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Greening Gear: Q & A with Eco-Friendly Outdoor Gear Leaders

Imagine eco-friendly equipment that offers superior performance to today's gear. The future is bright, but how do we get there? A BACKPACKER roundtable discussion.

5. What’s the most difficult product to make green? Is durability sacrificed?

Kevin: This is a super tough question to answer as “green” (I dislike that term) is so multi-dimensional. All aspects of the product lifecycle and environmental lenses must be considered in order to provide an environmental assessment. Then relativity between dimensions must play into the equation.

But before I totally punt on this question, I will say that a product’s degradation profile is determined by materials, and those materials are often chosen for specific performance characteristics—only one of may be durability longevity.

What is most important is that a full lifecycle and all impacts are considered when designing and developing a product. When a product must contain materials—for performance reasons—and the chosen material cannot break down easily in a landfill, and the product has a limited lifespan, then recycling options become greater in importance and should be part of the product’s total environmental picture. Great example, butane fuel canisters… They must be made recyclable.

Dawson: This depends on your definition of ‘green’ as well as your definition of ‘durability’. If ‘green’ is recycled, it still requires virgin materials in the initial products that will be recycled into other products. How often can/will it be recycled? Does continued recycling degrade performance? If its biodegradable, does that require ongoing use of virgin materials? If ‘green’ is defined as renewable, what impact does that have on either recyclability or sourcing raw materials?

Instead of looking at durability, I think the way to look at this is functional use; how ‘green’ can you make a product and still have it be appropriate for the use for which it was intended. Instead of a tradeoff – it’s matching the durability and performance needed with the sustainable products available.

Jill: The ones that are most difficult to make green are the ones that use the most different raw materials. There are so many aspects to look at with any one raw material but when you need multiple ones the work increases exponentially. Also, these are the most difficult products to be responsible at the end of life. Footwear, packs/luggage come to mind.

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