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Fully recycled sleeping bags. Employee incentives for biking to work. Wind-powered office space. Outdoor-gear makers are taking significant steps to improve transparency and reduce their carbon output, and where better to present the first industry-wide survey than in BACKPACKER’S Gear Guide pages? We asked companies large and small to describe their planet-cooling initiatives; 58 responded with tangible, positive steps. While some manufacturers are still striving to identify the most effective changes and show substantive gains, the overall signs of momentum and innovation are impressive.
How to Use This Guide
Wonder what your favorite outdoor brand is doing to promote sustainability? Many are combining greener manufacturing and business practices to reduce impact. Use these icons to determine where each company is making an effort.
These companies use earth-friendly materials and/or efficient heating and cooling.
Benefits include paid incentives for eco-volunteerism and alternative transportation (e.g. bike commuting).
These brands donate some percentage of earnings to conservation or environmental causes.
They purchase alternative power options to offset, minimize, or replace fossil-fuel consumption.
Product line contains items that can be recycled as is, or broken down into recyclable parts.
Renewable or Organic Content
The company’s products contain eco-friendly, renewable, or certified organic materials.
Packaging is recycled, renewable, or significantly minimzed, and/or it contains soy inks and other earth-friendly materials.
If you see one of these icons, it means the company makes bags, pads, shoes, packs, tents, or apparel containing recycled or renewable materials.
Through its Pollution Prevention Pays program, 3M reduced toxic air and greenhouse emissions by 95% and solid waste by more than 50% between 1990 and 2006, earning it awards from the EPA and Energy Star. In partnership with The Nature Conservancy and Conservation International, 3M has preserved or restored more than 100,000 acres of wildlands around the world. Its newest version of Thinsulate contains 50% recycled polyester fibers. 3m.com
Asolo has eliminated consumer brochures and reduced printed material to minimize waste. Its product boxes use recycled material and are sized to improve efficiencies in carton and container shipping. asolo.com
This company produces a range of sleeping bags, pads, and accessories with recycled fabrics, fills, and hardware. The Re-Routt collection features Climashield HL Green (a 100% recycled insulation) and PrimaLoft Eco (a 50% recycled fill), along with 100% recycled shell fabrics. These shell materials also appear in other lines, as do recycled components for drawstrings, cord locks, and mesh storage sacks. bigagnes.com
In 2004, BD became one of the first manufacturers in Utah to partner with the EPA Green Power program. bdel.com
This parent to MSR, Therm-a-Rest, Platypus, and SealLine manufactures more than 90% of its products at its Seattle headquarters, whose proximity to a major port reduces shipping. Its electricity, as purchased through Seattle City Light, is carbon-neutral. “Lean manufacturing” techniques limit material waste, cut down on space and energy use, permit more energy-efficient lighting, and reduce heating where appropriate. cascadedesigns.com
Known for its long-lasting sandals, Chaco donates 10% of annual after-tax profits to conservation and pays its employees to bike to work. It also purchases wind-powered Green Certificates to offset 100% of its annual electrical use. In 2007, Chaco introduced a 25% recycled EcoTread sole that will reduce its virgin rubber usage by 25,000 pounds a year. chacousa.com
All fabrics and yarns are treated with a natural finish derived from activated carbon in coconut shells–the same stuff that’s been used for decades to purify water in municipal water systems and in the air filtration industry. The benefit in outdoor apparel is primarily odor control, where it replaces more petroleum-intensive chemicals. Marmot, GoLite, and Sierra Designs all offer Cocona-treated baselayers. coconafabrics.com
You’ll now find garments made with soy fabrics and chemical-free organic cotton in ExO’s apparel line. The Satellite, Soytopia, and ExSential collections use soy and soy blends, and two new jackets–the men’s Canopy Trench and women’s Tempest–are made from 100% recycled polyester. exofficio.com
