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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.

This type of thinking by suppliers, manufacturers and brands drives innovation throughout the industry, and as a result, in 10 years outdoor products will not only be more sustainable, they will also perform better than today’s products.

Dawson: In 10 years (hopefully sooner) gear and apparel will inherently be ‘green’ or gentler on the environment than some of the options now available. Awareness leads to understanding and buy-in so now that the awareness of caring for the environment has been increased, it will hopefully lead to a more comprehensive understanding of steps that can be taken. Innovation will also lead to new products and that will lead to a reduced, minimal or zero impact on the environment.

In 10 years time, hopefully care of the environment in terms of gear / products will not be on the ‘to do’ list to check off, but instead, an integral and inherent part of how we do business and how we make products. It will become the ‘new’ norm. No longer will it need to be marketed as ‘green’, all gear will be green. After all, when did we decide that we were going to make products that aren’t good for the environment? A new (and ‘greener’) normal.

Jill: In 10 years, green gear won’t be a distinction; it will be an expected part of any of the products we buy. I started using this argument about 5 years ago while trying to implement environmental initiatives into our supply chain. (e.g. bluesign technologies) Arguing that ‘green’ attributes will be like quality is today, an expectation and not so much a point of differentiation. Consumers are heading this way now and with the next generation that is being raised living transparent lives (for the most part), they want to know more about where there is stuff is coming from and how it is being made.

Question directed at Jill: Can you explain what bluesign is, how it works, and why it’s important for consumers to know about it?

Jill: bluesign is an environmental protocol that works throughout the entire supply chain for dyeing and finishing in the industry. They go back as far as the chemical and dyestuff companies but mostly focus on textile mills to ensure the inputs used on a bluesign approved fabric are the most progress environmentally.

They focus on 5 areas: 1. Air emissions 2. Water emissions 3. Occupational health and safety 4 Consumer Safety and 5. Resource productivity. They make sure the inputs used meet environmental and toxicology criteria ( that I don’t have at my fingertips right now but could get for you tomorrow if it isn’t too late…think carcinogenic, mutagenic, endocrine disrupters…) and ban substances that don’t qualify.

They do this by putting inputs on a blue list (good) or a black list (bad). They also use a grey list that has inputs that are okay to use as long as the process is taken care of properly. This is important for a company that is trying to make outdoor products that do require chemistry for performance but at the same time ensuring the environmental impact is minimized and more importantly doesn’t pose a risk to the people in the supply chain that are working with the chemicals.

It is important for consumers to know about because as outdoor enthusiasts, our products use a lot of chemistry to meet our performance requirements. So we as consumers should want to know that the great outdoors that we love to play in, isn’t being desecrated to make the products we use in our enjoyment. This standard also brings in resource productivity unlike many others so we are seeing a reduction in the water, energy and amount of chemicals that are being used in our products.

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