Green business: Mountain Equipment Co-Op is leading by example.

Photo by danind5 |

Chances are, if you grew up in Canada and had any kind of reasonable interest in outdoor recreation, you have, at one time or another, found yourself at the Mountain Equipment Co-Op (MEC). Its stores are everything one imagines when considering outdoor retail. Kayaks and backpacks line the walls. Fit and well-informed staff are eager to answer questions with anecdotes from their latest adventures. There is a disproportionate amount of facial hair drifting around. MEC is a candy store for people who are near of kin to rocks and beasts.

There is also a side to MEC that a lot of people don’t consider. Given the lack of devoted, large-scale outdoor retailers throughout the country, MEC is generally the default. They offer affordable gear in convenient locations so most people don’t think twice about stopping in. They generally have no choice. However, in a hypothetical Canada with a dozen or more options, one would still be hard pressed to find a better alternative. The reason being that MEC is one of the only major Canadian companies (operating in 14 of the countries largest cities) that continues to embody what many consider to be true Canadian values.

First and foremost, their commitment to sustainability is unmatched. Each of their locations has been constructed with the environment in mind. They universally employ reclaimed materials in their construction and make a concerted effort to divert waste from landfills. In 2006 MEC’s flagship Vancouver location managed a divergence rate of 91%. Other locations also implement a variety of green technologies to offset their carbon footprint. The Ottawa store has a wall that is insulated with bailed straw, a material that is 50% more efficient than conventional insulation; and, most impressively, the Calgary store offsets 100% of its energy consumption using wind turbines to contribute an equal amount of green electricity into Alberta’s energy grid. In a province where upwards of 90% of electricity is generated by burning coal, that is a significant contribution.  

MEC’s commitment to the environment is only one example of their true Canadian spirit. They also offer employee benefits that allow staff to live comfortably while working retail, a rare situation if ever there was one. In addition to a comprehensive health and dental package given to full and part time employees, they offer tuition assistance, paid time off for skill development, company ski and rafting excursions and a generous leave of absence program. All of these perks combined with its upbeat atmosphere have landed MEC a well-deserved spot on Canada’s top 100 employers list.

At a time when the national government is working in direct opposition to traditional Canadian values, like environmental preservation and civil liberties, it is nice to know that these ideals are still embodied elsewhere. MEC also proves that sustainability and good business ethics do not come at the expense of profitability. The company generated over $250 million in revenues last year. To be sure, MEC is not the only stand-up company in Canada. Plenty of others like Loblaw’s, RBC, and even foreign imports like IKEA demonstrate ethics that need to be perpetuated if sustainability is to be achieved. However, MEC’s transparency and devotion to both its people and the environment make it worthy of a special mention and a tip of the collective hat.