Five Ten is reclaiming thousands of pounds of rubber it once threw away as scrap from its handmade climbing shoes. Recycled Stealth rubber is now used for rands and a unique rand “paint” that adds friction and durability to shoe uppers. Five Ten also keeps seconds (shoes with imperfections) out of landfills by donating them to Los Angeles–area youth organizations. fiveten.com
Besides using organic merino wool and corn-based fibers, this sock maker has reduced energy costs by 30% and waste by more than 50% at its Osage, Iowa plant. The key change: Recycling more than 250 tons of materials each year. Water-reclamation and heat-recovery systems heat and cool the mill–and power shrink-treating processes that use 100% biodegradable materials. foxsocks.com
Its Boulder headquarters are now 100% carbon-neutral thanks to energy efficiencies and NativeEnergy carbon offsets. GoLite uses certified Green-e renewable energy, efficient lighting, and “zero waste” recycling. It offers community-based product reuse/return, alternative transportation, and 10% or higher recycled content in packaging. All collateral is printed on recycled paper and with earth-friendly inks. golite.com
Thirty-eight percent of its products are now GREENICCI–made from 100% organic or recycled materials–and four-fifths of packaging and hangtags are made of Green Seal–certified recycled, chlorine-free papers, printed with soy ink. All business reports and presentations are paper-free, which reduced internal paper use by 70% in 2006. gramicci.com
All products are water-based, which equals less toxic chemicals in the ecosystem. Its waterproofing treatments qualify as ISO 9001 quality certified and ISO 14001 environmentally certified. grangersusa.com
This Minnesota company’s products are PVC-free and use minimal packaging, which is limited to glue-free 85% post-consumer recycled cardstock and reusable 100% recycled plastic jars (for its tarps and stuffsacks). Last spring, Granite Gear introduced a line of enviro-themed tote bags with 10% of sales going to Globalwarming101.com and Save our Wild Salmon. granitegear.com
Based in Boulder, this small young company uses wind power and biofuels, as well as reclaimed, recycled, and other eco-friendly materials. It turns old inner tubes, banner advertisements, climbing ropes, soda bottles, and more into wallets, bags, and accessories, making waste into stylish gear. greenguru.com
In 2007, Guyot founded C-Minus, a program to take the company to carbon-negative. Products–including stainless steel bottles and Microbite utensils–come with verified greenhouse reductions greater than their carbon cost. Serial numbers on each product allow customers to access detailed reports on the offsets Guyot purchases. guyotdesigns.com
Select new styles feature bamboo sockliners and recycled rubber outsoles. Hi-Tec is the first outdoor shoe company to use “ion-mask,” a waterproofing process that produces minimal waste. hi-tec.com
In 2008, its baselayer packaging will be made with recycled materials and printed with soy-based ink. New fabrics contain recycled and renewable yarns. hotchillys.com
In 2006, its Woodstock, VT, headquarters converted to 100% Cow Power, one of the country’s fastest-growing renewable energy programs, in which local farms convert methane gas to energy. ibex.com
In making its merino wool clothing, this New Zealand company purifies and recycles water, recaptures heat, and salvages lanolin for other manufacturing uses. Icebreaker customers will soon be able to trace new Icebreaker garments through a website that takes you through each step of production from farm to factory. icebreaker.com
All products are made in Integral’s factory in Canada, using fabrics that comply with strict emissions standards. Packaging is minimal, and most scrap fabric and insulation gets turned into smaller products like stuffsacks. integraldesigns.com
A number of its women’s outerwear pieces contain recycled materials, as do its hangtags, catalogs, and in-store displays. Since 1999, Isis has been a primary sponsor of the Breast Cancer Fund and its save-the-environment initiatives. isisforwomen.com
Kamik’s boot liners are made from recycled polyester and polypro fibers. All scraps are collected and reused, and shoeboxes and hangtags are made of recycled materials. Catalogs are printed on 100% recycled paper. kamik.com
