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How sustainable is Columbia?
This screening has been done by Fairify on March 22nd 2020

Columbia Sportswear Company is an American outdoor company that owns Columbia, Mountain Hardwear Sorel and prAna. The main brand, Columbia, is mainly known for its jackets.

Unfair outerwear

We believe that outdoor brands carry an even greater responsibility towards the outdoors. Most outdoor brands seem to share this opinion with us. Therefore, it hurts a bit more when an outdoor brand is not taking big environmental action. Unfortunately, this is the case with Columbia. The company is simply not transparent about its supply chain and material usage and has yet to set any substantial climate targets. Its reporting is mainly incomplete and does not include the relevant data we need to fully understand how it is operating. Columbia does mention that it looks for suppliers who implement energy efficiency and carbon emission reduction initiatives and that it works together with the Higg Index to improve its environmental performance. Even though it’s in possession of environmental data, such as energy efficiency and carbon emissions, the information about the company’s performance is missing in its reporting.

Not transparent

The same goes for Columbia’s material origins. The outdoor brand is a Bluesign partner and sources 50% of its materials from bluesign certified facilities, but we’re in the dark concerning the other half. We see that the company uses a large amount of polyester, which is derived from oil and harmful to the environment, but we have no clue about what the actual percentage is. Most companies currently include tables with percentages of materials being used in their reporting, and this piece of the puzzle is missing at Columbia. Further information about environmental action is not really provided either. The only mention of renewable energy relates to the headquarters, where the American company uses a very small percentage, and there have been experiments with better packaging projects, but they’re not really notable. Shipping in the US always happens through the UPS Carbon Neutral program and a list of production facilities has been published.

Baby steps

In terms of workers’ rights, Columbia is a member of the Fair Labor Association, which has an elaborate Code of Conduct that gets audited by third parties, so basic workers’ rights are being upheld. They could be improved through an organisation like the Fair Wear Foundation to ensure the payment of a living wage, but there are no mentions of this at the moment. Animal materials are somewhat okay: the down is certified through the Responsible Down Standard and sheep mulesing is forbidden, but the company does use uncertified leather. All in all, it’s just not enough.

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