Runners need their open spaces and there is an organization making its debut at The Running Event 2022 that is dedicated to providing and preserving that space. The partnership is a part of the event’s ongoing efforts to expand the reach of the run specialty business into the Great Outdoors and to support the groups that hold similar goals.

The Conservation Alliance, founded in 1989 by outdoor industry leaders REI, Patagonia, The North Face and Kelty, who shared the goal of increasing business support for conservation efforts, now represents a coalition of more than 270 businesses – including The Running Event and Switchback@TRE – that pool resources to fund more than 50 conservation projects a year. They then use the voice of business to advocate for land and water conservation throughout North America. 

Throughout its history, The Conservation Alliance has contributed more than $28 million to grassroots conservation groups whose collective efforts have helped protect 73 million acres of wildlands, 3580 river miles, halt or remove 37 dams, designate five marine reserves and purchase 21 climbing areas. That’s a lot of room to run, hike and explore.  

Growing Core Membership

The core of the CA’s membership are brands from the outdoor industry and greater outdoor recreation economy, including names familiar to TRE attendees such as running-focused brands Adidas, Altra, Brooks, On and Topo Athletic, as well as a long list of outdoor industry brands that have a presence in the running industry. In 2022 and into 2023 the CA is also getting stronger in the banking, hunting and fishing, brewing and craft beverage sectors. 

Conservation Alliance members have the ability to invest in a highly effective and diversified grant program that supports more than 50 conservation organizations per year and do so by working collaboratively with others from the business community to further shared priorities, explains  Shoren Brown, VP–public affairs, who points out that 100 percent of membership dues pass through to its grant program. This ensures all contributions are going directly to the groups on the ground doing the work without requiring company staff time to deal with the administrative burden of managing a diversified grantmaking portfolio. 

“By supporting a wide range of organizations and projects that increase recreation access, benefit people and communities, support biodiversity and provide natural climate solutions, our members have the ability to access visual content and stories about the landscapes they’re investing in and promote those stories through their channels,” Brown says.

Enter the Confluence Program

Additionally, the CA recently launched the Confluence program to intentionally connect to historically racially excluded people for the protection of natural places. 

“Great things happen when a diverse coalition of voices and perspectives comes together to champion solutions that balance the best interests of land and water, wildlife and people,” Brown explains.

“In a world where customers increasingly care as much or more about the values of a company they are supporting as they do the products they are buying, our members use the Alliance as a way to engage in corporate advocacy in a collaborative and non-threatening way.”

An ideal Conservation Alliance member engages in a handful of ways: 

  • First, members nominate grassroots conservation organizations to receive funding, then all member company employees can vote to determine which projects will get funded. 
  • Second, members use their platforms to share news about CA’s work and the work of its grantees with their networks and customers. 
  • Third, members use their voice to support the campaigns the Alliance is funding through business-led advocacy. 
  • And finally, cause-marketing campaigns and product collaborations prove to be a way to center its work to drive sales and provide elevated financial support for its efforts. 

The Conservation Alliance has been expanding well beyond the core outdoor brands — one of the reasons it is reaching out to run specialty through The Running Event partnership.

Running Industry Involvement

“Our primary goal is to use the power of the business community to have a positive impact on conservation efforts,” Brown explains. “While core outdoor businesses have a strong correlation between their business interests and places for people to recreate, there are other businesses and industries who have a tie to land and water conservation with a less obvious connection. Each can greatly elevate our efforts if brought into the fold.”

As an example, the brewing industry has a dependency and need for clean water. In order to have access to it downstream, they need to work to protect the headwaters and tributaries to ensure flows and water quality are strong. When you contrast that with a fishing company that wants to keep 100 percent of the water in a river to preserve fishing habitat, you run into what appears to be a conflict of interest. Yet in reality if all parties can put their differences aside and find points of commonality, incredible results can be achieved.

The same holds true for the running industry. Although it is very much part of the greater outdoor industry, the running and endurance-focused brands aren’t typically at the shows or events that the Conservation Alliance attends. At the same time, their dependency on trail access is no different than the hiking, camping or backpacking brands that are core to CA’s membership and Brown feels their representation is one of the key missing pieces in its coalition. 

“Specialty retailers are some of the most engaged and important members we have in our coalition,” he points out, because these are the businesses that are deeply connected to their communities and know the local leaders within the conservation movement. That gives them the ability to highlight local campaigns and use the Alliance to put them on a national level. 

“From an advocacy perspective, small, locally owned businesses are also favorites of elected officials who love to hear from family-owned businesses working in local communities and supporting local economies,” Brown adds. 

CA, #TRE22 and Texas

At The Running Event in Austin, TX, the Conservation Alliance will be hosting a breakfast presentation in partnership with Angel Pena, executive director at Monumental Shift, where an overview will be provided of their work at The Conservation Alliance, while Pena will explain the effort he’s leading to protect the Castner Range in El Paso, TX. 

(Conservation Alliance director of membership and partnership, Conor McElyea, will also be walking the show floor and is looking to schedule time to meet with anyone who’s interested in learning more about how they can get involved. Contact him at  [email protected].)

The Conservation Alliance’s focus in Texas is working in coalition with its allies at Nuestra Tierra Conservation Project to ensure that the Castner Range is protected. Nuestra Tierra has a people-focused mission to ensure that Frontera (border) communities have access to the outdoors. 

Castner Range is a mountainous 7000 acres located between city neighborhoods and Franklin Mountains State Park in the majority Latinx community of El Paso. Renowned for its annual display of blooming Mexican Yellow Poppies, Castner Range has exceptional cultural, ecological and historical values and it remains undeveloped despite decades of population growth and land urbanization around El Paso.  

“The voice of business plays an outsized role in protecting wild places and outdoor spaces and we encourage the running industry to join our broad coalition of companies that are working to conserve land and water and provide recreational opportunities for people from all walks of life,” says Brown. “We call on you to use your voice to ensure that business-led solutions to conservation challenges are front and center in the national conversation.” 

Priorities for 2023

The Conservation Alliance’s goals for 2023 are to ensure that its priorities for land and water conservation continue to move forward and that the communities working on conservation and outdoor recreation both continue to evolve and embrace long standing equity and diversity challenges.  

“Simply put, our ability to achieve our goals depends on incredible members and their commitment to our shared vision,” Brown adds. “The bigger and more powerful our membership, the more likely it is that we can achieve lasting protections for threatened places and provide key funding and support for our allies working to lift up historically marginalized voices.”