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Keen and Consciousness

| Wednesday May 7th, 2008 | 2 Comments

I’m as jaded as the next guy when it comes to companies touting their green chops but, on closer inspection, having little to back it up. But amidst the greenwashing/hyping of recent years, I’ve also been downright moved.
If you think about, outdoor retailers are, or should be, leaders in the green/sustainable business community. Environmental quality is, after all, a key piece of their value proposition, as in, “Those hiking boots you just bought are not recommended for Superfund sites.” Or melting glaciers, for that matter.
Sure, Patagonia comes to mind as a pioneer. But I’m also thinking of Keen, the outdoor shoe company whose “Hybrid Life/STAND” campaign Keen%20stand.gif is both a powerful statement about the connection between creativity, athleticism and activism and an awards program for people who are living it.
Then there’s Eastern Mountain Sports. I know next to nothing about EMS’s CSR record but I have to admit I was impressed when I recently bought a pair of quarter-length running socks. On the back of the package were two words, “Future Consciousness.” Wow! One pair of socks and then, like that, transcendence. Like Keen’s Hybrid Life concept, Future Consciousness, according to EMS, is all about owing up to our shared fate and the deep connections between consumer and consumed, people and planet, socks and species.

If companies like Keen and EMS can, by way of their marketing strategies, products and programs, help evolve human consciousness, help us think differently about our responsibilities as consumers, citizens and creatures, then good on ‚Äòem. It’s like Keen says, it’s all about “Balancing the things that matter most.” We all need help doing that.
A pioneer in social entrepreneurship and sustainability, William Shutkin is the inaugural Chair in Sustainable Development at the Leeds School of Business at the University of Colorado Boulder. He also serves as the Interim Executive Director of the Business Alliance for Local Living Economies, a Partner of the Innovation Network for Communities and a Research Affiliate at MIT. In his spare time, he enjoys hanging out with his wife and two kids tele-skiing, flyfishing and gazing at trees.


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  • http://moldybluecheesecurds.blogspot.com jff

    I have and love a pair of Keens I bought last year, but I have to question their environmentalism when I saw “made in China” stamped on the tag. Is that “future consciousness”?

  • http://sustainabill.typepad.com William Shutkin

    Good point, but not fatal in my view.
    To paraphrase the Chinese philosopher Lao Tzu: 1000 mile journey begins with a single step. Perhaps part of the shift in consciousness is finding ways to bring old-school manufacturing back to the US on competitive terms with the developing world. A journey far greater than 1000 miles but not necessarily endless.
    Meantime, it’s great to see China beginning, however incrementally, to step up to the plate in terms of labor and environmental standards. Like all developing economies, it’s a long, steep learning curve, but not one unfamiliar to the U.S., a process we started about 200 years ago and are still engaged in.
    The key is to change the game from a race to the bottom to a race to the top, where the label “Made in China” no longer means sweat-shop conditions or, for that matter, a big GHG transportation footprint from China to the U.S.
    There’s still a yawning gap between Future Consciousness and today’s reality. Doesn’t mean it’s greenwashing, just that’s it’s still aspirational.