Editor's Choice Green Awards April 2007

Pacific Outdoor ECO Thermo 6 Sleeping Pad, REI Global Warming Initiative, and the Timberland Green Index are tops to the green eyes of Backpacker

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Pacific Outdoor ECO Thermo 6 Sleeping Pad

Snooze guilt-free on the world’s first carbon-neutral air mattress.

Let’s face it–a sleeping pad alone won’t save the world from global climate change, but when a small company pioneers green-manufacturing techniques, uses sustainable materials in a unique way, and offers consumers a feel-good choice, it gets our attention–even if it is just a drab-looking, gray air mattress.

Looks are probably the only unremarkable thing about the ECO Thermo 6. Both the fabric and insulation are made of bamboo, the world’s fastest-growing woody plant. In this case, it’s “carbonized” bamboo; heat and pressure are used to break down the plant’s cellulose, thus avoiding the more common (and toxic) acetate-style manufacturing process. The insulation in the mattress tubes is a raw form of this fiber; the cover is the same material woven into a cloth. The shell is dye-free, the valve is recycled aluminum, and the stuff-sack cord is hemp. The only petroleum-based material (besides the cord lock and valve cover) is the polyurethane fabric coating, which is a lesser evil than the toxic byproducts of PVC; Pacific Outdoor offsets this use by buying carbon credits.

Manufacturing and distribution account for much of any product’s carbon footprint, so Pacific Outdoor purchases credits to offset those, too. “To take each [ECO Thermo 6] pad from raw material to our warehouse, the consumption of power is approximately 5.87 kilowatt hours per pad,” general manager Greg Garrigues explains. “To account for it, we purchase a 10 kilowatt-hour REC [Renewable Energy Certificate] Green Tag for each one.”

Equally important: Twenty-plus nights of testing confirmed that the 2.5-inch-thick pad is light and very cushy, with a refreshingly slip-resistant cover. Like other tapered pads, it feels slightly narrow, especially for taller hikers, but it hides gravel and roots, and we slept warm even on 2 inches of snow. The only downside? Feel-good technology costs more. Available in men’s ($150, 72×20″) and women’s ($145, 66×20″). 1 lb. 9 oz.; pacoutdoor.com.

REI Global Warming Initiative
The outdoor retailing giant takes a huge step to reduce its carbon output.
When REI rolls out a fledgling tentmaker’s hot new ultralight shelter, the reverberations are felt in every corner of the tent business. Colors change, zippers move, fabric prices go up (or down), and designers everywhere lose a few more hairs wondering how they can catch the retail behemoth’s eye next time around. With 89 stores and enormous buying power, REI is just that influential.

With any luck, the company’s campaign to become “planet-neutral” will have the same ripple effect. In the last year, REI–voted favorite outdoor retailer in a recent survey of BACKPACKER subscribers–has undertaken several programs to minimize its ecological impact. They fall into three broad categories: converting to green energy, offsetting emissions, and reducing waste.

In 2006, REI purchased 11 million kWh of green power–about 20 percent of its annual electricity consumption. By doing so, it offset the CO2 emissions of 1,100 cars and became a top 10 retail member of the EPA’s Green Power Partnership. Twenty REI stores are now powered completely by renewable resources. In 2007, the company will purchase carbon credits to counteract greenhouse gas emissions from travel associated with REI Adventures and the Outdoor School, offsetting 36,000 more tons of CO2 emissions. Perhaps the most noticeable impact will come from REI’s plan to cut its landfill waste in half by 2009, which will require manufacturers to eliminate the acres of nonrecyclable packaging on store shelves now.

By themselves, none of these initiatives are truly groundbreaking, but REI is acting on a scale that’s unprecedented in the outdoor industry. Our Green Award recognizes the audacity of REI’s ambition, the difficulty of moving a large company forward so swiftly, and the changes these actions will trigger among its numerous vendors.

And there’s one more positive: REI is disproving the old shibboleth that sustainable practices are bad for business. New energy-efficient lighting at its Sumner, WA distribution center is saving the company $100,000 annually. And purchasing renewable energy in 2006 not only slashed REI’s electricity-generated carbon emissions by 30 percent, it saved the company $100,000 through contracts with long-term fixed pricing. Sometimes, it seems, doing the right thing is also pretty profitable. rei.com/aboutrei/stewardship.html

Timberland Green Index

Another big company makes a bold move toward eco-honesty.

“Greenwashing” is getting a lot of ink lately, and for good reason. The practice of cloaking products in environmentally friendly marketing hype is increasing, and it’s arousing suspicion among consumers toward transparency with the company’s new Green Index.

Under this program, shoes in Timeberland’s new Greenscapes collection will be labeled with a numerical score that measures the sheos’s environmental impact. Imagine a nutritional label taht rates stustainability instead of calories from fat, and you get the basic idea. The two models currently on the market get a 3.5 and 4.5 on a scale of 0 (no impact) to 10 (yuck). The company plans to label its GoLite and Miõn footwear brands in 2008, and its entire outdoor collection by 2010. It’s also offered to share the idea with other gear makers.

For Timberland, which won Editors’ Choice Green in 2004 for its pioneering use of water-based adhesives, the Green Index is an instrumental step toward a long-term corporate goal of radically lightening its customers’ footprints. In the near future a perfect score will be difficult to achieve. “In order to get a zero,” says a company representative, “we would have to offest all of the carbon emissions associated with our materials and manufacturing; eliminate 100 percent of the PVC, solvent adhesives, and chrome leather in the shoe: and use only 100 percent rapidly renewable, recycled content, or organic materials.”

Something tells us this company will fina way. We hope a few more follow suite. timberland.com

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