Ethical outdoor gear: When it comes to raw materials, less is more…

In part 2 of his ten part odyssey to uncover the truth and deconstruct the myths of greening our outdoor gear, Ed explores raw materials and looks at who is putting in more than they should be.

Lets be clear, ethical adventure clothing does not need to be about hippies dancing in circles and weaving reeds to make a hat. The adventure wear community is instead talking about Input Stream Management. Its cold, its real, and youd better believe its calculated. The goal is to produce uncompromisingly high performance gear that uses raw materials that are produced with the lowest impact on peoples and environments.

There is a movement in the outdoor adventure community to act across a number of fronts to green the input stream. We can use better raw materials, less raw materials, we can re- use our materials, and we should never stop looking for a muchbetter material.

Lets take the example of adventure food. There are some energy bars out there that use a complex cocktail of chemicals that become a moulded brown performance boosting affront to the senses. There is little concern as to the source of the ingredients, the physical appeal or the taste of the bars.

Alex and Jimmy are the creators of the mule bar. They have a simple goal : that your top up fuel should not taste like your socks. To achieve this, they go back to the source and use organic and Fairtrade ingredients wherever possible and are committed to having all their products totally organic and Fairtrade as soon as the ingredients are available. Its simple I guess, but if the ingredients are good, then the result is good.

Away from the kitchen, there is another option when it comes to our adventure gear. At DMM, they have discovered that less is more. By upping the technology they have managed to drop the ingredients. Take the phantom series of quickdraws and carabiners which use a hot forging technique and the ultra lightweight I Beam construction to allow lightness in strength.

Even better than this, we can re- use materials we have already shredded. EVOLV and TRAX Rubber have developed eco-TRAX, a recycled content high friction rubber compound for use in their climbing shoes. The technology comes from decomposing selective pre & post consumer rubber waste and then reprocessing it to make a useable compound. Currently, 30% of the eco-TRAX compound used on select parts of their outsoles is recycled material, however they plan to use a higher recycled percent compound on other shoes that don’t require maximum friction.

In the same spirit, back in 1993, Patagonia created fleece material made from post consumer recycled plastic soda bottles. They were the first outdoor clothing manufacturer to do so. This represented a hugely positive step towards a more sustainable system. Using fewer original resources and in turn discarding less waste all whilst better protecting peoples health. They calculate that in the 13 years the system has been in place, they have saved some 86 million soda bottles from landfill thus reducing their dependence on oil.

Extending their use of this polyester fiber beyond just fleece into garments such as their Capilene baselayers, shell jackets and board shorts, they have also created the world’s first garment recycling program. We, the adventure community bring them our worn-out Capilene baselayer, Patagonia fleece or Polartec fleece (from any maker) and they make a new polyester garment from it using an innovative process developed by TEJIN FIBRES.

As a body of consumers we must require these forward thinking brands to continue their progress, and to push the entire market to constantly look for better raw materials whether its Bamboo or Hemp, silk, wool or coke bottles.

But what guidance do we as consumers get? Well, we are working on that here at HQ, but better question yet what guidance do the brands themselves get?

If I were a manufacturer, how do I know that the fabric, rubber and plastic that I am using is indeed produced using the claimed % recycled content or genuinely organic or produced in the correct working conditions? There are few brands indeed that could afford to spot check the production facilities of their partners.

It is out of this problem that organisations such as Bluesign have grown. There aim is to keep the entire production process in view. They provide a suite of tools to outdoor brands that are seeking the assurance that their manufacture process is environmentally sound and does not waste resources.

Blue sign is becoming a by-word for efficiency in textile production transparency within the adventure world. They do the audits, the spot checks and the calculations, the brands are advised, and the consumer can buy in confidence.

They are not alone however. There are many other recognized standards that also guide the adventure consumer.

You will all recognize the Fairtrade symbol as an international but still independent certification body. They set international Fairtrade standards, organize support for producers around the world, develop global Fairtrade strategy and promote trade justice internationally.

Skal is the body behind the eko organic cotton standard. They survey organic production by means of inspection and certification. Inspections consist of visits to farms, processing and importing units, but also examination of soil, crop or tissue samples.

These standards are good, and particularly in the case of Fairtade they are current household names, brands even, that allow us to buy in confidence. They trade off their reputation, and as such are required to maintain excellent standards.

Personally, I am in favour of standards shopping. However, a concern is that a marketplace of standards begins with multiple bodies competing with each other, and splitting the brands ultimately leaving the consumer lost. I advocate a single eco standard for each area of production / manufacture – supported and held to account by the outdoor brands, promoted by the retailer and selected by the adventure consumer.

In part 1, Ed looked at the importance of transparency and asked Rab what they were up to on the green front. Read about that here.

Next hell be looking at the design process of adventure wear and gear and asking whether choices at this early stage can affect the products eventual footprint.

This article is part of the October MuchBetter mag. Sign up for it here.

3 Replies to “Ethical outdoor gear: When it comes to raw materials, less is more…”

  1. Worn out fleeces? They never actually die do they?? No, seriously, ethical clothing has to be about not externalising the environmental and social costs of extraction and production. So it’s good to hear about Bluesign and Skal, which are new to me, as well as the better-known Fair Trade movement. Thanks for the post.

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