By Retail Dive
This article was published in Retail Dive March 24, 2022.
Outdoor Retailer on Wednesday announced the trade show would be headed back to Utah a little over a month after Patagonia, REI, The North Face and other members of The Conservation Alliance threatened to boycott the event if it made such a move.
The company said it made the decision after "much deliberation and input from all sides" and praised Salt Lake City Mayor Erin Mendenhall, "whose values align with ours following tremendous investments in clean energy and a strong commitment to public lands. This proved to be a real turning point in our recent negotiations."
In response, Patagonia CEO Ryan Gellert said the retailer would not return to the trade show "until we hear a firm commitment to protect our national monuments." The North Face and REI won't be going either.
Operating in a market that is directly tied to consumers spending time in nature, prominent outdoor retailers have often taken firm stances on environmental protection.
Outdoor Retailer itself moved out of Utah in 2017 as a result of the state's rollback of national monument designations for Bears Ears and Grand Staircase Escalante. Now it's moving back to the state while acknowledging it didn't get what it asked for.
"In reality, leaving after 2017 has not brought the change we had hoped for, so we will push back, not pull back," the company said in a blog post signed by Marisa Nicholson, senior vice president and show director of Outdoor Retailer, and Jeff Davis, group vice president of Emerald. "We firmly believe that staying engaged and collectively contributing to the ongoing discussion, no matter how difficult, is far more constructive."
As a result, Outdoor Retailer will commit revenue from its events in Utah over the next three years to funding outdoor recreation programs and efforts to protect public lands. The company also plans to form a Business with Purpose initiative that will meet biannually with Salt Lake City officials, public lands leaders and industry stakeholders to tackle challenges, discuss policy and allocate resources to protecting natural lands.
Members of The Conservation Alliance, however — including Patagonia, The North Face and REI — don't plan to attend the trade show until Utah addresses the initial reason for Outdoor Retailer's departure: its stance on national monuments in the state.
"We stand with our partners at The Conservation Alliance, as well as with our outdoor industry colleagues, that our industry's largest trade show should not have decided to move to Utah in a time when its public officials are not prioritizing the protection and conservation of public lands and national monuments," a spokesperson for The North Face said in an email to Retail Dive.
REI's Chief Customer Officer Ben Steele expressed disappointment in the decision and echoed sentiments from The North Face, saying Utah's officials are "actively working to undermine" national monuments.
"As we made clear in February, REI will not participate in any [Outdoor Retailer] trade show in the state so long as Utah's leaders persist in attacking our public lands and the laws that protect them," Steele said in a statement.
The retailers left open the possibility of returning to the trade show, whether through a change of venue or if Utah's officials shift their position on national monuments.
"Should Utah's politicians abandon their legal threats seeking once again to roll back protections for Bears Ears and Grand Staircase Escalante National Monuments, Patagonia is glad to return to Outdoor Retailer in Salt Lake City," Patagonia's Gellert said.
Mendenhall's office on Wednesday said in an open letter that Utah has created a stand-alone Public Lands Department since Outdoor Retailer left the state, and is on a path to 100% renewable energy. "If there are some who look at Utah's state politics around our public lands and wonder if this move back to Utah is right, I have two words for you: Join us," Mendenhall said.