Water-soluble glue, pesticide-free cotton (most pesticides are petroleum-based), and recycled polyester webbing help this shoemaker limit its CO2 output. The company also buys leather from tanneries with sustainable business practices. keenfootwear.com
All of Komperdell’s surf, canyoneering, and kayak suits are lined with bamboo for moisture absorption and warmth. It also makes socks and gloves from recycled polyester and bamboo. komperdell.com
The Maine giant has eliminated its use of PVC and increased its use of recycled fabrics. Its Trail Model fleece, for instance, is made of up to 85% recycled Polartec polyester. Bean recently completed a greenhouse-gas inventory for its U.S. operations, and is building new retail stores to LEED standards. In January 2008, Bean switched to 20% recycled content in mail order catalogs, and in February, the company re-launched its Continental Rucksack, a favorite pack for 20 years, now with recycled 600 denier polyester. llbean.com
Its eco-product line, which has doubled in size in the past four years, contains organic cotton, hemp, natural rubber, and vegetable-tanned leather. Lafuma has also trimmed 1,500 kilos of rubber waste per month from its footwear manufacturing, and 120 kilometers per month of plastic wrap through simpler packaging. In 2008, Lafuma will complete a full carbon assessment, and the company will label each of its products with the ecological impact of the product’s raw materials, transport, manufacture, and waste. It donates a portion of sales to World Wildlife Fund. lafuma.com
Its U.S. headquarters in Boulder are powered by wind, and the building is a zero-waste facility. The company also recycles or donates used shoes it collects. sportiva.com
Through its new People, Product, Planet program, Marmot has added lower-impact fabrics including organic cotton, soy, bamboo, and hemp to more than 40 men’s and women’s styles. In 2007, it introduced sleeping bags made from of 80% to 100% recycled materials. marmot.com
Some of its shoes use naturally woven hemp or leather from tanneries that meet strict environmental criteria. Shoeboxes are 100% recycled, with soy-based inks. merrell.com
Its distribution center is solar-powered, and its packaging and retail displays use sustainable or recycled materials. This spring, Miön products will feature Round 2 Rubber, a recycled compound made with scrap, and Sol Farm 14, a polyurethane compound that uses 14% natural seed-oil polyoils. Miön shoeboxes have a green index label, which details a product’s environmental impact.mionfootwear.com
Currently, 46% of Hardwear’s waterproof/breathable fabrics are solvent-free; 80% of its cotton knits are organic; 20% of its Mountainwear collection use sustainable fabrics; and biodegradable Chitosan is used for antimicrobial treatments. All corporate travel is offset, and its offices are 100% solar-powered. mountainhardwear.com
In 2006, it introduced two recycled-fabric lumbar packs. In 2007, it added 35 more recycled products. mountainsmith.com
This young company has garnered substantial press for its strict sustainability standards, which require the use of recycled polyesters, organic cotton, and organic wool; offsets for 100% of carbon emissions generated in product distribution and employee travel; offsets for shipping emissions; and a 5% donation option from each sale to an environmental nonprofit of the customer’s choosing. Its stores use energy-efficient building materials, and all energy is offset with wind and solar power. Nau’s offices are in a LEED Gold-certified building. nau.com
PVC is gone, and packaging is 100% recycled. By fall 2008, all footwear sold in the U.S. will use mesh, lining, and laces with a minimum of 25% recycled polyester content. In 2006, its Massachusetts headquarters recycled more than 2,280 tons of waste. In 2007, New Balance reduced solid waste with a leather supplier by 27 tons. And in the past 12 months, the New Balance Foundation has distributed more than $1 million to local environmental initiatives/causes. newbalance.com
