This article originally appeared in the Mar+Apr 2016 issue of Washington Trails magazine. | By Mariah Beckman
Getting outside isn’t just a passion and a privilege. It’s also an impressive economic engine. Thousands of outdoor focused companies in the U.S. create millions of job opportunities that generate billions of dollars in revenue for the economy each year. Their missions may vary—from outfitting explorers to advocating for natural places—but their contributions to the economy extend beyond simply producing the gear and organizing the outings that get adventure-lovers outdoors.
Washington, Oregon and California are home to many businesses and organizations dedicated to supporting not just customers but also the environment in which they play. With generous contributions of volunteer hours and sponsorships, and by advocating a culture of stewardship among their employees, these companies make getting out and enjoying nature more than their business—they make it their mission.
Here’s a look at just a handful of the local companies and organizations that live up to their values by placing an emphasis on outdoor education, sustainability and conservation. They’re companies you can feel good about investing in—or working at. Some of these just might make you consider a career change.
■ An outdoor life is a life well lived. That’s the mission that drives the world’s largest consumer cooperative and outdoor retailer, Recreational Equipment, Inc. The team at REI has made it their mission to inspire and equip the next generation of outdoor enthusiasts and has been named one of Fortune’s Top 100 Companies to Work For since the ranking began in 1998. The operations roster is incredible: REI’s first CEO was Jim Whittaker, the first American to summit Mount Everest. Sally Jewell also served as CEO of REI before becoming secretary of the interior in 2013.
The co-op prides itself on keeping its employees connected to their outdoor roots. Every team member gets two “yay days” each year, paid time to get outside or volunteer. REI made a big statement in 2015 by initiating the #OptOutside campaign, encouraging staff and customers to go play outdoors on Black Friday instead of shop or work. It proved to be one of the most successful marketing milestones in social media to date.
- In 2014, REI volunteers and employees worked with local organizations to build and improve trails in Alaska, Colorado and Washington.
- In 2015, REI invested $5.9 million in 300 nonprofits across the country to improve access and stewardship at more than 1,000 outdoor places.
- REI connects the outdoor community with online resources, such as an event finder, free and low-cost in store classes, field programs and day outings for a variety of activities.
■ Build the best product, cause no unnecessary harm, use business to inspire and implement solutions to the environmental crisis. Patagonia aims to produce high-quality, responsibly sourced clothing that lasts for years and can be easily repaired by the average consumer. Can’t repair it? The company vows to replace your damaged Patagonia products for life. Using business to inspire and implement solutions are values that have been directly etched into the company’s admirable charter. For an employee-focused work environment, Patagonia is hard to beat. The company has never embraced a corporate building structure and today offers job-sharing opportunities, flexible work hours and on-site childcare.
Patagonia’s thoughtful business practices extend outside its walls and into the outdoors with other efforts. In 2002, the company founded a nonprofit—fittingly called 1% for the Planet—to encourage companies to give 1 percent of their revenue to outdoor stewardship. Together, Patagonia and other members of the partnership have gifted more than $100 million to environmental groups.
- Patagonia employees volunteered more than 10,000 hours in 2015, and all expenses incurred during these volunteer efforts were paid for by the company.
- Since 1985, Patagonia has donated 1 percent of their sales to fund the restoration and preservation of the environment, gifting more than $70 million to global initiatives and organizations that pledge to make a difference in the international community and health of the planet.
- Through work with the Conservation Alliance,which Patagonia co founded, it has helped to protect 420,755 acres of land and 82 river miles, acquired one popular climbing area and removed one dam.
■ Improving lives through bicycling. With more than 15,000 members, Cascade is the nation’s largest locally based bicycle organization. Its goal is to create recreational riding opportunities and promote the development of new and existing bike trails. Cascade advocates for safe places to ride, educates cyclists and organizes nearly a dozen no-cost events and thousands of free rides each year.
A recent merger with Washington Bikes—an organization whose advocacy has earned Washington the title #1 Bicycle-Friendly State eight years in a row—promises to promote growth and outreach.“Our employees feel good about working here,” says Brent Tongco, director of communications at Cascade, “because, as a team, we’re making it easier for everyone to get outside, whether it’s for recreation, transportation or the sheer joy of riding a bike.”
