It’s precisely because voting in this year’s general election on November 3 feels so critical that it can also feel so overwhelming.
Do you know if you’re registered to vote in your state? What if you recently moved? When does early voting begin in your state? How late can you send back your mail-in ballot? How do you request an absentee ballot? Do you need a driver’s license to vote in your state?
In 2020, there are more resources than ever to walk voters through everything that could possibly stand between them and the polling booth. To take it a step further, Protect Our Winters teamed up with popular outdoor brands to meet voters where they are and hold their hands through the process with the Make A Plan To Vote tool.
By using the tool, would-be voters are guided through the process of requesting an absentee ballot; POW will actually print your application and mail it to you with a pre-stamped return envelope. If you’re voting in person, POW will help you plan your approach and send you reminders tailored to where you live so you don’t miss any deadlines.
With the initiative, POW is targeting the 50 million-plus members of what it terms the Outdoor State, a community of passionate skiers, snowboarders, trail runners, mountain bikers, climbers and anglers who together would form a voting bloc bigger than any U.S. state.
Studies show that most outdoor enthusiasts—not just those who identify as Democrats—don’t see climate as a partisan issue and are are inclined to vote for climate protection.
“Thanks to research commissioned by Protect Our Winters in 2019, we know that around 90 percent of the outdoor community in the U.S. believes that climate change is caused by humans, regardless of their political beliefs. In fact, only 40 percent of those identify as Democrats,” says Jenn Swain, global senior sustainability manager at Burton.
With that 2019 national consumer research project, POW set out “to fully understand how to increase the number and intensity of climate advocates by understanding the motivations of the 50 million people who participate in an outdoor sport,” says Mario Molina, executive director of POW and its sister organization, the POW Action Fund, a 501(c)(4) nonprofit.
“We studied how to communicate with them in ways that will open doors to their full engagement as advocates,” Molina continued. “We are working with POW brand partners from the very start, as they kick off conversations on climate action with their customers, and then supporting the advocacy efforts through easy to use tools like POW’s Make a Plan to Vote and the POW Action Fund Voter Guidebook.”
Those POW brand partners, including Burton, The North Face, and Skullcandy, are reaching out to their customers directly to help them make a plan to vote. Brands will send voters kits and materials to guide them along the way, armed with the knowledge that people who make a plan to vote are 10 percent more likely to actually do it.
Most outdoor and action sports brands are demonstrably environment- and sustainability-focused; more than virtue signaling, it’s good for business. But involving themselves directly in a divisive election is a clear indication of the unprecedented concern these companies share about the ways policymaking can endanger the outdoor spaces essential to their ecosystem.
The North Face was a pioneer in climate advocacy, partnering in 2009 with other brands through the coalition Business for Innovative Climate and Energy Policy to urge relevant members of Congress to support comprehensive energy and climate legislation.
“The North Face has a long history of public policy advocacy on climate change, whether that has been engaging consumers or spending time in Washington, D.C., speaking to policymakers about the importance of enacting real policies that begin to address climate change,” says Amy Roberts, senior director, sustainability and brand impact at The North Face.
But working one-on-one with consumers to increase voter education and turnout is a step forward even for brands that have a proven track record of taking action on climate. “This fall, we have taken our advocacy a step further in providing our community resources to get educated on climate, get registered to vote and then make a plan to vote for candidates who want to see climate addressed,” Roberts added.
The Make A Plan To Vote collaboration between brands that are direct competitors—like The North Face, Burton, and Jones, all of which compete for snowboarding consumers—only underscores the importance of the collective action.
“Partnerships with competitors around issues like voter participation and climate change are particularly compelling because they demonstrate the importance of wellbeing and interdependence over an individual pursuit of wealth,” says Swain.
Pro snowboarder Jeremy Jones embodies this spirt in his dual roles as the founder of snowboarding company Jones and the founder and president of POW.
“We may be competitors on the retail floor, but when it comes to action on climate change, we all recognize the importance of coming together on this issue,” Jones says. “The board of directors of Protect Our Winters, which I am on as founder and president of POW, is a great example of this. The board is made up of representatives from multiple competing brands that are working together for meaningful climate action.”
Ski resorts have also entered the conversation in a much more robust way; climate issues hit closer here than anywhere else in the industry as lifts and runs open later in the year and close earlier due to uncooperative conditions and lack of snow.
