By Laura Newcomer
The news we know: Working out is good for us. The news we didn’t: Buying gear for those workouts might also be good for the world. A number of sports equipment companies — like Adidas, Rawlings, and REI — are hopping on the Corporate Social Responsibility bandwagon (CSR, for short) by developing projects and partnerships that build communities and sustain the environment.
But social good doesn’t just help the planet, it also helps company bottom lines, which might explain why philanthropic initiatives persist despite hard economic times. Surveys find people are more likely to trust (and buy from) a company that promotes social responsibility. Of course, with all the companies here, it’s important to not just talk the talk but to make sure those programs are actually working. We’ve made sure, wherever possible, to vet and verify each company and initiative below.
Here, Greatist rounds up 20 sports equipment companies (in alphabetical order) that are leading the charge for social and environmental good.
Sport Companies That Do Good
4Point4: At first glance, 4Point4 (launched in 2012) seems more like a non-profit than a sports equipment company. Perhaps this is because “philanthropy” (along with “authenticity” and “education”) is one of the company’s three guiding principles. True to its cause, the company donates a portion of all proceeds to programs providing sports and education opportunities to “disempowered youth.” Thanks to a creative partnership with U.S. Olympic beach volleyball players Jennifer Kessy and April Ross, the brand donated sports equipment to developing nations throughout the world and sponsored beach volleyball tournaments in Haiti by building courts and donating equipment.
Adidas: The shoe and apparel company has developed a five-year strategy for decreasing its environmental impact and investing in sustainability efforts. This philanthropic attitude extends beyond helping the environment: The company has developed corporate volunteer programs and supports healthy communities through the Reebok Foundation (part of the Adidas Group) and the BOKS program, which aims to make fitness accessible to kids in underserved areas via before-school athletic programming. The hope is that healthier kids will create a healthier world.
Athleta: The athletic clothing company is the exclusive national athletic apparel sponsor of Girls on the Run, a non-profit with more than 200 hubs across the U.S. and Canada that aim to inspire girls to be “joyful, healthy, and confident” using a curriculum based on running. Where do we sign up?
Bamboo Bike Studio: Bamboo Bike Studio is unique in that its product is its way of giving back. Launched in 2008, the mission of BBS is to “develop a better bike for the developing world” by building an affordable, high-quality bike made from locally-sourced bamboo and labor. The company is also a founding member of the Society for Useful Arts, a collective of “craftsmen, tinkerers, and engineers” dedicated to creating tools that are both artful and functional (hey, like a bicycle!).
Black Diamond: Outfitter to the hardcore outdoorsperson, Black Diamond has made environmental conservation and fair labor a company-wide priority. The company takes a realistic approach to these causes, stating, “We’re not out to save the world. We are, however, committed to doing everything we can to not screw it up.” To that end, BD has reduced its transportation footprint by consolidating gear distribution and is in the process of switching over to less wasteful packaging, improving energy efficiency, and upping recycling capabilities in all of its buildings. The company also regularly audits its suppliers via a Vendor Code of Conduct designed to ensure fair labor practices. And in case all that’s not enough, BD also provides financial support to a variety of conservation, education, and recreation groups, including the American Alpine Club, Conservation Alliance, and Access Fund.
BSN Sports: Team sports supplier BSN won the 2012 National Sporting Goods Association Community Collaboration Award for creating the Victory Grant program. Founded in response to athletic funding cuts, the grants will donate one million dollars’ worth of equipment and uniforms to struggling school athletic programs and recreational leagues across the country.
ChewyLou Designs: Not only does ChewyLou have a great name, the athletic t-shirt company is doing some pretty great things. The shirts themselves are meant to spread positive energy by featuring words like “Joy” and “Gratitude” and a portion of the proceeds is donated to charities like the American Heart Association, Lupus Foundation of America, and Faces of Hope Fund. In addition to making shirts, ChewyLou’s founder created Chemo Companions, an organization that provides support to chemotherapy patients.
Columbus Running Company: This company’s Charity Fund provides free services to help charities and clubs put on quality races in the Columbus area — including timing, course design, logistics, registration, and more — all in the name of enhancing the sporting life of individuals and communities. Many of the company’s sponsored events also benefit non-profits like March of Dimes, Megan’s Miles, and Nationwide Children’s Hospital.
Eastern Mountain Sports: This popular East-coast outdoor outfitter has a one-track mind when it comes to philanthropy: The company dedicates all its corporate charitable funds to the Conservation Alliance, which partners with businesses and organizations to protect wild places for both animal habitat and human recreational purposes. EMS also hosts an annual Cleanup Day in which all stores open late so employees can help clean up parks and waterways and improve and maintain trails across the Eastern United States.