Cascade’s team of nearly 50 employees enjoys incentives for practicing what they preach, including a financial incentive to bike to work, complimentary use of Pronto Bike Share services, access to free classes and programs, and many professional development and networking opportunities. There are even staff fun-ride days, when the team commutes as a group to local destinations for lunch and the occasional happy hour.
- Cascade organizes an annual two-day summit for bike advocates across the country to discuss and enact change.
- The club sold more than 6,200 "Share the Road" license plates to benefit safety education and encourage cycling.
- Each year, 1,800 volunteers donate their time and funding to advocate for cyclist safety and educations, as well as to repair donated bikes to gift to underserved communities.
■ Create, play, care. Employee Shawn Palko of KEEN shares that working with this outdoor footwear manufacturer, “a business with a conscience,” is a genuine point of pride. “I was a KEEN fan long before I started working at KEEN, and it wasn’t just because of what KEEN sold. I love working for a company that gives back, educates and inspires us all to be better stewards of the outdoors and creates really fun products to do all of it! Whether we’re advocating for the protection of public lands, repurposing materials for products or just encouraging the simplest enjoyment of the outdoors, I’m proud to say I work for KEEN.”
KEEN team members receive 40 hours a year of paid volunteer time. Over the summer they take advantage of “hybrid Fridays,” when the office closes at 3:00 pm so employees can get out and enjoy the outdoors. And when they work up an appetite, the on-site KEEN Kanteen offers employees access to fresh, healthy and affordable meals, as well as a pantry stocked with prepared take-home dinners and weekend travel meals.
- In 2015, KEEN hosted an all-company volunteer day to perform park maintenance, and they provided funding to recruit train and mobilize more than 900 volunteers to repair 30 miles of trails.
- Through a partnership with the Conservation Alliance, KEEN has contributed to preserving more than one million acres of land and one climbing area, as well as protecting 13 river miles.
- Since donating its entire marketing budget to earthquake relief efforts in 2004, KEEN's nonprofit Hibrid.Care, has given more than $7 million in funding and resources to nonprofit organizations around the globe.
■ We are a community built around passion for the outdoors. An integral part in shaping how the Pacific Northwest explores its natural lands and waterways, The Mountaineers is a nonprofit that has been a part of the outdoor landscape for 110 years. This organization offers courses and activities that are led by a coalition of passionate outdoor advocates.
Staff and volunteers don’t shy away from sharing why The Mountaineers is one of the coolest places to work in the country. “I get to work with people like Dr. Tom Hornbein and Jim Whittaker—the first Americans to reach the summit of Everest—and National Geographic–caliber photographers like Florian Schulz,” says communications director Lace Thornberg, who has been with the organization for the past two years. “That’s not something you get with a normal 9-to-5 job.”
Staff at The Mountaineers enjoy access to two free courses per year, discounts on outdoor gear, bring-your dog-to-work days and access to five different climbing walls that are located at the Tacoma and Seattle program centers. They also have access to the organization’s lodges at Mount Baker, Stevens Pass and Stampede Pass.
- In 2015, The Mountaineers organized hundreds of monthly activities, held free courses and regular seminars.
- The Mountaineers produces how-to blogs and publishes books designed to teach people how and where to recreate responsibly.
- As of February 2016, The Mountaineers offers e-learning opportunities to expand its outdoor focused teaching and better equip its volunteer brigade.
■ We believe that outdoor education and conservation ensures everyone will be able to enjoy the outdoors for generations to come. Born and raised in Portland, this family-owned and operated sportswear company employs people who are as passionate about the outdoors as you are. Columbia, along with more than 5,000 of its nature-loving employees, supports organizations that identify with similar passions for the great outdoors. Their operation reduces consumer waste by producing quality products that stand the test of time.
Employees who work at Columbia enjoy the standard benefits of working for a major company—401(k), paid time off, annual reserve of paid volunteer hours—but the staff says that one of the perks they love the most is being a part of Columbia’s commitment to improving the outdoor community. Humanitarian partnerships with organizations like Mercy Corps, for example, furnish relief workers with durable gear during times of natural disaster and crisis.