In Belgium, Nike installed six wind turbines to power its 2-million-square-foot European distribution center. They generate a total of 22 million kilowatt hours of energy–enough to power 8,000 households. Nike replaced all SF6 gases used in its footwear air cushioning with climate-change-neutral nitrogen. Its Considered program consists of products with reduced waste and toxins, and environmentally preferred materials. Nike is a founding partner of the World Wildlife Fund’s Climate Savers program, through which it reduced its 2005 facilities and business travel CO2 emissions to 18% below 1998 levels. nike.com
Nikwax contains zero fluorocarbons, which can build up in the food chain and become harmful. Nikwax also offsets impacts from its manufacturing with contributions to programs that rehabilitate depleted forests and protect existing ones. nikwax-usa.com
A new outdoor footwear company, Oboz plants a tree for every pair of shoes it sells. It works in partnership with Trees for the Future, which has planted 50 million trees since 1988, removing one million tons of CO2 from the atmosphere each year. oboz.com
Seventy percent of this pack maker’s energy comes from renewable sources, with a goal of 100% by 2010. The company’s ReSource urban daypacks and courier bags are made from a minimum of 70% recycled materials. The Atmos 50 midsize pack, Osprey’s contribution to our Zero Impact Challenge (see page 40) is made with nearly 90% recycled content. osprey.com
Pacific Outdoor Equipment
Its Eco Series features sleeping pads, backpacks, and drybags made from dye-free, earth-friendly carbonized bamboo. (The Eco Thermo Pad earned an Editors’ Choice Green Award in 2007.) It offsets energy use with Green-e Renewable Energy Certificates and is launching a program in Spring 2008 wherein dealers can help offset the carbon cost of shipments. It will give participating retailers free compact flourescent lightbulbs to light displays in their stores and to raise awareness. pacoutdoor.com
Pursuing a goal of making all of its apparel recyclable, Patagonia uses environmentally friendlier fibers, including recycled and recyclable polyester, recycled nylon, organic cotton, hemp, and chlorine-free wool. Patagonia footwear uses natural latex (read: no petroleum) in outsoles. The company also adheres to strict standards when sourcing leathers, and works with tanneries committed to reducing their ecological footprint. Patagonia donates 1% of sales to conservation. patagonia.com
Winner last year of Rock & Ice’s Sprout Award for environmental contributions, Petzl operates on 100% wind power. petzl.com
This company developed a post-consumer recycled fleece way back in 1991. (Called Polartec Classic 200, it was first used by Patagonia.) Polartec now offers more than 20 recycled fabrics, ranging from baselayer Polartec Power Dry (used in Patagonia’s Capilene 4 and R1) to Polartec Classic (used in REI’s Muir Woods) to softshell Polartec Power Shield. Through Patagonia’s Common Threads Recycling program (an Editors’ Choice Green winner in 2005), all Polartec products are recyclable for conversion back into yarn and new garments. polartec.com
Since 2006, Prana has increased its use of sustainable materials by 23%. In addition to using organic cotton, recycled polyester, and hemp, it purchases wind power to offset the energy used at its headquarters, by offsite employees, and by key Prana retailers. In 2007, it tripled its support of wind power, offsetting the carbon emissions of 400 retailers in the U.S., Canada, and Europe. The company also offsets transportation by its sponsored athletes, which in 2007 equaled 520,000 miles. prana.com
Its EtaPower stoves (an Editors’ Choice Award winner last year) capture 80% of the heat created during combustion. To offset the remaining 20% of lost efficiency, Primus makes a donation for each stove sold to BaumInvest, a company supporting long-range reforestation projects. Primus pressurized gas canisters are 100% aluminum and 100% recyclable. primusstoves.com
A recently introduced insulation used in sleeping bags, outerwear, and footwear, PrimaLoft Eco is a 50/50 blend of traditional PrimaLoft fill and recycled fibers. primaloft.com
An Editors’ Choice Green winner last year for its pioneering sustainability initiatives, REI continues to push the envelope. Look for its new eco-label on house-brand items with a high percentage of recycled, rapidly renewable, and/or organic fibers. And expect to see more low-impact stores like the prototype it opened last October in Boulder, which features natural light, a solar hot water system, and green materials such as bamboo, recycled rubber, and cork. Through the Outdoor Industry Association’s Eco Working Group, REI is collaborating with more than 40 other brands (including BACKPACKER) to develop a common framework to measure, report, and improve on the environmental impact of outdoor gear and clothing. rei.com
