Mountain Equipment Co-op: Embracing change & building community


An interview with Brad Clute, Regional Sustainability and Community Investment Coordinator at Mountain Equipment Co-op.  1.    What key changes did Mountain Equipment Co-op make over the last year?

Mountain Equipment Co-op (MEC) has always been a nimble organization. Because we are a retail business structured as a co-operative, it is easier to embrace change. To say we are change friendly is probably an understatement! We are constantly adapting to consumer shifts as well as shifts in our industry and community. Our Board of Directors are not financially invested in the business which means that they are dedicated to achieving positive outcomes for the organization, without being plagued by self-interest.

From a community investment and sustainability perspective, the common theme is impact. We constantly review our programs and initiatives to evaluate whether they are supporting the business and members of the community the way that we intended. Our social purpose is to inspire and enable everyone to lead active outdoor lifestyles. Our social purpose hasn’t changed, but our focus has. Not everything worth measuring is based on sales, so we are working to establish stronger KPIs that measure our impact in the community and our supply chain.

We have also made some major changes within our Human Resources department, starting with changing the name to People Experience. We have been taking a deeper dive into the quality of our member experience and are working to analyze our employee experience in a similar way.

2.    How is Mountain Equipment Co-op seeking to “innovate for all”?

Inclusivity is a huge priority for MEC (as it should be for everyone) and we are leading the charge in the outdoor community. We prioritize inclusivity which drives innovation at all levels of the organization. We work with our partners to work towards bringing inclusivity into our community and the industry. We also look at product design and purchasing to ensure that we are providing gear at novice, intermediate and expert levels at different price points and offer rentals, gear swaps and product donations.

It’s also important to ensure you are not operating within a bubble. People think of innovation as a few crazy scientists in a lab somewhere coming up with the next best thing, but that’s not always the case. We know we don’t have the all of the answers for innovation or inclusivity, which is why we rely and lean on our stakeholders to help us strategize. The flip side of that is ensuring that we are transparent about our missteps and who we are working with.

3.    This year's Executive Roundtable, hosted by Canadian Business for Social Responsibility (CBSR), will focus on what it means to do business like a Canadian. What do you think it means to do business like a Canadian and how is Mountain Equipment Co-op carrying this out?

When I think about doing business like a Canadian, I think about operating ethically with a strong moral compass that is driven by values and fulfills social and environmental responsibilities. There is also nothing more Canadian than humble confidence. The key to running business in an ethical way is being a thought leader and an innovator that challenges the status quo with an equal dose of humility and transparency. Never assume you have nailed it and work with stakeholders who don’t have the same blind spots as you do. Yes, we are leaders who are pushing the boundaries. But, we are not going to say that we have all the answers and shouldn’t be afraid that we don’t. Consumers don’t expect businesses to be perfect anymore but they are weary of the ones who try to say that they are - transparency is key.

4.    How is Mountain Equipment Co-op is seeking to innovate for good?

MEC is values based at its core, with a social purpose to get everyone to benefit from an active outdoor lifestyle. We have a retail business model which pays for the other ways we address that social purpose. We are here to be a part of the community, not a business who feeds off of it. We want to leave the community in a better place than where we found it.

Mountain Equipment Co-op

5.    How is Mountain Equipment Co-op collaborating with other sectors, in particular the business sector?

We leverage relationships to ensure that we can focus on ethical sourcing or social compliance in our supply chain. When we audit factories and work with the Fair Labour Association and are constantly seeking improvements. Although we might not always be able to provide the financial incentive to push for those changes, we work to build relationships and offer our loyalty in exchange for continuous improvement of working conditions.

One of our partnerships that we are extremely proud of is with Parkbus. This initiative, which started in Ontario and is now expanding across Canada, provides transportation from major cities into national parks to remove barriers and get people outside. Whether the barrier is access, location or culture, we are working with organizations to start removing those barriers.

6.    You will be speaking about Changing Culture in Today’s Businesses at the Soul of the Next Economy Forum. What is one piece of advice you would give in advance of your talk?

I would reiterate the humble confidence piece. Don’t assume you have all the answers and don’t assume that you don’t have blind spots. So many business relationships are one-sided and it is so important to engage your stakeholders and community. Understand who your customer base is, including what they want and what they expect. Stay engaged with your stakeholders and build strategies supported by their feedback and opinions.

Learn more about why Mountain Equipment Co-op was named the most reputable Canadian company: