EarthTalk is a weekly installment from E/The Environmental Magazine.
Dear EarthTalk: I’m planning a summer backpacking trip and was hoping to buy some of the latest green-friendly outdoor clothing. Where the best options out there today that wear as well as traditional items but without the environmental guilt?
Outdoor gear and clothing manufacturers are slowly but surely beginning to work materials crafted from recycled, reused or otherwise sustainable sources into their products.
Synthetics like polyester and nylon have been the “go to” materials for outdoor clothes, due to their moisture wicking, quick drying and warmth retention properties, but they are fast being augmented if not replaced outright by new fabrics crafted out of organic plant-based materials. For one, soybeans are now finding their way into outdoor clothing. One example is ExOfficio’s Tofutech Tee, which wicks moisture, retains warmth and resists wrinkles while being made of a 100 percent soy-based, biodegradable fabric.
Another innovation is Cocona, from the Colorado-based company of the same name. It’s a fabric treatment derived from coconut husks discarded by the food industry that helps other traditional fabrics wick moisture, control odor and shield UV rays. Some 40 clothing manufacturers, including GoLite, Marmot, Sierra Designs and Royal Robbins, are incorporating Cocona into their 2008 product lines.
Not to be outdone is Patagonia, a company many consider to be the granddaddy of eco-conscious outdoor gear. The California-based company now uses 100 percent organic cotton in all of its shirts, pants, outerwear and underwear to avoid the pesticides used in the growing of conventional cotton. Patagonia also takes back its customers’ own discards, melting them down to use the raw materials in new jackets and sweaters. And last year the company launched a new line of footwear constructed using organic cotton, recycled rubber soles, latex made from the milk of Hevea trees, hemp, and laces made from vegetable waste.
New on the scene but as green as they come is Oregon-based Nau, an outdoor clothing maker and retailer launched in 2006 with green production values key to its mission. Every item in the company’s diverse clothing line uses either recycled polyester from soda bottles, organic cotton or the corn-based plastic-alternative polylactic acid (PLA). Also, the company’s four retail outlets were designed using reclaimed timber, energy-efficient lighting and a “ship-to-you” program that cuts down on in-store storage space and energy usage (consumers choose items by handling display merchandise, but then rather than walk out with their purchases they order using in-store touch screens and then have it shipped to them).
Another cutting-edge outdoor company is shoemaker Timberland. Its new Greenscapes line of sneakers is made with vegetable- (instead of chemical-) tanned leather and is hand-sewn instead of glued with the toxic adhesives normally found in footwear. The new line also sports recycled polyester laces and outsoles made from recycled rubber. Timberland also recently switched to packaging made from green-friendly and recycled materials. And it has launched a “Green Index” to measure each product’s environmental footprint. The company is working with the Outdoor Industry Association to implement an industry-wide version of the Index so consumers can compare the relative green-ness of competing products.
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