Hiking in Finland

Climbing, bikepacking, skiing & packrafting in the north

Environmental Performance of Outdoor Manufacturers

And now for something completely different. You might want to go and get a cup of tea and some cookies, its a long post.

Some may know already that I am an environmental management consultant, and thus environmental matters are close to my heart. I sort my waste very well, use electricity from renewable sources, don't own a car and also otherwise try to reduce, reuse and recycle whatever I can. In my opinion the three Rs - reduce, reuse and recycle - perfectly fit the mindset of an UL backpacker. We try to reduce our pack weight, reuse or multi-use items and recycle other items in MYOG projects. Of course there is the gear bug as well, we can be that honest, and some of us seem to be getting quite a collection of different backpacks, sleeping bags and tents. So there is room for improvement, also for us UL folks.

Lets have a look at the environmental performance of some of the outdoor gear manufacturers which I have in my closet. The idea behind it is quite simple: We buy gear so we can go walk in pristine forests and hills, drink water from clean lakes and rivers and breath clean air, as well as seeing wildlife in its natural habitat. What do these companies, which provide us with outstanding UL gear, do to preserve these outdoors? What I am looking for is:

- Do they use recycled materials? Sustainable materials?
- Do they offer recycling possibilities of their end-of-life garments and gear, or Take back programmes?
- Do they have an environmental statement on their website?
- Do they have a certified environmental management system in place?
- Did they do a life-cycle assessment of their products?
- What's their Corporate Social Responsibility?
- Do they support NGOs?

Sectionhiker posted a great article about Outdoor Manufacturers and Environmental Sustainability last week, which covered a few very familiar Brands, mainly from the USA. If you haven't yet read it I would recommend you to go and check it out - its superb. I started this article before his came out, so its very amusing that we had the same thoughts =)

I'll have now in turn a look at some companies, and while mainly from Europe I also include a few US companies. It doesn't really matter actually, as in our globalized world you can get everything everywhere anyway. So here goes:

Rab: Rab uses a lot of - what I call - high tech fabrics, and what these fabrics have in common is that they life long. While at the moment no recycled materials are used, the company is in the process of researching the possibilities. They do offer after-care advice and have a repair and care service to prolong the life of their garments. Also, Rab products are very durable, and old garments are often handed down, so having a long life is a way of being sustainable. I wasn't able to find information on Rab's environmental practices on their website, so I contacted them. They told me that they are very aware of their environmental responsibilities, take them very seriously and are in the process of developing company policies and statements. So I think we soon will see a statement on their website! Their CSR seems to be good and their employees happy. Talking about NGOs, the company is looking at different NGOs which they might be supporting in the future. They got some interesting stuff coming up, so you should check their website in the next few months.

GoLite: GoLite uses sustainable as well as recycled materials, which are indicated with a Recycled Content icon. They have a very exhaustive sustainability website where they have their environmental statement for you to look at, and while they do not disclose if they have a certified environmental management system (EMS) in place (like EMAS or ISO 14001), they seem to have some sort of environmental management system. They did a life-cycle assessment of their products, have an excellent CSR and do support NGOs. I can really recommend their website, very informative and well made.

Smartwool: Wool obviously is a renewable material, once the sheep is shorn is grows again the wool. Smartwool's merino wool comes from happy sheep in New Zealand, which, according to their website, roam 364 days on the lush hills of NZ on sustainable farms. The farmers are paid a minimum price for their wool, which I find remarkable. No take-back programme or recycling possibilities though. An environmental statement can be found from their website as well. Furthermore, Smartwool supports a whopping 19 (!) NGOs, and treats their own employees well.

Trail Designs: Trail Designs is a tiny company, run by three very dedicated people who have full time jobs and make UL hardwear in their free time, so they are judged a bit differently. They use recycled materials (actually they re-use materials: beer and soda cans), and once at the end of their life the aluminum cans and cones can be recycled again (Aluminum is a great material in the sense that the huge majority of all the aluminum which got dug out of the earth is being recycled!). Because they're so small, the rest of the questions are not asked, although Rand assured me that as the company grows these kind of questions will be asked and answered.

