Mountain Equipment Co-op: A story of community values and enterprise

Stephanie Sketchley, MEC Sustainability Coordinator

I’ve been a member of Mountain Equipment Co-op (MEC), Canada’s largest retail co-operative, since the 1980s. I love their stuff.  Yet, MEC is more than stuff.  This week I met up the Stephanie Sketchley, Sustainability Coordinator for the MEC store in Victoria, and learned more about MEC’s place in the community.

About MEC

MEC was founded in 1971 by a small group of Canadian climbers, as a place to buy gear not carried by conventional retailers; gear for mountaineering, rock climbing, ski touring, and hiking.  Today MEC supplies outdoor equipment to 3 million members worldwide.  The membership fee is $5.

MEC’s core purpose is to help people enjoy the benefits of self-propelled wilderness-oriented recreation.  They are committed to green building, community grants, ethical purchasing, product sustainability, and promotion of Canada-wide parks and protected areas.  They are a values-based organization.

MEC’s current, national marketing focus is on youth, new Canadians, and cycling.

How MEC Victoria supports and connects community

My interest in meeting with Stephanie was to learn more about MEC’s connection to the local community, here in Victoria, and how it collaborates with local partners.

Given that one of MEC’s priorities is linked to cycling, I started off by asking her about a local car-to-bike parking initiative in downtown Victoria. In this video, Stephanie describes the initiative; an initiative that was kick-started by MEC staffer Rob Thompson, and which has MEC, city officials, local business people, and cycling advocacy groups working together (if you can’t see the video, click here)

And here is some other ways MEC contributes to, and benefits from, community:

  • A partnership with the South Island Mountain Bike Society (SIMBS); one in which MEC, in hands-on ways, works to get more trails open for biking, and promotes eco-friendly mountain biking
  • Grants to local organizations; e.g., 2009/10 grants included a grant for a raised boardwalk at Swan Lake Nature Conservancy, and a grant for sea kayak equipment upgrading to the YMCA-YWCA Camp Thunderbird
  • In-store club nights; a combination information session / shop at a discount affair; e.g., girl guides learn how to pack a backpack, fit a boot, followed by shopping (optional)
  •  Green building tours to interested groups; MEC Victoria is housed on the main floor of a heritage building in downtown Victoria.  Upper floors are condos.  The build has numerous green features
  • Assisting with community events; e.g., 2010 World Ocean’s Day
  • Product donations

    MEC Victoria store

  • 1% for the Planet; since 2007, MEC has committed to donating 1% of all sales to Canadian environmental causes.
  • Staff (70 or so FT/PT) who are technically knowledgeable, passionate, and active in the outdoors; this may seem odd as a community contribution, yet there is community value when a customer can ask MEC staff about paddling gear, and also get the (first hand experience) low-down on local places to paddle

A good place to work

Obviously if you are active, sustainability-oriented, and people-oriented, MEC seems like a great place to work.  Initiative is encouraged.  The staffing mix brings divers skills and expertise to the store.  Stephanie’s background includes studies in anthropology and archaeology, and 3 years working in Barkley Sound on Vancouver Island’s west coast, investigating a historical First Nations traditional village site.

A big thanks to Stephanie for allowing me the opportunity to learn, and share, a bit more about MEC.

Are you a MEC member? What MEC values attracted you to join this social enterprise?

Car-to-bike parking in downtown Victoria

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