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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.

Jill: For Patagonia, the biggest breakthrough that we have been involved in with chemicals in our industry is bluesign technologies. Given the complexities and toxicity of the chemicals that are needed to make outdoor gear, we needed help. On bluesign approved fabrics, all the chemicals are screened through their environmental filters with the worst ones being screened out and not allowed for use, this is their black list. They have a gray list of chemicals that are chemicals with some concern unless they are handled properly in the textile mill.

If there is a proper procedure in place for the health and safety our colleagues in the mill, the gray listed chemicals are allowed to be used. There is also a blue list with chemicals that don’t have the same restrictions of use. We have found that the chemical companies have reacted well to bluesign and their program because it consolidates their work and they don’t have to work to numerous Restricted Substance Lists. Most of our interaction with the chemical companies in the last 10 years has been in partnership with bluesign and it has worked well for us.

Extra question directed at Dawson: Chemical companies are often seen as big, bad, environmental brutes. Is that fair, and what are some of the specific actions chemical companies are taking to lesson their impact?

 In a word, No, it’s not fair. Many, if not most product are, or or are made with chemicals. The products that have changed the face of the outdoor industry and activities are technically “chemicals” – even water could be called a chemical.

Not only have the chemicals and the products made using them increased the opportunities of outdoor activities, they’ve also served to increase the safety and performance of outdoor enthusiasts. The BACKPACKER Editors’ Choice and Editors’ Choice Gold Awards often go to products that are products made with or are ‘chemicals’ – nylon, neoprene, Kevlar®, waterproof breathable membranes, Lycra, Cordura, etc. Granted it’s the design that generates the award, but chemicals are an essential part of many products.

Chemcials are used to make synthetic or man-made products so in many cases they actually help preserve the natural source of a product – like rubber.

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