Being a Force for Good

KMD Brands and all three  of its brands – Kathmandu, Rip Curl and Oboz – are now Certified B Corps, alongside more than 6,800 companies across 90 countries. Frances Blundell, Chief Legal and ESG Officer at KMD Brands, explains the company’s philosophy and reasoning behind its certification.

Amongst many other initiatives the company has undertaken to meet its sustainability goals, its Oboz Shoes brand plants a tree for every shoe sold with more than five million trees planted so far; 130 tonnes of offcuts from the Rip Curl wetsuit factory were diverted from landfill to make carpet underlay; Rip Curl launched Australia’s first wetsuit take-back programme to its customers which, in 2022, expanded to Europe and the USA; Kathmandu launched the world’s first biodegradable down jacket in April 2022.

What prompted KMD brands to decide to certify all your brands – I see you are one of the first multinational companies in Australia and NZ to do so?
Because the outdoors is important to us, KMD Brands balances profit with our impact on the planet and people who are touched by our brands. KMD Brands B Corp certification demonstrates our commitment to our strategic pillar to lead in ESG. Certification across our entire group evaluates and validates our ESG performance, provides accountability
and transparency and a pathway for continued improvement. It’s important to our employees, our customers, our investors and the planet. We’re proud to be one of the first multi-national companies in ANZ to achieve this and encourage others to join us.

What has been the most difficult part of certification to achieve?
Certification is not easy, as it takes into account every aspect of your business. The challenging part for us was the sheer complexity of our business, not one particular brand or initiative. Our operational footprint is extensive and we are multinational, with all of our brands operating globally. 
 
Could you step the readers through a couple of those innovations – and specifically what made you think to take these initiatives?  Have you had a lot of outside advice?
We have a talented and passionate team, who really believe in continuous innovation and finding ways of doing things better. We’re also lucky to work with a number of incredible partners. We work with the likes of TerraCycle on the global Rip Curl Wetsuit Recycling Programme, Remote Repairs and circularity experts Aleasha McCallion and Kirri-Mae Sampson on Kathmandu’s Kathman-REDU programme, and Trees of the Future via the Oboz One More Tree initiative. Most things we do are a collective effort, which is not only more effective it also aligns with the B Corp ethos to work collaboratively to drive change.  
 
How involved is your C-suite in these initiatives? 

Our executives – myself included as the Chief of Legal and ESG – our board, and the broader team are very engaged with the work we do, in fact, our Group CEO and Managing Director Michael Daly announced our B Corp certification and actively encourages us to be leaders in this space. It really is something that needs to be led from the top down. 

I am trying to imagine how complicated it might be to, say, divert wetsuit offcuts to be made into carpet? How did this come about? 
As Rip Curl owns and operates our wetsuit manufacturing facilities, we have a responsibility to reduce our impact. The neoprene offcut waste has been repurposed across several initiatives over the years, becoming everything from boxing bag fillers, archery butt heads, and footwear soles. The material has many uses; however, after being introduced to a carpet underlay business in Australia called Airstep, we decided to set up a partnership where we provide 50 percent of our neoprene offcut waste to be made into carpet underlay that is then sold locally.
 
Do you think KMD Brands is getting the recognition it deserves for all these different areas – how aware are your customers/shareholders do you think? 
Our shareholders are aware of our commitments in this space, as we’ve been releasing a Sustainability Report for years and last year transitioned to Integrated Reporting for the first time. We’ve been talking to our customers about sustainability for a long time – we created our first Kathmandu EcoFleece in 1993 – however we have now started to measure this so we can look at where we need to focus our efforts to make sure the message is getting through. 

Do you have advice to other CEOs and leaders on where they might start? Or why they should?
Start with looking at the B Lab website and trying your hand at the Impact Assessment. If you don’t have an ESG team, you might want to consider engaging an expert B Corp consultant or speaking to B Lab direct and getting their support. You’d be surprised with how much you might already be doing, so be positive and understand these things take time. It’s also important to seek input from your key stakeholders to understand what issues they want you to prioritise and what’s meaningful to your business. Your key stakeholders care about the way your company does business – for example, we’ve found that our ESG credentials make us an employer of choice. We’ve also found that as we face increased regulation, investors care more about ESG from a risk mitigation point of view. Above all, it’s about doing things a better way and that’s good for everyone.   

Has it cost KMD Brands in terms of profitability; if so, does that matter or is it a case of doing good and that being a reward in itself? 
Its about investing in the long-term health of the business; it’s not ESG instead of profitability, it’s balancing the two, as both are important and critical for the long term success of the business.
 
Has this all been more difficult to achieve being a listed company, with perhaps a stronger imperative to deliver results for shareholders?
B Corp certification is challenging for complex businesses, because it looks at every aspect of your business and the ways in which it operates. In terms of delivering results, as a listed company we must balance purpose with profit. Leading in ESG is not just a ‘nice to have’ in our strategy though, we believe it’s integral to protecting our license to operate in the long term, which benefits our shareholders. For example, we recently signed on as a founding member of the Australian Fashion Council’s Seamless initiative, which aims to tackle fashion waste by introducing a levy on individual garments being sold in Australia, amongst other things. By having a seat at the table as a leader in ESG in our industry, we can not only influence change but make sure it is balanced, realistic and sets us up for long-term success.  

Image Credit: Courtesy of KMD Brands.

 

 

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