Known for its superior soft-shell fabrics, this Swiss supplier founded and complies with Bluesign, which certifies a material (or process) as eco-friendly, taking into account every step of its creation, including air and water emissions, workers’ health, and resource management. schoellerusa.com
Last year, SD switched to dye-free white tent canopies, eliminating harsh chemicals typically used in the dying process (and making tent interiors brighter). It is using more DAC NSL poles (which use the most environmentally friendly anodization process available) and PVC-free seam tape. It offers 90% sustainable sleeping bags with Climashield Green and PrimaLoft Recycled insulations, EcoSensor recycled shells, and Cocona antimicrobial treatment, a natural coconut husk byproduct. sierradesigns.com
Known for socks and increasingly its apparel and gloves, SmartWool uses raw materials that are 90% natural and biodegradable. It is the world’s largest purchaser of New Zealand wool (sustainable farming there helps maintain undeveloped lands), and SmartWool fiber production uses three to five times less energy than synthetic fiber production. Employees get 40 hours paid vacation anually to support local nonprofits. smartwool.com
This footbed maker packages its products with a corn-based plastic called NatureWorks that uses up to 68% less fossil fuels in production compared to traditional plastics. All corporate materials are printed on 100% post-consumer recycled paper with vegetable-based inks, and footbed scraps are used to insulate its factory. yoursole.com
Its socks are made from 75% organic, renewable, and/or recycled materials, and all models in the EcoMerino Wool line use a non-chlorine, Bluesign-certified production process. Teko is integrating more recycled materials into its socks, and has cut packaging by 40%. Its uses renewable energy for its manufacturing and offices, buys carbon credits for transportation, and makes fixtures from recycled and renewable materials. tekosocks.com
Teva has eliminated unnecessary hangtags, switched to corn-based sandal hangers, and converted its shoeboxes to post-consumer recycled fibers and soy-based inks. It has reduced packaging waste by more than one million petroleum-based plastic bags and boxes by shipping 10% of its products in biodegradable cornstarch “bio-bags.” The new Curbside collection features outsoles made from 50% recycled car tires and factory scrap rubber, and liners made from recycled soda bottles. teva.com
The North Face
Some of its footwear features metal-free suede uppers, bamboo linings and shanks, cork-blended midsoles, plant-cellulose fiber, recycled rubber, and recycled soda bottles. It has eliminated hangtags, and it now makes boxes from post-consumer recycled paper. Inside tissue wrapping is made from cornstarch resin, which will biodegrade within three months. thenorthface.com
This eco-leader makes a line of shoes that is high in recycled content, and the company won an Editors’ Choice Green Award in 2006 for its “Green Index.” The index is a measure of the environmental impact of Timberland’s products–and a bold move towards transparency. It reports on greenhouse-gas emissions, hazardous chemical usage, and the percentage of recycled, organic, and renewable materials. The company prints this data on a “nutrition label” on shoeboxes that also tells consumers where products are manufactured. timberland.com
Timbuk2’s Grown Collection bags use eco-friendly buckles made of PLA resin (mostly from corn and other veggies) and Timbuk2-durable waterproof fabric made up of 66% hemp and 33% PET. Timbuk2 has eliminated PVC from its entire product line; it is now using waterproof, durable TPU instead. timbuk2.com
In 2007, the world’s largest manufacturer of synthetic fibers and textiles introduced recycled nylon. It is also launching an environmentally friendly membrane for waterproof/breathable outerwear. The key: a plant-derived polyurethane coating that reduces CO2 emissions while still providing air permeability. toray.com