- Columbia's LEED-certified offices and environmentally conscious production practices demonstrate its commitment to using green energy and reducing its carbon footprint.
- Columbia's ReThreads program encourages customers to bring in their used clothing and shoes—from any brand—to be reused and recycled responsibly.
- This outdoor retailer supports its friends at the American Hiking Society by providing gear to support National Trails Day.
■ Our goal is to make everyone an explorer and make every location an adventure. What began as a simple game in May 2000 has become a powerful movement that has introduced outdoor adventure to 10 million players on a global scale. Geocaching’s mission is to enable discovery and, as Groundspeak’s Chris Ronan explains, to encourage exploration. “The aim is to help everyone be an explorer, whether that’s hiking a summit, kayaking to distant shores or checking out your local parks. The community of geocachers that we support loves the outdoors and helps to bring joy to others by creating storyworthy moments in the game.”
If you ask any employee at Groundspeak, they will tell you that the biggest reward for working at Groundspeak is that they get to work where they play. Ronan says that the company’s fun-loving nature extends beyond the game’s mobile apps and website to the company’s system of employee incentives. Employees at Groundspeak enjoy unlimited reimbursement for ski and snowboarding lift tickets, free rental for snowshoes, tents, inflatable kayaks, coolers and GoPro cameras—and the list goes on. “You name it,” Ronan says, “and it’s probably in our stockpile. Renting from the gear closet is like opening the door to Narnia.”
- In 2015, geocachers across the world cleaned up approximately 40 metric tons of garbage during Cache In Trash Out week.
- An ongoing partnership with the National Park Service has brought millions of players out to explore the nooks and crannies of public lands, generating park and local revenue.
- With more than 30,000 geocaching events held worldwide, and more than 80 million finds logged in 2015, Groundspeak encourages people to share their love for exploring the world's wild, and not-so-wild, places.
■ At Seattle Children’s Hospital, better health is closely linked to the outdoors. The facility hosts events in the Seattle area to outfit children with helmets for bikes and outdoor sports, supported the construction of an outdoor play area on-site and even organizes a weeklong sleepover camp near Mount Rainier for children with serious illnesses. At the Stanley Stamm Summer Camp, kids get a chance to fish, ride horses and take part in traditional summer camp activities every August.
■ The Pacific Crest Trail Association serves as the primary resource for PCT information, with an aim to protect, preserve and promote the trail, the surrounding landscape and the Pacific Crest Trail experience. In 2014, volunteers donated nearly 82,000 hours to the trail—an in-kind value of just under $2 million. The PCTA raised another $1.5 million in private funds from generous individual and group donations to supplement $900,000 in government grants that same year.
■ Microsoft is consistently ranked among the top places to work in the world by Fortune and Forbes. The company achieved net carbon neutrality across its global operations in 2012 and continues to invest in a greener infrastructure. Microsoft also made a notable contribution to the outdoor community this past November when it purchased the majority of credits needed to help restore the forest and create habitats for endangered species throughout 520 acres adjacent to Mount Rainier National Park.
■ Liberty prides itself on doing things the American way, offering jobs to veterans and fashioning recyclable bottles in an environmentally responsible process from recycled materials. Liberty’s factories use less energy, clean their wastewater, conserve the organization’s resources and make full use of its scrap. Liberty pledges 1 percent of their sales and working hours to help local, grassroots and national organizations each year and supports active and retired servicemen and women.
■ The world’s leading environmental nonprofit is active in every state, as well as in more than 60 countries around the globe. The Nature Conservancy controls the largest network of privately owned nature preserves on the planet and works daily to positively impact the environment. They oversee more than 119 million acres of land and thousands of miles of rivers worldwide and are involved in more than 100 marine conservation projects.
■ IslandWood encourages adults and children to explore, learn about nature and discover how they can change the world. The incredible 225-acre learning center at IslandWood boasts a treehouse, floating classroom, suspension bridge, garden, marsh and forest. The staff enjoys lunchtime hikes, outdoor meetings, a community garden and 6 miles of trails. Every year, IslandWood’s programs directly impact more than 15,000 elementary school students.
This article originally appeared in the Mar+Apr 2016 issue of Washington Trails magazine. Support trails as a member WTA to get your one-year subscription to the magazine.