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Backpacker Magazine –

Green Guide Exclusive Online Materials

Information on 19 more "green" companies and an interview with Big Agnes's Bill Gamber

by: The Backpacker Editors

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It Ain't Easy Being Green
Big Agnes's Bill Gamber on the challenges of creating eco-friendly gear.

For some gear makers, living green is more than a PR effort. Take Bill Gamber, president of Big Agnes. For years, he and his wife lived in a 500-square-foot, solar cabin off the grid outside Steamboat Springs. That 'walk-the-talk' attitude permeates Big Agnes culture. This year they debuted the highest recycled-content sleeping bags and pads on the market. And the effort doesn't stop there.

"We look at every aspect of our business- travel, office, warehouse, and shipping-anywhere we're having a negative environmental impact, to see how we can do it better," Gamber explains. BA has always purchased wind power from utilities, and by the time you read this, they'll be finished converting their offices to 100% solar, and starting on the warehouse.

Gamber's biggest challenge in making recycled sleeping bags and tents was simply that suppliers didn't make light enough fabrics and fills. "Our 99% recycled bags are warm, solidly performing synthetics," he says, "but when we tried to make ultralight models, down-leak proof RC (recycled content) fabrics still weren't available. The technology exists, but suppliers just haven't had the demand. Now that's changing fast."

For insulation, Big Agnes turned to Climashield Green last year, but it lacked the performance the company expects, and it was only 40% to 60% recycled. Gamber said, "Look, we need a performance product with at least 80% recycled content." Climashield delivered with a new 100% recycled, higher-performance version of Climashield Green.Gamber believes recycled materials are currently the way to sustainability, rather than organically grown materials. "About 99% of all plastic ever manufactured is still in its original form," he says. "A crazy percentage of plastic bottles aren't recycled, so let's create a demand for that. Right now, growing bamboo or hemp to replace all this existing material isn't the best answer, considering the land use and fertilizers."

Similarly, Gamber sees down bags as greener than synthetics. "Down is a byproduct of food production. They don't raise geese for down," he explains. "There's plenty of down availability given the size of the food market in Eastern Europe and China."

"But it's never simple," says Gamber. "We buy our higher-fill-power down from Hungary. It gets shipped to the U.S., washed and processed here, then sent to China, put into a sleeping bag, then shipped back to the U.S. So the product can be as green as you want, but if you're shipping stuff all over the world, that's not so green. It's one of our big concerns, and we're not sure how we can improve that–at least not yet."


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