Mountain Equipment Company
Illustration of hikers on a path with trees and a mountain

Progress

If you’ve made it to this page, thank you. We have a hunch you’re here to find out how MEC is doing with our sustainability goals, which is what this progress report is about.

We’re on a path to be the leading retailer for social and environmental responsibility in Canada. In 2021, we set goals for MEC Label (the products we design ourselves) and our business. This report shares how we’re tracking as of April 2022, from where we’re confidently crushing it to the hard, complicated parts we’re still figuring out.

It's split into three sections: products, people and planet.

Products

We push to create quality products with lower environmental impact, all at a great price.

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More sustainable materials

Goal: By 2025, there’s at least one environmental or social responsibility feature per MEC Label product.

Where we’re at: 70% – we’re on the way

This big picture goal means that every MEC Label product would eventually include at least one of these social or environmental responsibility features: recycled content (like recycled polyester or nylon), bluesign®-approved materials, organic content, Fair Trade, PVC-free, Responsible Down Standard, Responsible Wool Standard, preferred Lyocell, Leather Working Group or rechargeable.

So far, at least 70% of our products have hit this mark, so we’re well on the way. To get to 100%, we’ve set specific material goals below.

Tripling down: lots of MEC products pack multiple sustainability features – sometimes even three at a time, like the new logo wear.

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bluesign®-approved materials

Goal: By 2025, 100% of the fabrics in MEC Label products are bluesign-approved

Where we’re at: 65% bluesign-approved fabric

It’s impossible to make outdoor gear without using chemicals (find out more in our blog post), so we aim to use the safest ones around. We’ve worked with Bluesign since 2005 to create and use the safest and most sustainable materials possible.

When we first set Bluesign goals for MEC Label years ago, we focused solely on clothing and sleeping bags. Now we’re looking at bluesign-approved fabric in all product categories, including things like backpacks and camp chairs. That includes tracking nitty-gritty details too; any fabric that makes up more than 0.01% of the product, like pocket liners, is included in our numbers. We have a few years to reach our goal, and are working hard to get there.

Learn more about Bluesign

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Recycled polyester

Goal: By 2023, 50% of the polyester in MEC Label products is made from recycled content

Where we’re at: 22% recycled content

We’ve set an ambitious target and have work to do. Polyester is hugely popular in the outdoor industry, and recycled polyester made from plastic (known as rPET) keeps millions of water bottles out of landfills and oceans. MEC hopes to keep pushing to show how useful recycled waste can be and expand the market for these materials too (did you know that Canada only recycled 9% of its plastics in 2016?). When we make new MEC Label products, we’re always looking at recycled polyester options to bump our numbers toward our goal.

Learn more about recycled content

Getting scrappy: MEC Camp Pillows are stuffed with foam leftover from sleeping pad production to keep scraps out of the landfill.

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Recycled nylon

Goal: By 2023, 30% of the nylon in MEC Label products is made from recycled content.

Where we’re at: 2%

As you can probably guess by the numbers, this proved to be a major challenge in 2021. COVID created lots of supply chain change and one area that took a hit was sourcing suppliers for recycled nylon.

Nylon shows up in synthetic fabrics (think jackets or bike shorts). Recycled nylon is sourced from fishing nets and fishing gear, which gives it the added benefit of keeping “ghost gear” waste out of the ocean. Though we’re not close to our recycled nylon goals yet, much of the nylon we do use is bluesign®-approved, so we’re achieving some level of sustainability within nylon, and will continue to ramp up our recycled percentage.

Learn more about recycled content

More warmth, less waste: When COVID hit, factories closed, production halted, and we ended up with excess “liability” fabric from sleeping bag production. We didn’t want it to go to waste, so our designer transformed it into the Apex St. Elias Expedition Down Parka.

