We can all agree that eco-friendly gear is good. But trying to get manufacturers to agree on what it means to be green? That's another story. Enter Switzerland-based bluesign (bluesign.com). The independent eco-watchdog started developing standards a decade ago in Europe–examining everything that goes into making a garment, from raw materials to working conditions–and is now making inroads stateside with the outdoor industry, thanks to an early endorsement from Patagonia, plus other quick adopters like REI and The North Face.
During an initial three-month audit, bluesign scientists screen for some 600 hazardous substances. They identify three types of materials: nonhazardous, those that can be used based on the best available technology, and materials that should be eliminated. They also lay out a process for upgrading materials. The payoff isn't just greener gear. Ninety-five percent of companies also see a reduction in production costs, stemming from as much as a 20-percent drop in energy consumption and a 40-percent reduction in water use.
"What we get is confidence that when we use a bluesign-certified fabric, it's met the highest level of scrutiny," says Letitia Webster, director of corporate communications and sustainability for The North Face. Manufacturers are still formulating plans as to how they'll display bluesign certification. By the end of 2010, we'll likely see it printed on hangtags or on the garment itself. One recently bluesign-certified product we love? Patagonia's R2 Jacket: It's a toasty midlayer that's 40-percent-recycled.