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The Making of an Impact Report

A collage of photos showing people being active outdoors in colorful clothing.
Image courtsey Cotopaxi

We recently came across a stellar episode on impact reporting by the Social Entrepreneurship and Innovation podcast. In “The Making of an Impact Report,” host Cory Ames interviews Annie Agle, senior director of sustainability at outdoor gear and apparel company Cotopaxi, about her company’s compelling approach to creating impact (goal: end extreme poverty in the Americas) and conveying that impact accurately in an impact report for stakeholders.

Annie Agle from Cotopaxi.

We know you’re busy – so we’ll quickly encapsulate some key takeaways – but highly recommend you listen to the entire episode. It’ll also give you the opportunity to familiarize yourself with the podcast’s many excellent episodes with leading social entrepreneurs.

Annie reinforced the value of established ideas for impact reporting and introduced us to a few new concepts in this episode: using the U.N. Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) as a lens to focus impact work; a refreshingly different framing for viewing the competition and its impact; and the idea of “carbon intensity,” which was completely new to us.

Grid of 17 Sustainable Development Goals from the UN.

We’ll let Annie take it from here with a few select quotes, and then remember to check out the entire episode – it’s worth a listen.

On the value of goal setting and the SDGs:

“And I do think the Sustainable Development Goals are a really good way of doing that. Like, just choose three goals. Three goals, maybe, and one primary goal. For us, we really want to end extreme poverty in the Americas in our lifetime. That is our North Star issue. That’s why Cotopaxi was founded. So we use that lens to build a strategy.” 

On the idea of how much negative impact it takes to produce positive impact, using “carbon intensity” – a measurement of how much carbon it takes to generate $1 in revenue – as a primary environmental impact metric.

“So when we’re talking about how I really think about this, it’s like, how much negative impact does it take to produce the positive impact that we want, right? And we want the negative impact to be the lowest possible and the positive impact to be the highest. And so for me, carbon intensity is the best metric to sort of link and bridge the environmental and social side of those two issues. And so for me, I really always want to keep that percentage under 5%, preferably under three, and if we could hold at 1% right now, as we grow, that will be a phenomenal achievement I think, for our team.” 

A colorful Cotopaxi backback on a hiker.

Her vitally refreshing reframing of the competition. 

“You know, a lot of people, I think if you’re on a customer base, consumer basis with us, might think of Patagonia as our competitor. I’ve never seen Patagonia as a competitor. If we lose a customer to Patagonia, I personally am okay with that. That’s an amazing organization. I sort of see them as a benchmark, and I see us as a bridge. And so I don’t see them as a competitor. I see fast fashion and Big C capitalism, which is the space I come from, I see that as the competition. 

And the best impact report she’s seen?

 “I’d still say there are a few companies for whom I really look up to, I’d say the best impact reports I’ve seen for philanthropy is LifeStraw. LifeStraw has just the most in depth quality reporting in terms of their philanthropy, and obviously, they have a very technical philanthropy program based on the products that they provide for water purification.”
Finally: If you’re looking for an exemplary job of impact reporting, spend some more time with Cotopaxi’s impact report. You can see for yourself how the company brings its measurable impact to life in their 2021 Impact Report. And yes, we’re fans – we also wrote about the comprehensive approach of their impact reporting in our article, “2020 Impact Reports that Impacted Us.