How The North Face Empowers Sustainability in the Corporate World

The harshest, iciest, most difficult mountain to climb in the northern hemisphere

Noelle Marroquin and Soumya Adusumilli
May 5, 2021

The North Face: Beyond the Brand

Let’s go back in time and imagine adventure equipment in the 60’s. The bulkiness, weight, and uncomfortability of the gear hindered adventurers when it should have been propelling them forward. To fulfill the growing need of backpacking equipment, hikers Douglas Tompkins and Suside Bell utilized their passion for the outdoors to build The North Face (TNF).

“Large Scale Equals Larger Impact” In the Corporate World

As a major producer of performance apparel, hiking footwear, and backpacking equipment The North Face has been revolutionizing outdoor equipment and innovation for over 50 years! By the end of 2021, projected sales will reach $3billion and the company’s annual growth will be between 6% and 8%. How do they achieve this?

With a combination of digital marketing and strategic partnerships, the brand targets its broad consumer market. Although TNF’s primary target market, “the progressive explorer” seems narrow at first sight, it “can take on many different forms,” says Arne Arens, global brand president ofThe North Face. Everyone experiences the hardships of “the climb” in traveling, sports, art, and music. The opportunities are endless as TNF shifts its focus to urban, fashionable consumers.

Image by Addison Le Claire of Gabe Zolot

Why is Sustainability So Important for the Business?

At its very roots, TheNorth Face has always been a company centered around the love for the outdoors and the aspiration to help enable exploration all over the world. The company believes that their success as an outdoor retailer is linked directly to having, and maintaining, a healthy planet.

The North Face is committed to improving the sustainability and environmental performance of their apparel as they increase their use of recycled materials in the manufacturing of their products. Recycled polyester is the primary material in their gear at the moment, but they are looking to leverage single-use plastic bottles to combat the ever growing problem of plastic pollution. The emphasis on using recycled materials reduces the dependence on harmful fossil fuels, resulting in less impact on air and water resources compared to virgin materials such as polyester.

Image by Addison Le Claire of Gabe Zolot

In 2009, The North Face joined the Ceres Business for Innovative Climate and Energy Policy (BICEP) coalition, which advocates for policy change to combat climate change. In addition, they have also focused on reducing their own greenhouse gas emissions and have been purchasing offsets since 2007. From 2008 to 2016, these offsets removed about 48,520 metric tonnes of CO2 (the equivalent of 10,249 passenger vehicle emissions for a single year)by planting approximately 37,000 trees in the lower Mississippi region. This reforestation not only removes trapped carbon, but also offers a protected habitat for the wildlife, filtered water, and recreational areas for local communities.

The North Face v.s. Patagonia

The North Face isn’t the only big name outdoor retailer in the game at the moment; there’s also Patagonia. The two are very similar to one another, even in respect to their origin stories. That being said, there are some differences that set the two apart from each other.

One way these two differ is their actual product selection. Although the companies’ style and price point are similar, The North Face has a broader product line compared to Patagonia.

Another aspect that both companies share are their commitments to improving global environmental sustainability. Both aim to reduce their footprint, however Patagonia has made more of a name for themselves in this regard. Their reputation for sustainability and progressive social causes is more illuminated than that of The North Face.Environmental guidelines on Patagonia’s materials are very strict and they are less concerned with growth than they are with their impact on the planet.

At the end of the day, both companies are leading examples of what successful and sustainable businesses can look like.

What Can College Students Learn from The North Face?

Image by Addison Le Claire of Gabe Zolot

“I learned from my parents that you have to get pleasure out of what you’re doing, or don’t do it.” – Douglas Tompkins, Founder of The North Face 

1)   When innovating, think about your own passions. As seen with The North Face, true success comes when you enjoy what you are doing and sincerely want to improve the world.

2)    Focus on fulfilling a need in the world. Think about how you can improve life in someway or provide people with a more efficient way of doing things.

If you can say yes to these two things, you are well on your way to becoming a successful entrepreneur!

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