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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.

11. As a consumer, I want to make the most responsible purchases. But I’m busy and can’t invest hours of research. What’s a quick and effective way to educate myself and be sure that I’m buying products that make environmental sense?

Kevin: Unfortunately, there is no really good answer to this question at the present time. Sustainability is complicated and if it matters to you, and you want to purchase specific items responsibly, then you must invest the time to become a more informed consumer.

At a minimum, you must be able to ask a few important qualifying questions so that your purchases may be as considered as they can be… like: “recycled fiber, great! What percent of the material, and of that, what percent is post consumer?”

Although created for industry to better understand its own environmental impact of products and their supply chains (not just another consumer “eco label”), visit www.ecoindexbeta.org to find a wealth of information on what questions to ask!

That said, there are some other things you can do that increase the chances that your choices are good. First, focus on the brand rather than the product. If a brand is showing that this is really important to them and show very clear actions and transparency around those actions (both good and bad), then reward them with your business. Check out their website and see how clear, substantive and transparent they are on their product and other sustainability behaviors.

Lastly, find out if that brand is a voting member of the work group which created the emerging Eco Index. If they are not, then ask them why not? If they don’t have a good answer, then find a brand that is.

Kevin (His second answer to same question): Unfortunately, there is no really good answer to this question at the present time. Sustainability is complicated and if it matters to you, and you want to purchase specific items responsibly, then you must invest the time to become a more informed consumer.

At a minimum, you must be able to ask a few important qualifying questions so that your purchases may be as considered as they can be… like: “recycled fiber, great! What percent of the material, and of that, what percent is post consumer?”

Although created for industry to better understand its own environmental impact of products and their supply chains (not just another consumer “eco label”), visit www.ecoindexbeta.org to find a wealth of information on what questions to ask!

That said, there are some other things you can do that increase the chances that your choices are good. First, focus on the brand rather than the product. If a brand is showing that this is really important to them and show very clear actions and transparency around those actions (both good and bad), then reward them with your business. Check out their website and see how clear, substantive and transparent they are on their product and other sustainability behaviors.

Lastly, find out if that brand is a voting member of the work group which created the emerging Eco Index. If they are not, then ask them why not? If they don’t have a good answer, then find a brand that is.

Bill: Kevin’s response on this is pretty thorough and we’d agree.

Kim: GoLite Response: Unfortunately, I agree with Kevin Myette at REI that there is no good answer to this question at the moment. Sustainability is complicated, and if it matters to you, then you have to invest some time to become an informed consumer. There’s a lot of “green noise” and “greenwashing” in the marketplace now, and it takes a savvy consumer to sort through it all.

The first place I’d recommend a consumer start is with a brand’s website. What does that company say about its commitment to sustainability, both on the environmental and social front? Are they making a concerted, sincere effort to reduce their footprint while bringing you quality products?

Are they transparent about what they’re doing, both good and where they need to improve? Is the company involved in efforts to improve the overall footprint of their industry? Have their sustainability efforts been reviewed by outside parties? If a consumer finds nothing compelling at this point, I’d suggest they find another brand. But if their efforts are real, then reward them with your business.

Find out if the company is part of any recognized organizations that evaluate sustainability efforts. One such standard is the B Corporation label.

B Corporations are a new type of corporation that uses the power of business to solve social and environmental problems. They are unlike traditional responsible businesses because they also meet comprehensive and transparent social and environmental performance standards and institutionalize stakeholder interests in the company’s foundational documents. Becoming a B Corporation is a multi-step, multi-month process. GoLite is proud to be certified as a B Corporation (www.bcorporation.net).

Beyond that, I suggest consumers actually read the label! Just like we read food labels to figure out whether a food is good or bad for us, so should consumers read the hang tags on consumer goods. Does the company make any statement about their commitment to sustainability? Is the product made in a more environmentally responsible way and/or with less harmful materials? Eventually, environmental and social indices will make it easier for consumers to buy products from more responsible companies.

Lastly, I suggest consumers pay attention to media articles that review companies’ sustainability efforts. Backpacker Magazine has done numerous excellent such reviews. While each specific article is not always 100% accurate in terms of portraying whether a company is truly on the path to sustainability or not, over time these reviews can give a consumer a good idea about which companies are walking their talk and which are not.

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