Nikwax, who make some of the most widely-used aftercare products in the outdoor industry, have celebrated their 40th birthday by becoming entirely carbon neutral. Founded in 1987, the brand reached the milestone this year, and decided to mark it not just by off-setting their current carbon emissions (as they have done for many years) but also by off-setting all the carbon they have ever been responsible for as a business in their 40 years of existence.

They announced this seriously impressive step at the Outdoor show in Friedrichshafen last month. We spoke to Nick Brown, the inventor and founder of Nikwax, about how they got to this point. “About 10 years ago, we decided we would do as much as we possibly could do to progressively reduce our environmental impact," he said.

"They're not just off-setting their current carbon emissions, they're off-setting all the carbon they have ever been responsible for as a business in their 40 years of existence."

“We set out a plan to reduce our carbon footprint, our general waste footprint and water footprint, but inevitably, with any kind of modern business you can't completely do away with your carbon usage. You've got people going on airplanes, you've got gas heating, you've got manufacturing which requires electricity."

“So we started making an annual commitment to balance out the amount of carbon that we could not avoid emitting." As well as offsetting the emissions from their current operating year, Nick revealed, the business decided to pay to plant more trees in order to offset one historic year at a time. “So when we’d be doing it for ten years, we’d have done 20 years."

Nikwax CEO Nick Brown (right), talking about the announcement alongside Catherine Savidge and Tanya Bascombe from EOCA and Fran Morgan of Nikwax. Photo: Tristan

Having reached that point in 2017, Nick then realised that because of the brand’s growth, “in terms of our turnover at any rate, the first 20 years of Nikwax only added up to one year now. So [after balancing 20 years already] we made a decision to balance out all of our operational carbon emissions for the last 40 years."

The offsetting process is managed by an independent third party, the World Land Trust, which “buys land where there are endangered habitats, and then hands over the management of that land to local NGOs," according to Nick. Nikwax’s calculations of their carbon emissions and general consumption are entirely transparent, conducted in accordance with government guidelines and published in full on their website.

"We believe that consumers should have a healthy scepticism when it comes to companies’ environmental claims."

This is because, as they write on the site, they “believe that consumers should have a healthy scepticism when it comes to companies’ environmental claims". In an era where many companies make claims about their eco-friendly policies and “greenwashing" is unfortunately all too common, such transparency is welcome.

As well as the carbon neutral pledge, Nikwax is a big financial supporter of the European Outdoor Conservation Association (EOCA), which funds various projects around the world aimed at preserving natural habitats, fighting deforestation and preventing extinctions. “They're one of our seven sustaining members," said Tanya Bascombe, one of EOCA’s joint general managers, “which means they finance the running of the association on behalf of the entire industry."

Nikwax's new Base Fresh range on display at the Outdoor Show. All of this is manufactured according to the strictest environmental standards. Photo: Stephanie Briggs

But while Nikwax are very much the real deal, putting their money where their mouths are, what’s really surprising, according to Nick Brown, is actually how little money the process of becoming carbon neutral actually cost. “We were kind of surprised by how little it cost relative to our total turnover," he said. “The reality is it's not that much".

He’s hoping that other brands in the Outdoor industry will follow Nikwax’s example: “If other people were doing this, if other companies were doing this then we'd be in a far stronger position than we currently are collectively."