It wasn’t the sexiest summer gig. After graduating from college in 2008, a time when decent employment prospects were few, Savannah native Rick Crawford landed a job as a waiter and housekeeper at a resort ranch in Wyoming. His roommate, he recalls, “was the cool fly-fishing dude, and when he introduced me to fly fishing, I was completely enamored. I loved everything about it, but what I really liked figuring out was the entomology. Everything in fly fishing is so interconnected, which made it a great crash course in systems thinking. And that’s pretty much what I do today.”
Many would say that Crawford has the cool job now: His Charleston, South Carolina, company, Emerger Strategies, helps fishing guides, shops, lodges, gear makers, and others in the fly-fishing and outdoor recreation industries go carbon-neutral and zero-waste. Drawing from his MBA with an emphasis in sustainable business and his decade of experience in solar energy, biofuels, and green software development, Crawford has assembled a skill set that he uses to empower fishing companies to take an active role in dealing with climate change and environmental initiatives.
That process begins with conducting a forensic analysis of a company’s performance across detailed sustainability metrics. “You can’t manage what you don’t measure,” Crawford says, and his approach is all-encompassing: He looks at energy and water use, examines environmental impacts of a company’s supply chain, and runs a detailed analysis of waste and refuse. There are even targets for a business’s community impact and volunteer hours logged by employees.
When he started Emerger Strategies in 2016, Charleston’s Flood Tide Co. apparel line became his first client. Abaco Lodge in the Bahamas was the first fly-fishing lodge to sign on. Now Emerger Strategies has worked with some of the leading brands in the business, including RepYourWater, Z-Man Fishing Products, and Bajío Sunglasses. But the outreach doesn’t stop there. Crawford also guides conversations about green business practices on his podcast, The Sustainable Angler, which landed Patagonia founder Yvon Chouinard as its first guest, and in 2020, he founded the Fly Fishing Climate Alliance, composed of fly-fishing businesses that commit to going carbon-neutral by the end of the decade.
“I’m from the Lowcountry, and I have a real passion for this place: for oyster roasts and the marsh ecosystems that bear more fruit than people can imagine,” Crawford says. “But we are among the first to see the impacts of sea-level rise. I help companies understand that there’s nothing political about this. Reducing your carbon footprint is a good business decision.”