In June 2006, the EOG Association for Conservation was brought into being following a desire by the Outdoor Industry to collectively ‘put something back’ into conserving and protecting the environment that it cared about so passionately.
Patagonia, a member of the European Outdoor Group (EOG), asked what the EOG was doing with regards to environmental issues, and out of this came an EOG environmental working group, which was set up to look at what could be done within the framework of the European industry. During its investigations, the group looked at the North American market and the work of the Conservation Alliance.
The Conservation Alliance, which celebrates its 20-year anniversary this year, was set up by a group of outdoor companies to ‘help protect and conserve threatened wild places for their habitat and recreation value’. With two funding rounds per year and 165 members, the Conservation Alliance has raised funding of nearly $7.5 million since its inception in 1989.
Having talked to and been very impressed by the work of the Alliance, the EOG decided it must be possible to achieve similar results within the European Outdoor Industry. Although many companies within the industry already had their own programmes of giving grants to support environmental projects, this was a chance to harness the collective power of the industry to put money directly into grassroots projects and make a tangible difference to threatened wild areas, species and habitats.
The EOG board agreed to fund the start up and legal costs of the Association, asked Hervé Chabert, then General Manager of Patagonia Europe to head up the Association and tasked Mark Held, General Secretary of the EOG, with talking to companies about membership.
From a standing start and in just three short years, the Association for Conservation has funded 22 projects, to the tune of €500,000!
There are currently nearly 50 members of the Association, stretching from Norway to Italy and from the UK across to the Czech Republic. Membership is open to any company operating within the outdoor industry, whether they are a manufacturer, supplier, or retailer. Fees for the Association are based on company turnover – although members are free to give more if they would like to. 100% of membership fees go directly into the projects that are nominated, and then voted on, by the members themselves.
The projects chosen are as wide ranging as the members, and the locations of these projects are not restricted to any geographical boundaries – thus far projects have included creation of an environmental trail in Nepal, clean-up operations on a mountain peak in Kyrgyzstan, creation of a trans-boundary hiking trail in Macedonia and Albania, protection of marsh fritillaries in Ireland and the saving of an ancient forest in Sweden from logging.
As time progressed, it was found that, in order to continue to grow the Association for Conservation, more time and resources were needed. In January 2009, a permanent position was created to lead the organisation forward in the shape of Tanya Bascombe, who had been working within the outdoor industry for a number of years for both The North Face and Lowe Alpine. Passionate about conservation, Tanya took on the role at one of its busiest periods, coinciding with the period leading up to winter ispo and the assessment of the 2009 project applications.
“My role is to increase awareness of the Association and its work within the industry as well as growing the funding we have available,” said Tanya, adding, “Politically it is important to demonstrate what the outdoor industry can achieve. There has been a lot of talk recently about ‘greenwashing’, and there is a danger of the public growing suspicious of the claims companies make about how much they are really doing to protect the environment. Yet as a charitable organisation directly funding specific projects, I believe we can prove that our industry is committed to putting something back and show tangible, exciting results.”