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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.

Kim: Again, I agree with everything that Kevin has just stated. The only thing to add relative to your question as to whether chemical companies are “responsive to [our] requests for greener solutions.:” Individual companies in the outdoor industry do not, in general, have the power to move chemical companies that are far larger in scale and where the amount of outdoor gear produced with their chemicals is relatively small compared to other consumer products.

It’s the combination of voluntary standards adopted by brands (like bluesign and the OIA Eco Index), regulatory demands, transparency by both brands and suppliers, media exposure, consumer awareness and demand, market competition, and the collective buying behaviors of a conscious industry that create the right pressures and incentives to move the needle on innovation towards greener solutions.

As a brand, we are responsible for doing what’s necessary keep banned, restricted, or CMR (carcinogenic, mutagenic, and reproductive toxin) substances in our products through clear policies with our supply chain, factory assessments, frequent factory visits and communication, full transparency, and through multiple collaborative industry-wide, multi-stakeholder efforts to improve standards and reporting within our supply chain.

Dawson: In many cases, the products themselves are chemicals – not just as additives and treatments but the very products themselves – polymers for fiber such as nylon, Gore-tex®; coatings, etc. In many instances the advances of science have enhanced not only the product’s performance (neoprene) or durability but it often provides the added benefit of increased enjoyment and comfort on the part of the outdoor enthusiast.

Innovation with a purpose (performance and sustainability) rather than innovation just for the sake of innovation is an important step in creating this balance. Chemicals have often served to sustain the environment (i.e rubber, and synthetic materials to preserve overharvesting of the ‘natural’ source of some ingredients and materials).

To say we’re at the mercy is misleading – instead we should be working together to find alternatives, solving the puzzles and combining the best of all science – biology, with chemistry and polymer science to create ‘greener’ alternatives with uncompromised performance. There’s one Earth and the space is finite – as are many of the resources – it requires a balance of preservation, conservation and use.

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