“Climate change is just physics, and physics isn’t partisan. But physics also doesn’t care what you believe; it rolls on regardless, following basic laws of nature. We have over 30 years of data that shows the ski industry is at risk of being wiped out by warming,” says leading environmental expert and author Auden Schendler, who serves as VP of sustainability at Aspen Ski Co.
According to a 2018 POW economic report, in the northeast U.S., the number of days with snow cover has decreased by one to two weeks since 1970. Low snow years in the U.S. see $1 billion less value for snow industries and lead to 17,400 fewer jobs compared to an average season. It’s estimated that by 2100, only four out of 14 major northeast ski resorts will remain profitable under a higher carbon emissions scenario—the scenario the world is tracking toward today.
Given the data, the plan of action is clear. “Whether looking at the moral or business imperative, the signs are clear: policymakers across the aisle must take urgent and meaningful action on climate to address the crisis that we all face,” Swain says.
This ecosystem of climate-conscious brands extends beyond the usual suspects of companies that manufacture or sell skis and outdoor gear. Other POW corporate partners include food and drink brand Clif Bar & Company, craft brewery Sierra Nevada, hard kombucha purveyor June Shine and coffee subscription service Coffeebar.
Consumer electronics brand Skullcandy began partnering with POW in 2019, taking up the mantle of shining a spotlight on climate change to a much broader audience.
“Skullcandy is unique in that we are a consumer electronics brand with the heart of an outdoor brand. We live in Park City, Utah, surrounded by ski resorts and outdoor recreation,” says Jessica Klodnicki, Skullcandy chief marketing officer.
“Our employees can see firsthand the impact climate change has on our own backyard. So, for all of our consumers that share similar passions in the outdoors, it’s easy to align on the idea that we want to protect those beautiful playgrounds. For many of our consumers, these passions are embedded in their daily lives. Setting aside any political affiliation, it’s really easy to agree on protecting these beautiful landscapes so that we can all continue to enjoy the outdoors and pursue those passions.”
Today, the POW Action Fund released its Voter Guidebook, where voters can plug in their address and find out who is on the ballot in their area and where those candidates stand on climate.
Users can toggle between federal candidates (for President, U.S. House of Representatives, Senate), state candidates (state House of Representatives) and local candidates (county court clerk). As for how the information about platforms and policies was gathered, “POW Action Fund researchers dug through candidates’ websites and social media, the public record, and nonpartisan news outlets to pull information for inclusion in this guidebook.”
The POW Action Fund endorsed candidates at the federal level, with a deep dive into their policies that affect the environment and climate. Such policy deep dives include carbon pricing, electric transportation, renewable energy and public lands. Voters can research every office on the ballot, save their selections and bring their voter guide with them to the polls.
“The tool removes guesswork and friction from what can be a complicated process, and it encourages users to vote by mail in districts where they are eligible,” says Swain. “This is all critically important during a year when voting in person has heightened health risks, when we expect to see longer lines at fewer polling places, and when many may be navigating the process of voting by mail for the first time.”
Data has shown that young consumers, especially Gen Z, believe brands can play a bigger role in moving the needle on social and environmental issues, Klodnicki says.
Brands that have partnered with POW on climate advocacy take that responsibility seriously. Since Skullcandy’s upcycling program launched, more than 150,000 pounds of plastics have been kept out of landfills. The North Face has begun reducing its own product footprint by moving to recycled materials. 100 percent of proceeds from Jones’ new “Stoke the Vote” line of hats will go to Protect Our Winters. All Burton U.S. offices and company-operated stores will be closed on November 3 to further reduce barriers for employees and to signal the importance of voting to the broader community.
POW and its partner brands are hoping the threat to their outdoor spaces is enough to drive the some 50 million people in the Outdoor State to the polls in November.
But as 2020 has illuminated the appeal and necessity of outdoor spaces for a wider audience, the end game is to motivate every voter to take action on climate. A new Snowsports Industries America (SIA) consumer report shows outdoor participation this year is expected to rise sharply across all activities (bicycling +59%; hiking or backpacking +51%; camping +52%; Snowsports +28%; Paddlesports +54%).
“I think even more people are experiencing the outdoors this year since Covid-19 hit. So, hopefully this message resonates for even more people that have now experienced the joy of outdoor recreation,” Klodnicki said.