As unfortunate as it is and ironic as it may seem to lovers of the great outdoors, outdoor products are not very environmentally friendly. In fact, many of them have been proofed with waterproofing agents containing chemicals, whilst others contain down feathers plucked from live birds or merino wool acquired from farmers who practice mulesing. Don’t even get me started on the horrible working conditions in the Far East…
Unfortunately, this list goes on and on. However, it is by no means our intention in this post to dismiss any of these problems. Rather, our aim is to demonstrate with the help of some positive examples that the outdoor industry is beginning to move in the right direction: More and more manufacturers are introducing eco-friendly collections and switching over to completely sustainable production processes.
When I was compiling the list of manufacturers I wanted to include in this post, I was rather delighted and actually quite surprised to find that the list was much too long for me to name all of them. Thus, only selected manufacturers will be mentioned in order to provide you with an idea of where all that sustainability is hiding.
An unbelievably huge part of the outdoor industry. Why? Well, it just has much potential. In contrast to tents, climbing harnesses, stoves or walking boots, this branch of the industry is under so much pressure to release new, fashionable apparel every season. This is due to the fact that not only are new manufacturers of outdoor apparel currently flooding the market, but consumers are also placing more and more emphasis on how fashionable the apparel should be and expect to see new products each and every year. As a result, manufacturers can no longer produce individual products for several years, but rather need to make a profit in just a few months.
Vaude – the best in its class
To list everything Vaude does would go beyond the scope of this post, so I suggest you just visit their website. What I will tell you about Vaude is the following: There is an annual sustainability report, and Vaude has volunteered to become 100% PFC-free across their entire collection by 2020. Some of their products already have the Eco Finish label, which indicates that they are PFC free. What’s more, a large portion of their products are made in Germany and Fair Wear certified. Vaude is also considered to be a very family-oriented company and received five awards for sustainability in 2014 alone.
Monkee, Jung, Triple2 – learning from the little guys
One could claim that it’s easier for smaller companies to produce their products in a sustainable way because they have less to make. However, this couldn’t be further from the truth, as Kristin Jung explained to me. Her company Jung produces very stylish climbing trousers in small numbers exclusively in Europe. Plus, in 2014, they completely switched over to organic cotton. This is quite the feat, as acquiring organic cotton in small numbers at a reasonable price is extremely difficult and time consuming.
All the better when you see that companies like Monkee, Jung and Triple2 manage to manufacture their products in a sustainable way whilst simultaneously keeping up with the times and making them stylish. Bravo!
That horrible stuff involving down and merino sheep
Down jackets are incredibly modern, which is understandable. After all, they keep us so toasty warm! And, it’s easy to understand the hype surrounding merino wool as well. Once you’ve worn an odour-resistant wool singlet, you’ll never want to go back. Unfortunately, this is where horrible practices like mulesing and live-plucking rear their ugly heads. And, as you can imagine, these practices are subject to a lot of criticism – and rightfully so!
It’s precisely this criticism that forces manufacturers to rethink the source of their wool and down. Admittedly, tracing the source is often extremely difficult, especially when it comes to down, but the efforts being made by the manufacturers and the pressure they’ve been putting on suppliers are becoming greater, which in turn results in more reliable certificates. This is all due in large part to pioneers like Mountain Equipment who were among the first to make their down supply chain traceable and transparent for the consumer with their Down Codex. Other manufacturers, such as Yeti or Patagonia are also very active in this area. For example, in the winter of 2013-2014, Patagonia made a significant change, which would eventually lead to their entire down collection containing 100% traceable down.
The horrible thing I mentioned before with reference to merino wool is called mulesing and is apparently primarily practiced in Australia. Manufacturers such as Icebreaker or Ortovox guarantee that their merino farms do not engage in this horrible practice.
Speaking of wool and Ortovox, if you’re not yet familiar with Swiss Wool but are interested in finding out more about sustainability, you might want to read this Base Camp interview.
Gear and care
Let’s start with the lesser known brands. Mawaii is a small company from Berlin specialising in sunscreen that doesn’t contain parabens or oils. So not only are they healthy, but they protect the environment as well. Plus, Mawaii donates 1% of their profits to environmental organisations.
Fibertec is a small manufacturer of environmentally-friendly waterproofing agents and care products for functional apparel. And while were on the subject of waterproofing, I’d just like to mention that several manufacturers of waterproofing technology, such as Toko and Nikwax, are starting to include eco-friendly options in their product lines as well.
This is a category that is particularly tricky, especially when it comes to climbing. Most products have to do with a climber’s safety and thus must undergo several very comprehensive tests and live up to strict standards. Simply put, they have to be of the highest quality. And since climbers would prefer not to spend heaps of money on carabiners, manufacturers and dealers have to really think twice about how much they produce of what. Nevertheless, there are several companies that still manufacture their products exclusively at their home base and now have solar panels on the roof of their 7000m² factory building, such as DMM, AustriAlpin or Grivel.
The responsibility of the consumer
Yes, we can expect all the companies to manufacture their products in an environmentally-friendly and sustainable way. But, why should they do that if consumers refuse to sacrifice functionality and comfort or pay more for such products? We hardly ever receive any questions as to the origin of the down or where the clothing was made. Based on our numbers at Alpine Trek, sustainable manufacturers don’t seem to be any more popular than the traditional ones. Quite on the contrary, sustainable products come at a price that many customers are unwilling to pay! So, why should these companies go to the trouble of ensuring a sustainable production if they end up not being able to sell their products because we ultimately opt for the less expensive option?
If you have any questions, feel free to ask our experts in customer service. They are available on weekdays between 9 a.m. and 4 p.m. and can be reached by phone at 03 33 33 67058 or via e-mail.
There’s a lot going on in the climbing and outdoor industry. New products are being invented, existing ones are being reworked and improved, and we, too, are learning more every day. And, of course, we would like to share this knowledge with our customers. That’s why we regularly revise the articles at base camp. So, don’t be surprised if a post changes a bit in the coming months. This article was last edited on 22/03/2016.