Kira Grace: Yoga outfitter Kira Grace donates 100 percent of the proceeds from sales of the Warrior Collection to Off the Mat, Into the World, a nonprofit that uses yoga “to inspire sustainable activism and ignite grassroots social change” via leadership trainings, community programming, and local and global service projects.
Lululemon: The yoga-wear company has so many Corporate Social Responsibility programs, it’s hard to keep them all straight. Lululemon has an extensive giving program that supports people and organizations on local and global scales that are committed to making health a priority. The company is also taking action to reduce waste, improve factory conditions, and reduce its water usage and carbon emissions.
Merrell: This active-wear shoe company has a comprehensive social responsibility program that includes commitment to the environment — via energy savings, recycling, composting, and sustainable packaging and product materials — and local communities. Every Merrell office around the world participates in local community service projects (from volunteering in grade schools to cleaning up trails), and the company works closely with vendors to ensure that factories provide safe and healthy working environments. Merrell also donates to community causes through off-beat projects like adventure races and cookbook sales and contributes moolah to the Two Ten Footwear Foundation and Soles4Souls.
Modell’s Sporting Goods: Modell’s broad-reaching charitable giving focuses on “programs that support families, youth, education, and physical activity” and provides financial support and fundraising opportunities to nonprofits and charities dedicated to improving communities, making sports accessible to everyone, and helping kids be physically active.
The North Face: College kids everywhere will recognize North Face for its trademark fleece, but we should also recognize the company for its conservation efforts. The popular outdoor retailer is thoroughly committed to sustainability and has established efforts to reduce its environmental impact and offset carbon emissions. North Face also partners with a host of environmental and recreational organizations, including Access Fund, Conservation Alliance, the International Mountain Bicycling Association, Leave No Trace, and Protect Our Winters.
Patagonia: Patagonia, an outdoor-wear company, has one of the most comprehensive environmental programs out there. The company works to ensure their products are made with minimum harm to the environment by investing in sustainable technologies, working with the bluesign Standard to reduce resource consumption and screen raw materials, and donating a portion of sales to grassroots environmental groups. The company also created the Footprint Chronicles, an interactive site that allows users to track the impact of a specific Patagonia product from design through delivery (so cool!) and the Common Threads Initiative, a partnership between the company and its customers aimed at keeping clothing out of landfills. Patagonia is also co-founder of the Conservation Alliance and a member of 1% For The Planet, the World Trout Initiative, and Conservacion Patagonica (talk about walking the walk!).
Pine Mountain Sports: The Oregon-based outdoor retailer donates one percent of all Club Card Membership purchases directly to Central Oregon non-profits working to make the region “a better place to live and play.” So far the company has donated approximately $30,000 to Parks and Recreation, Adaptive Sports, Land Trusts, and other non-profits. And in 2009, Pine Mountain Sports started a Trail Ambassador Program to help improve and maintain Oregon trails. They’ve also expanded their philanthropic efforts beyond state borders by donating goods and services annually to fundraisers (the used-bike-helmet drive and footwear donations to Haiti are especially awesome).
Rawlings Sporting Goods Company, Inc.: Rawlings won the 2012 National Sporting Goods Association All-Star Industry Catalyst Award for co-founding the National Sports Concussion Cooperative. The mission of the NSCC is to protect athletes from concussions and develop initiatives to reduce concussions in sports.
REI: Ranked #8 on Fortune’s list of 100 Best Companies to Work for, the national outdoor sports retailer isn’t only good to its employees. REI partners with a host of non-profits across the country that are dedicated to environmental stewardship and volunteer-based projects. The company also developed its own projects geared toward sustainability, including the use of sustainable materials and the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions, energy use, and waste.
Russell Athletic: Winner of the 2012 National Sporting Goods Association All-Star Vendor Partner Award for its efforts to encourage sports participation across communities, the athletic-wear company is also the founder of the Fight Like Dylan Award. The award was named in honor of Dylan Rebeor, a terminally ill football player whose last wish was for new equipment for his teammates. And the award comes through for him, donating $50,000 worth of apparel and equipment to a high school sports team demonstrating “determination through sports.”
Sport Chalet: This sporting goods store supports a variety of charities, including the YMCA, Boy and Girl Scouts of America, Boys & Girls Clubs of America, and Access Fund. They’re also invested in local communities: The company hosts coaching and product clinics, developed a community program that funds local non-profits, and regularly participates in League Nights —in which a percentage of sales is given to a sponsored league — at retail stores. The company is also rolling out environmental conservation efforts (like lights that shut off automatically when people leave a room, company-wide recycling programs, and mandatory carpooling to and from work-related functions) and is currently involved in cleaning up Scuba beach in Southern California.