Retailer Mountain Equipment Co-op (MEC) is well known for their outdoor recreational gear — but it’s their commitment to the environment, sustainability and energy conservation that really makes them stand out.

This Canadian company has gone from catering to mountain climbers in Vancouver, BC to appealing to outdoor lovers all across the nation as the business thrives with purpose and environmental responsibility.

Their effort to maximize energy efficiency is admirable. In the last five years, MEC has managed to divert between 91 and 94 per cent of its waste from landfills, according to Macleans.

A brief history

Back in 1970, a crew of passionate mountaineers came up with the idea to make climbing equipment more available for folks before the activity became a little more mainstream.  Their approach to business and their retail model was unconventional but interesting.

Making quality gear for rock climbing, mountaineering, ski and hiking products that they would sell — a group of the founders decided to make the business consumer co-operative with equal membership shares. They started with an honour policy of sorts — getting people interested in these products to purchase them in advance before the Co-op would deliver.

Well, it worked out.  Eventually they started opening stores — the early ones run by volunteers. After lots of time, a commitment to doing business their own way and a growing consumer base of those interested in the great outdoors — the company became a success.

By 2011, the Co-op celebrated its 40th year with $261 million in annual sales and a reached 3.3 million members, according to their website. 

Tackling the issues

The thing about outdoor lovers is they both love nature and understand the importance of doing their part for the environment.  MEC has taken the initiative to use green buildings, handle their waste responsibly, maximize energy efficiency and renewable energy sources; and minimize their emissions and carbon footprint.

Climate change is something they see as an issue. They acknowledge the fact that our atmosphere contains 40 per cent more carbon dioxide than at the beginning of the industrial era — and work hard to avoid adding to that.

MEC has taken the environment into account when investing in award-winning green, energy efficient buildings for their stores and other operations. They also run their business in the greenest way possible.

“One way to do this is to purchase renewable energy certificates (RECs) for power that emits fewer greenhouse gases than on-grid energy source,” they wrote on their site, “We buy wind power for our Alberta stores and RECs for our Victoria store. We’ve switched to 100% biodiesel fuel in the Halifax store. And our Toronto store receives some of its power and heat from a rooftop solar-electric and thermal generating system.” 

Ain’t no mountain high enough

As members of 1% for the Planet, the Fair Labour Association and being a bluesign member, it’s clear they run their business with the original high values and philosophies they started with.

They have an Ethical Sourcing Blog that started back in 2007 and were recognized in Canada’s Greenest Companies for 2012 for allowing their employees to volunteer with ecological or outdoor recreational organizations on the company’s time.

The best part is that they educate and encourage their members to partake in ethical consumerism.

Kind of makes you want to climb a mountain decked out in MEC now, eh?



Image credit: orangejack