ethical adventure gear: what is transparency and why does it matter?

Ed discovers why all the muchbetter adventures in the world mean nothing if your kit lets the world down.

My favourite piece of kit is a five year old Vapour Rise smock made by Rab . It is in its usual position thrown over the back of my sofa near the front door ready for me to grab if I want to go for a walk around the village, or a more serious day hike up a mountain, the chalk on its back is evidence of a recent good evenings climbing. It is my favourite top for canoe trips and the resistant but well chewed mouth guard shows that it is also my first choice for backcountry ski touring. It is such a good top that I want to buy another But something is holding me back. I know nothing about its environmental and social impact other than tested durability and the versatility of function, both of which have meant that I have not had to invest in another general purpose soft-shell. I want my equipment to be designed not only to last, but to use sustainable raw materials and to be created with renewable energy and fair employment. I want to be able to recycle it when it can serve no more purpose. I want the company making it to be concerned about the environments in which Ill use it. As a consumer with these concerns, I have been onto the Rab website looking for their commitment to sustainability and to find out more about the creation of my top. I was dismayed however to find nothing beyond stats on the performance of the vapour rise items. Nothing about production, transport, employment, no mention of sustainable development. In short, no transparency.But hang on, why does any of this matter? Why should I make an effort to find ethical clothing whilst most high street chains are still churning out the same old stuff?

Here is my reason. I am incredibly privileged to enjoy a full range of adventure sports in a stunning array of landscapes. I want to know that my actions are not damaging these areas, and so I change my travel patterns to minimise my footprint, I act in a way that will only benefit the area, not damage it. I am respectful to locals, the guardians of these areas. I will always look to contribute to the local economy. But I am still blind. An element of my addiction to adventure is potentially causing the greatest damage to a part of the world I might never have visited. The manufacture of my clothing and equipment can ruin the lives of others, and destroy landscapes. I do not want the sheer joy and pain of crimping on slate if someone elses hands are hurting the same to make my equipment. I do not want the exhilaration of skimming the waves sailing or surfing if my kit was polluting someone elses water. I do not want to walk in a forest if someone elses has been cut to make my gear. Not in my name. A lot has changed in the five years since I brought my Pull On, as Rab are now calling it. Increasingly there are options available to me that show a great commitment to my favourite places and share the values that I hold as an adventure sports nut. These include :

The award winning (The Observer ethical awards 2008) Humboldt Softshell Smock Jacket from Finisterre, a great alternative. With all the comfort, durability and versatility of Rabs Vapour Rise why wouldnt I pick this product that can demonstrate its origins, and can offer me a guarantee that it has been produced in the least environmentally damaging way. Finisterre are able to demonstrate this publicly in their transparency statement.Of course Patagonia also have range of great options not least the Guide Jacket. The resistant full zip jacket is made of highly breathable and wind-resistant double-weave blend of recycled polyester and spandex. It is recyclable at the end of its life through their common threads program. Patagonias work on a closed loop life for a product is available for the world to see here. Rapanui are also making good progress into this marketplace. Whilst they have not ventured into a full range of technical wear, their Eko Bamboo T-Shirt has proven a classic. Click here to see our review of the Eko T. and here to see the full transparency of the Rapanui manufacture process.

So where do I go from here?

I have decided to email Rab and to ask them these questions. They should have their chance to answer, after all, maybe they are already very eco conscious in their product development, but just havent yet written about it.

This view is shared by Mountain Riders who state in the intro to their excellent Eco Guide to Gear In this market-driven world, it is up to us, as consumers, to become actors of change. We need to give the market clear signals about the direction in which we want to go, by asking questions about where and how products are manufactured – Stewart Sheppard.

So dont hold back, contact the creators of your adventure sports equipment. Ask them what, how and who, is making what you are wearing and using. If we all start to demand these simple things, manufacturers will have little choice but to start answering our questions. Better still, where they are embarrassed by their answer, or where their competitors are doing it much better, they will have little choice but to put pressure on their material suppliers to address their production techniques and souricing of raw materials. They will have to start considering how the material could return to the production cycle at the end of its useful life.

In the next part of this article, we will be looking at the raw sourcing of material, how can a brand be certain they are buying ethically? What standards exist to help them and are these standards effective?

3 Replies to “ethical adventure gear: what is transparency and why does it matter?”

  1. Thanks for sharing your thoughts. Your piece highlights a conundrum facing even those who are alert to the business practices of the suppliers of their gear: what are the true costs and benefits of my purchase, and indeed to my travels and activities themselves? It is important for suppliers to share verifiable, un-hyped (read:no greenwashing) info on their practices with regards to their environmental practices and social impacts all along the value chain. And while many suppliers are, or aim to be doing this, there really is no road map. The author is correct that as customers we can influence the practices of suppliers, particularly today in this age of the democratization of info, when one blogger or YouTube video post-er can release a wave of consumer backlash, or support.
    For most producers, it is a good idea to develop their sustainable business best practices through an assessment,a real look at where they are on their sustainability journey and how to make good decisions for the business that are also good decisions for people and planet.

  2. Hi Geoge, thanks for your contribution. You are absolutely correct that consumers want real verifiable answers to these questions. As the idea of a sustainable existence gradually seeps into the collective psyche, consumers are more easily identifying latent greenwash and developing a loyalty to genuine participation.

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