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Responsible down

Goal: Already achieved

Where we’re at: 100% responsible down

Since 2016, MEC Label has only sourced down from birds that are responsibly raised and cared for. Recently, we’ve started looking into using recycled down (from items like used duvets). Recycled down would be great for a few reasons: it extends the use of perfectly good existing down, helps us achieve our circularity goals, and keeps us warm and cozy outdoors.

Learn more about responsible down

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Responsible wool

Goal: By 2025, 100% of the wool in MEC Label products is responsibly sourced.

Where we’re at: 73% responsible wool

We’ve been working hard to support responsibly sourced wool in our products for years. MEC even took part in an international working group with other brands, wool suppliers and animal welfare organizations to create a global standard in 2016: the Responsible Wool Standard. While we’re not at 100% yet, we’re actively pursuing responsible wool from our suppliers, along with other sustainable options, like recycled wool.

Learn more about responsible wool

Illustration of cotton plant

Organic cotton

Goal: Already achieved

Where we’re at: 100% organic cotton

All the cotton in MEC Label products is organically grown – and for good reason. It has lower environmental impacts compared to conventionally grown cotton, and doesn’t use toxic pesticides and synthetic fertilizers (bad stuff for the earth and farmers). We’ve been organic since 1998.

Learn more about organic cotton

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Preferred lyocell (Tencel™)

Goal: Already achieved

Where we’re at: 100% preferred lyocell

Did you know you can make super soft fabric out of wood? The process involves dissolving wood pulp and turning it into regenerated fibres called “man-made cellulostics”. This plant-based material can be a more sustainable choice, as long as it’s done without deforestation or pollution. We only use Tencel preferred lyocell, which follows a non-toxic, closed-loop process that’s easier on the earth.

Learn more about Tencel

People

Making MEC Label clothing and gear involves people and partners from around the world. We’re one of only two Canadian brands to have our social responsibility program accredited by the Fair Labor Association.

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Fair Trade Certified™ factories

Goal: By 2025, 50% of MEC Label clothing made in a Fair Trade Certified factory

Where we’re at: 14% Fair Trade

MEC Label is currently working with three Fair Trade Certified factories. With Fair Trade factories, MEC gives an additional financial premium on top of the price of the product. This premium goes into a worker-managed bank account, and workers vote how to use the funds. In 2021, factory workers chose to fund:

  • COVID vaccinations: through a special initiative for industry.

  • Pesticide-free vegetable garden: seeds, farm soil, hardware and tools.

  • Home essentials project: a Thermo-steel bottle, copper-coated jug and bed sheet.

  • Emergency cash payments: distributed directly to workers for financial relief due to the impact of COVID.

To get us to 50% Fair Trade, we’re looking at two approaches: encouraging our existing factories to join Fair Trade, and prioritizing Fair Trade factories when we onboard new suppliers.

A note on how we’re tracking: In past years, we tracked the number of Fair Trade styles. But we feel that approach didn’t show the true impact of Fair Trade in our lineup. Now we’re using a percentage that’s calculated based on the business we do per factory (basically, we look at how much money we spend at Fair Trade Certified factories compared to non Fair Trade factories). We think this gives a more meaningful measure of how Fair Trade fits into MEC Label.

Learn more about Fair Trade

Local impacts: MEC’s Fair Trade journey started in 2014 with a t-shirt. We’ve sent a total of $338,000 to factory workers over eight years.

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Supply chain updates

MEC publicly discloses our factory list – we were the first Canadian retailer to do so – and we focus on building and upholding a supply chain we’re proud of. Here’s what we’ve been up to over the last year:

  • Fair compensation in our supply chain: In early January 2022, we took a big step and publicly committed to fair compensation. As part of this commitment, we’re gathering wage data from Tier 1 facilities. The next step is to use this data to build a road map and share specific goals, which we aim to do by the end of 2022.

  • Clear communication in our supply chain: In 2021, we implemented more tools to understand the current grievance mechanisms in place at our Tier 1 factories (i.e., how workers can raise concerns) and to find out if the mechanisms are effective. Our goal is to make sure that each factory has effective grievance mechanisms – meaning accessible, anonymous and reaches management and brands – in place the end of 2023.