Its shoeboxes use 100% post-consumer recycled cardboard and soy-based inks, and its boots are no longer shipped with paper stuffing. The company’s new running shoes feature recycled materials, plus leather that comes from ISO 14-0001 and BLC-certified tanneries. Vasque has eliminated its consumer catalog and other printed materials, and when it does use paper, it is produced with renewable energy and certified by Smartwood as coming from sustainable, non-virgin forests. vasque.com
Vibram makes outsoles for nearly every boot brand out there. Its Ecostep soles, introduced several years ago, have 30% recycled content, which reduces landfill waste and the use of virgin material. vibram.us
This spring, White Sierra introduces Happy Planet Earth Friendly fabrics, including bamboo, recycled poly, and linen. One new material, Soda Bottle Weave, diverts five soda bottles per garment from landfills. Linen is naturally easy on the environment; it uses only half the water required by cotton. whitesierra.com
In April, Yakima will launch Planet Payback, an initiative to reduce CO2 emissions across all of its operations. Consumers will get to vote on the type of offsets the company should support when they register their product purchases at yakimapayback.com. Its popular cargo rooftop boxes are made of up to 80% recycled ABS plastic. Cargo boxes, scrap from cargo-box manufacturing, and aluminum and steel parts are all recyclable, as well as the steel tubing and plastic fairings on Yakima’s cargo baskets. yakima.com
This bootmaker uses environmentally friendly glues and primers to limit impact and prevent worker exposure to harmful substances. Zamberlan also contracts only with leather tanneries that use pollution-free components. zamberlan.com
ONLINE BONUS: Want more? Click here for an extra 19 green companies, plus an interview with Big Agnes’s Bill Gamber. WE’RE BIG FANS OF…
The North Face Mountain Sneaker These new around-town kicks are a model of sustainable shoe building: They have a metal-free suede upper, bamboo lining and shank, cork midsole, and plant-based foam for cushioning. Even the multicolored tag is made from recycled soda bottle plastic. None of which would matter if the Sneakers weren’t so damn comfortable–they’re the most popular footwear among staffers this year. $90; men’s and women’s sizes; thenorthface.com
WE’RE BIG FANS OF…
Patagonia R2 Jacket We have yet to find a midlayer that rivals the Editors’ Choice Award-winning (2000) R2 for high-exertion, cold-weather performance. In 2008, it’s made in part with recycled polyester and is 100% recyclable through Patagonia’s Common Threads program. $160; men’s S-XXL, women’s XS-L; patagonia.com
WE’RE BIG FANS OF…
Marmot DriClime Catalyst Jacket If a green product is one that lasts a long time, how’s this for longevity: This windshirt won an Editors’ Choice Award in 1993 for its versatile performance, and an Editors’ Choice Gold Award in 2002 for updates that kept it kicking. In 2008, the DriClime debuts in this version made with 88% recycled content. $110; men’s S-XXL, women’s XS-XL; marmot.com
Do you speak green?
Eco-jargon can confuse more than it clarifies. We decode six common terms describing green fabrics and certifications.
Grows like a weed and can be made into rayon. No third-party certification exists to ensure that farming it doesn’t pollute or require deforestation.
This European standard certifies a material or process as eco-friendly, taking into account every factor in its creation, including air and water emissions, workers’ health, and resource management. Patagonia, Mountain Equipment Co-op, and Schoeller all use some Bluesign processes.
A product of discarded coconut shells that’s converted into a wicking, anti-odor, UV-blocking agent and infused into cotton and synthetic fabrics. The jury is still out on performance.
This three-part environmental management protocol evaluates and reports on a company’s greenhouse emissions.
This stringent certification is awarded to companies that show leadership in energy and environmental design. LEED Gold-certified buildings have features such as passive ventilation and low-impact materials like recycled wood.
This acronym is shorthand for polyethlyne terephthalate. It’s a polyester whose properties allow it to be recycled; a popular version is made from used soda bottles.