Published 2021-06-24This post is also available in Swedish
Meet Christiane Dolva — in all weathers
Daily, she combines two key components of life: business strategy and love of nature. Today, working as Fjällräven’s Global Sustainability Director is more about innovation and strength, and less about being a wet blanket. Meet Christiane Dolva, board member of the Mistra Sport & Outdoors research programme.
Christiane Dolva is drawn to pursuing business-strategy issues. She sees enhancing sustainability as self-evident for a successful business. Dolva’s great passion is physical activities in natural surroundings, from solo running in the woods to a spontaneous outing with the children, ending with a Star Wars game with sticks. Dolva is captivated by people with the drive to bring about change. She strongly believes in innovation and collaboration for an environmentally protective, successful outdoor recreation sector.
Seven years ago, she joined the hiking-gear company Fjällräven in a role specifically involving sustainability issues. The role was new, but she found that the enterprise and the team alike had already been working along sustainable lines. Today, she is Global Sustainability Director, a position she describes as quite broad, with direct reporting to the CEO and a major focus on business development.
Dolva was born and brought up in Lillehammer, Norway. At university, she read political science and quickly realised that what fascinated and engaged her was environmental issues. To study sustainable business development, she needed to cross the border and become a student in Sweden. After her degree, Dolva worked as a sustainability adviser in various industries, but it was when she came into contact with the outdoor recreation sector that everything fell into place. Before Fjällräven, she worked at Bergans of Norway, another outdoor equipment supplier, for a few years.
‘I felt I’d found my calling in that sector. It meant I could spend time in nature, develop the company towards sustainability and inspire others to experience nature in a sustainable way. My present job is rewarding. Pursuing sustainability work can be a solitary, sedentary task, but here we’re all going in the same direction and giving maximum mutual feedback.’
Prolonging product life
Over the past year, she has devoted great effort to the company’s climate strategy, in which an important element is understanding where the business generates its greenhouse-gas emissions. Collecting data, setting goals and deconstructing them into practical work are key tasks. Product longevity is an issue close to Dolva’s heart.
‘We’ve always worked on timeless design and products made to last. And there are many parameters to consider. We look at design, repairability and communication with our customers, who are very often interested and committed at a detailed level, and simply want to know how to look after their possessions.’
Production of new items, including clothes, is the big environmental and climate culprit, isn’t it — what do you think?
‘That’s an issue I ponder a lot, and I’ve concluded that we have to follow two parallel tracks at once. It’s a matter of both choosing materials and production processes with lower environmental impact and at the same time ensuring that the products we release on the market have a long life. We can’t work on just one or the other: some material choices and production processes have a relatively low impact but may lead to clothes and other products with a short lifespan. Still, we don’t want to make long-lived products that contain toxic chemicals or have negative effects for much of their lifespan. All the same, product longevity as such is something we in the textile industry generally talk far too little about.’
This is linked to our attitudes towards what we buy, she thinks. The question is whether we’re making a long-term investment or just buying for fun.
‘At Fjällräven we’re incredibly stubborn about not just following fast-moving trends. Then things we do may become trendy and there’s nothing wrong with that, but it certainly isn’t anything we’re chasing.’
Fjällräven has no production of its own. The company’s emissions are largely generated, and environmental impact caused, by other parties. The biggest challenge is therefore to find business partners and suppliers who are promoting sustainability to the same extent as Fjällräven.
‘We’re very clear about what we want to achieve and why, so we make our ultra-strict requirements contractual. Much of it’s also about offering incentives.’
This is where Dolva sees great potential for cooperation in the sector. It is already on the rise, she thinks, not least in terms of materials development, and can grow further. In particular, joint efforts are under way to tackle the challenges of climate and chemicals — issues too large for independent initiatives to solve.
From wet blanket to innovation
Dolva has been on a sustainability quest for the past 12 years and perceives a distinct shift.
‘Environmental and sustainability issues used to be like wet blankets — all about spoiling people’s fun and telling them to do less of everything they enjoy. Now sustainability issues are an engine for innovation: they’re a matter of the positive actions we can do more of and develop.’
She finds joy and motivation in working on business development. Her constant goal is to inspire people to get out in the natural environment and enjoy it without ruining it for posterity. She has numerous dream projects. With Fjällräven’s current linear business model — based on developing, producing and selling products — Dolva’s big vision is to crack the code of a circular business model where customers can rent, subscribe to and return the company’s products.
Her bonds with nature are ever present. It is no coincidence that she is working in the outdoor recreation sector. Explaining it makes Dolva chuckle.
‘At the risk of adding to preconceived ideas about Norway, I grew up with a ’touring’ mentality. We were always out and about — skiing in the winter, hiking in the summer, on excursions around the lake or in the forest. So early on, I enjoyed various types of outdoor activity and grew up with nature. As an adult, and especially since having kids, I’ve realised its true value.’
Around where she lives, in Vaxholm in the Stockholm archipelago, she revels in a forest run as much as taking the children on outings. Both professionally and personally, she has derived inspiration from proactive people of passionate convictions with the strength to drive change. Dolva is especially enthralled by David Attenborough — both his nature documentaries and how he uses his influence to boost people’s knowledge and awareness of nature.
‘In work contexts, I’m inspired by people who are really passionate about what they do, whatever it is. Like those who study the length of wool fibres or other nerdy details. That’s why the connection with Mistra Sport & Outdoors is so rewarding. All the programme participants inspire me with their skills, curiosity and knowledge. For me, this assignment has opened a door to organisations of all sizes in sport and outdoor life that are truly fervent about encouraging more children and adults to get out and experience the value of nature.’
Making the most of Swedish wool
Mistra Sport & Outdoors is a collaborative research programme intended to generate knowledge and solutions to make sport and outdoor life more sustainable. Dolva sees great benefits from the academia–business interface and a merger of different perspectives. She can contribute her sustainability expertise in product development and communication, while discovering completely new angles and the latest learning.
Before she joined Fjällräven, it had already forged ties with academia and joined in various research projects, including one about its annual Fjällräven Classic wilderness trekking event and textiles, in partnership with the Swedish School of Textiles at the University of Borås. The company is currently working on a materials innovation project involving Swedish wool.
‘Today, there’s no market and few initiatives in making the best use of wool. In Sweden there’s no organised collection, categorisation and classification, so we’ve had to contact stakeholders way down the chain to work on this. That’s what I mean by innovation: new thinking and finding new ways of using what we have. We’ve now put Swedish wool in the logo tab on our backpacks and for jacket linings, to replace synthetic materials and down.’
In my spare time: Running in the woods or being out sailing or kayaking on a lake.
Dreaming of: Working with various stakeholders when we’re all convinced we need to think innovatively to reduce our footprints on the planet.
In a decade: By then we’ll have advanced an incredibly long way in understanding and taking action for sustainable equipment and sustainable activities that will induce even more people to get out in the countryside. And the more people there are out there, the more there’ll be who want to take care of it. In that way, we’ll recruit lots of environmental ambassadors.