  • COVID and our supply chain: One of our biggest challenges of COVID was not being able to visit and support factories due to travel closures. This meant our regular factory audit cycle was totally disrupted, along with ways we usually support factories on the ground. Now that the world is opening up again, we’ve resumed factory audits and found some issues we’re concerned about, specifically around recruitment fees. Unfortunately, this isn’t the first time we’ve had to tackle this issue, and we know it takes time to fix. MEC is a relatively small brand on the global scale, so we’re collaborating with other brands to be persistent and find ways to work with factories to create change.

Learn more about how we work with factories

Planet

We’re a pretty big fan of earth, so we’re finding ways to lower our impact and be a retail leader in this space.

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Carbon footprint

New goal: In 2022, build a climate action plan to reduce emissions from our baseline measurements.

Where we’re at: 2271 tonnes CO2e

In April 2022, we launched a fresh goal: build a climate action plan based on science-based targets to reduce our emissions. But first, we need to know what we’re working with.

We set out to measure our scope 1 and scope 2 emissions (following the GHG Protocol) and learned we’re at 2271 tonnes CO2e in 2021. We’re in the process of measuring scope 3 emissions to include in our baseline. Scope 3 is tricky – it has a lot of components and covers “everything from the goods [a company] purchases to the disposal of the products it sells” (GHG source). To make sure we have a clear picture, we’re focused on taking the time to get accurate data to feed into action plans.

We generally know where our highest impacts are: raw materials, manufacturing, end-of-life products, and yep, even consumer use (like how you wash and dry clothes). So that’s why we have goals for more sustainable materials and circularity.

One added complexity? We both make our own products and sell other brands’ products – the latter means we have less control over solutions. We’ll look at challenges in both areas, but they’ll require different approaches. Stay tuned for more.

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Cut out plastic packaging

New goal: Eliminate plastic mailer bags for online orders by the end of 2023.

Where we’re at: 13.3 tonnes of plastic a year

Whenever you order gear on mec.ca, we ship it your way. If it’s a smaller package, it arrives in a plastic mailer bag that’s basically impossible to recycle. We’re aiming to eliminate plastic mailer bags entirely and find a more recyclable replacement.

We’re proud of our “sushi-roll” packaging, which has saved millions of plastic polybags when MEC Label products are shipped from factories. The ties used for our “sushi rolls”, however, are plastic. So we’re looking at alternatives that bring us closer to plastic-free packaging.

We are also excited to be joining other industry leaders in prAna’s Responsible Packaging Movement to help us meet our packaging goals and learn about innovative solutions to sustainable packaging.

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Circularity programs

New goal: Investigate ways to keep gear and materials in action longer, and create a gameplan

Where we’re at: Research mode

The most sustainable product is one that already exists, and circularity is about keeping outdoor gear and materials in action longer. This isn’t a new concept for us – we build our products to be durable, so they’ll last for years. We also had repair and rental programs in stores before everything came to a halt due to COVID. So the question we’re digging into now are: how can we have the most impact with circularity?

Things we’re looking into:

  • Working with Fashion Takes Action on Canada’s Textile Recycling Pilot to combat textile waste.

  • Researching Canada-based post-consumer recycled material options (Smartwool is doing cool stuff in this space with their Second Cut™ Project).

  • Investigating ways to keep products in use longer, which involves a huge amount of logistics and planning.

We have a lot of challenges to sort through with circularity, and many parts of it are relatively new in Canada (such as post-consumer recycled goods). We also need to make sure any programs we launch can scale across the country. Bottom line: we’ve got lots of behind the scenes work to do, but it’s not going to stop us from acting.

The path forward

We put this sustainability progress report together to share what we’re working on. Whether you’ve skimmed sections or read the whole thing, we appreciate that you’re along for the journey. We aim to provide a similar update next year for transparency.