Live From NEMOA: Orvis Gets Greener

Burlington VT — Removing the 100-year-old dams the Penobscot River in Maine so wild salmon can once again make it to their original spawning grounds. Establishing a “guard patrol” to protect endangered tigers in Cambodia from hunters and poachers. Refurbishing the trout spawning grounds at Teton Creek in Yellowstone National Park.

These are just a few of the ambitious conservation projects launched in the past year by outdoor sporting goods and apparel cataloger Orvis.

But few people would know about these projects if the company did nothing to promote them – and that was the main point of a session led by John Rogers, vice president of multichannel marketing for Orvis, on Sept. 18 during NEMOA’s annual fall conference held in Burlington, VT.

In “Going Green by Giving Green,” Rogers explained that such initiatives, if promoted properly, can help catalogers boost customer loyalty, improve employee retention, reduce costs, increase profits and differentiate themselves in the marketplace. So even though going green requires some level of investment, most companies can recoup, if not even profit from their green efforts, providing they implement them properly.

Rogers gave the audience a glimpse of Orvis’ upcoming conservation projects for 2009, which include restoring migratory fish to a river in Michigan; protecting gorillas in the Congo; and partnering with Trout Unlimited to raise funds for a variety of projects. Orvis, which has been active in environmentalism for more than 20 years, had up until last year only focused on projects in North America, Rogers says, but now the company is starting to take on some global projects.

Rogers says one reason Orvis has had great success with “going green” is because it isn’t shy about promoting its efforts. Publicity, he says, “is critical” to the success of any green initiative — and having all the customer touch points (print, Website, e-mail, retail store) in place really helps in getting the word out. In addition to dedicating about 2% of its print catalog for getting its “green” message out, the company also promotes its efforts through its Website and a “newspaper style” e-newsletter that goes out six times a year to its core “sports enthusiast” customers. The company also posts videos to its Website and YouTube explaining its environmental projects, as well as giving progress updates.

And then there’s the blogging community, which has also been instrumental in helping the company get the word out about its green projects.

“We’ve had a lot of success building relationships with the bloggers out there,” Rogers says, adding that Orvis has a core group of bloggers that started blogging internally about a year ago. This, he says, allows the company’s message to spread virally to other bloggers and blogging communities.

Of course, none of this would matter if Orvis’ customers didn’t donate to its causes. That’s why the company offers a special matching program where it matches funds donated by its customers. In addition, Orvis has forged strong partnerships with key non-profits such as the National Wildlife Foundation, many of which also have matching programs where they match donations for selected projects.

“So we’re matching our customers for their money — and we’re also getting a third match through these partners,” he explains. “So for every dollar a customer gives us, we’re actually helping the project with three dollars — so we’re tripling our impact.”

Orvis also offers a special “round up” program on its Website feature that lets customers “round up” the dollar amount on each sale and donate the difference.

Beyond the many conservation projects the company is involved in, Orvis is also embarking on an internal sustainability project with an ambitious goal of becoming 100% carbon-neutral by the year 2020. Rogers says this includes an incremental goal to reduce carbon emissions by 70% by 2010. He says they hired a consultant in May of last year to help them achieve this and have already assembled a team of workers from every department (catalog, warehouse, marketing, etc.) each of whom will develop the steps for meeting that goal.

“We started by getting a baseline for our [carbon] footprint,” he says, adding that the company had a paid intern work for four months tracking down all of the company’s environmental impacts. “From there it because pretty clear what we needed to do to improve.”

Rogers says the company started by looking at its facilities. Some of the simple things it’s done so far include installing LED lighting, which is many times more energy efficient. It’s also looking at better ways to run its warehouse equipment and HVAC systems.

Not only that, Orvis is using lighter weight, FSC-certified paper for its catalogs and other print marketing materials, among other measures.

Orvis donates 5% of its pre-tax profits annually to conservation projects. Over the past 10 years the company, along with the help of its customer and conservation partners, has contributed more than $10 million to environmental causes.

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