but I think it's a necessary one.

And one I hope we will see in the years ahead. So yeah, I think really listening more if there's one takeaway, that will be it for me.

Erica Graham Jordan:

And you kind of led me to my next question, I think we're on the same wave length.

As we look forward then, what are some of the big changes that you'll see in terms of overall commitment to ESG?

I know you just mentioned trust- [00:16:30] based philanthropy, but what else do you see on the horizon?

Even if you think about what the next two or three years might look like, what from your opinion might be in areas that we might see change?

How ESG will change and evolve in the coming years?

Dan Walker:

Yeah, I think that it's an acknowledgement really of the long term scale of these challenges we're facing, whether it's within our space.

We look at connecting with nature, as one of our priorities.

Again, it's not something that's going to change within a short timeline.

And it's how are we embracing [00:17:00] that and understanding really this is a long-term challenge and how are we supporting it for the longterm.

That's where I really think the shift needs to come.

It's continuing to let this long-term commitment and at the center of that really trusting the people most impacted.

I think if that shift happens, I think great things will come.

We see that with our partners, when we trust our partners and we seek to do that in any format we can, they know the work, [00:17:30] they know the work that needs to happen.

They can listen to their community, they can build programs that are relevant. You see that take hold, it's powerful.

And I think all it requires us to continue to move the power and resources more centrally to those most impacted.

So that's really what excites me. I think that's the shift that we're starting to see.

It's not at the scale it needs to be, unquestionably.

So that's where my mind goes in a few years time. I think continuing that for [00:18:00] pushing out 20 years, 50 years into the future, then we start to really get into more of these places of where we can consider achieving equity within society.

I'd say as well, it's worth calling out, one of the challenges that I see.

And I'm fortunate enough to mentor on a program with an amazing organization called Starfish Canada.

People should check them out. They're doing great work, really trying to support under 25 [00:18:30] leaders within the environmental space.

And the one question that they said is as you look five years out, what are the biggest challenges you see in this work?

Biggest challenge: Burnout

And burnout was rated by far and away the biggest challenge.

And I think that's something that we can't underestimate.

The people engaged in this work, there's a heavy lift upon them to engage in it.

And I think that to being mindful of the [00:19:00] burnout that's associated with that and how do we support and as businesses, how do we leverage our resources to support that too?

I think that's an integral piece that has to be coupled with the movement that we've seen.

Erica Graham Jordan:

So true, the piece around people and all acts aspects of them from diversity, inclusion, burnout as a piece, all laddering up to that, that social piece as well.

That's a key component.

Thank you. That's really helpful, helpful lens.

Karl Yeh:

And so Dan, just to touch [00:19:30] on that, when you're talking about burnout a little bit more, do you see more people have a more formalized role in ESG, similar to how we've seen in CSR, DE&I and so on?

More formalized ESG roles in businesses for the future?

Dan Walker:

Yeah, I think that's the way we need to go. That's  a really interesting question as well.

I think that piece of this question is, do you build a big team that's dedicated to this work versus do you embed [00:20:00] it?

I actually think that the answer sits somewhere in the middle, it's having enough of a team that can hold the knowledge around what might be impactful, holding an understanding from listening to the community.

They can can be sort of the guardians of some of the knowledge and can then inspire and spark conversations within different teams.

I think that's the sweet spot.

And it's how big that team is?

I'm not sure, but I really think [00:20:30]

There's essential importance of having people who are listening to that community and what's moving and what's at the cutting edge and what's maybe 50 years down the line, that's integral.

And then how do you spark that conversation within each of the teams within the business that I think will be the ideal model.

The other thing we're starting to see too, is at that senior leadership level, a voice around impact.

I would say that is critical. [00:21:00] I think how is that voice being heard in those conversations is integral as we can move forward.

If it's not being heard, we're missing this lens of impact and inequity and everything that it holds. So those are two pieces.

I think that's seen on the senior leadership team as really important.

Having a team that's big enough to hold the work, but then having it in every role within the organization, I would say is the model structure.

And I am not convinced many have that right [00:21:30] yet. I think everybody's trying to understand the best way to do it, but I would see that as the ideal.

Karl Yeh:

So Dan, when you take a look around, besides [00:22:00] Arc'teryx, do you see any other businesses, organizations or groups that are doing ESG well?

Other businesses doing ESG well?

Dan Walker:

Yeah, I would say there are businesses doing it well in different dimensions.

I think there are a few that are wrapping it together in a holistic whole.

I'm always hesitant to single out individual organizations because because of that reason, I think there are elements within each of us.

We're all on the journey.

I almost think, [00:22:30] what am I looking for when I'm thinking about who who's doing this work?

I'd say long-term commitment, is the essence, is that work that you're committed to the long-term commitment of the brand?

And are you committed to that for the longterm and truly trying to get to the roots of that challenge you're seeking to support?

The question about how you're approaching that is really important to me.

Who are you centering?

Who's deciding that strategy, which voices are involved in shaping [00:23:00] it?

Radical Transparency

And then really a piece that I see with some organizations more than others is this radical transparency.

To me that's where we need to go again.

It's acknowledging that we're not perfect.

We're not where we want to be, but how are we moving in that space and moving towards this position that we want to get to.

Yes, we have these challenges, let's name them and share them openly.

Why are those challenges? I think that piece is one that's often not [00:23:30] said, it's often not shared publicly and I think how do we do that more?

So, I don't know. I'd be hesitant to single out any individual organizations.

Because I think there's elements of different ones that I certainly look to, but those are the more the qualities, is the work aligned to your values as a true expression of them?

Are you committed for the longterm?

Are you using a lens of equity as you approach it?

And are you radically transparent in the way you share it?

So I think those are [00:24:00] my lenses and they will show up in different organizations in different ways. It might be a frame for people to have a look at as well.

Karl Yeh: And so final question. So Dan, do you have anything else to add in terms of ESG?

Dan Walker:

Yeah. I mean, I think the fact that people are listening to this or watching online is great and it's a testament to people's commitment to the work.

I would say too, I think ask those questions, try and understand and tie it to your values. That's where we've really seen the initial ball start rolling.

It comes, it's a discovery of our values [00:24:30].

It's kind of an unearth thing, the values that we have.

And then based on that, building the programs that take action towards these goals, these ESG goals, that's what I would really say.

I think everyone has a role to play in it and everyone can advance the work.

Don't be overwhelmed.

It is overwhelming even when you are slightly further along that journey, it's still overwhelming. [00:25:00]

But I think just starting and asking people too, I always say that I'm always happy to chat with people.

If they're seeking to do this work, that's a great thing.

So reach out to others in your industry and your sector to try and get the knowledge you need to start in the program.

Karl Yeh:

So Dan, how would anybody who wants to reach out to you, connect with you?

Dan Walker:

Yeah. I mean, feel free to reach out on LinkedIn.

I'm happy to follow up with any questions people have. Yeah. Just [00:25:30] add me on there and send me a message.

Question of the day

Have you implemented or planning to implement ESG programs with your business? And if so, how have you implemented it? And what are some of your challenges and some of your successes? 

Connect with Dan Walker on Linkedin