Fjällräven: Fjällräven uses Bamboo and Orangic Cotton in some of their garments, and they also have an eco-friendly polyester that can be recycled in a closed-loop recycling system. These Eco Circle garments can be brought back; however, because Fjällräven produces such good garments you often find them also in 2nd hand stores, or they are handed down to another member of the family. The have an environmental statement on their website as well. I couldn't find any information on an EMS in place, sadly. However, the Kånken backpack has gone through a Life-cycle assessment, and they use the info to apply the findings to other products as well. Their CSR is positive as well, Fjällräven has a Code of Conduct which is exhaustive and they ensure that suppliers comply with it. Finally, Fjällräven also looks out for the animals whose wool and down they're using, and has an Animal Policy. I couldn't find any information on their CSR, however, they support the SEFALO+ NGO, which tries to save the arctic fox.

Klättermusen: Klättermusen uses a lot of recycled and sustainable materials in their products, and even make a backpack which is made of nearly 70% recycled materials. The have the rECOver programme and if you return your Klättermusen product to the shop you get money back for it. Great idea, and a first! They do have an environmental statement on their website, but I didn't find any info on an EMS - my guess is they must have one, and if then they should say it. The ECO-index is the company's measure of their products ecological footprint. No info on CSR. They support NGOs, and NGOs can apply on their website for it - smart initiative, I think.

Lundhags: Lundhags is a Swedish manufacturer, and they use bamboo as well as organic cotton for their garments, and some of their garments are completely fluorocarbon free. No info on a take back-programme, and their environmental statement, if you can call it that, is just a description under their clothing about how they try to think about the environment. No information on a life-cycle assessment, EMS, CSR or NGOs (they do sponsor a few people and teams).

Devold: Devold makes garments from wool. Wool is a sustainable fiber, as we learned previously. No take-back programme or similar, though I guess you just can hand them down or sell them at the 2nd hand store. No environmental statement, no information on an EMS, no info on a life-cycle assessment. However, they have their Code of Conduct published on their website. I couldn't find information on supporting NGOs either.

Patagonia: I don't know about you, but if I think about an environmentally friendly outdoor company, Patagonia is usually the first which comes to my mind. They do use recycled and sustainable materials, offer recycling possibilities at the end of a garment (and also take garments from other manufacturers), have a very clear environmental statement on their website, their Reno Service Centre has a Gold LEED certification and other buildings are build with sustainability in mind and are powered by the sun and wind. They have clear information on their CSR, and The Footprint Chronicles are a splendid site for analyzing the life-cycle of a Patagonia garment. I didn't find information on a certified EMS, though with so much information I just might have overlooked it; and I do believe that there must be an EMS in place for all this to function like it does. Finally, they do support different NGOs, from which 1% for the Planet is the one I think every outdoor manufacturer should be giving money to, period.

Haglöfs: Last, but certainly not least, Haglöfs from Sweden. The company uses recycled materials in packaging and hang tags, and will further increase the use of recycled, environmentally friendly materials in their products during the following years - some will even be made from 100% recycled material. No info on a take-back programme, although I can attest on the durability of their products and that they often are handed down or sold in 2nd hand stores (did that myself, and those don't last long on the shelf + you always get a good price for them!). Haglöfs has an environmental programme, and you find even more information in their Annual Report which you can download here. They are on their way to become ISO 14001 certified, have a Code of Conduct and treat their employees well. No information on support for NGOs, though.

Pfffuh, that was a lot of work, let me tell you. I hope you find it as interesting as I do, and that it helps you consider future purchases. Is there a conclusion to this all then? Well, I think that we can say there are a few outdoor companies which have understood that for our hobby we need the outdoors to be pristine and clean, and they understand that they as companies do have an impact on the environment; but at the same time also can influence that impact and make it positive instead of negative. I also think that if you do something good, you should tell about it. And while some argue that everyone nowadays says they're green, you don't need to be an expert to distinguish between "Green washing" and real efforts - common sense is usually enough. I do think there is still room to improve, but overall I am fairly positive for the future.

Finally, going light is also a smart move in the environmental sense. Less material means less resources used and results in less waste should it reach the end of its life-cycle. Selling old gear and also buying used gear are smart ways to reduce your own environmental impact, and there is nothing wrong with that. You are the customer, and you decide with your money what is right. The next time you go shopping for gear, keep that in mind and maybe reward one of those companies, which have the environment on their agenda, with your hard earned cash. Because you don't want to walk in polluted forests and hills, do you?