An environmental consciousness that goes well beyond mere lip service appears to be taking root in our industry, if what our editors saw at this year's Outdoor Retailer Summer Market is evidence of a trend. Despite all the emphasis on new green products and corporate initiatives focused on being more environmentally aware, green can still get even more air time from an industry that depends on the health of the natural environment for its own survival.
Some green trends were more obvious than others
Earth Creations -- An alternative to toxic fabric dyes was one of the first things that show goers had the opportunity to sample at Summer Market. Many show participants stopped by the Earth Creations table in the main entrance for their free clay-dyed cotton show T-shirt.
Vibram -- Vibram took a bold step, and featured its new Ecostep sole in its booth and on a pre-show mountain biking press trip. Ecostep is 39-percent recycled scrap, and though it is currently only being used on fashion and comfort footwear, it's being rigorously tested for performance and use in technical footwear. The company tells us a number of name companies, including those in performance areas, will be on board soon. Vibram's booth told the Ecostep story with bowls of ground scrap and lumpy samples of rubber in different stages of curing that just made you want to touch them. It was a very effective way to get retailers thinking about sole-making.
Astral Buoyancy -- The other exciting environmental splash came from Astral Buoyancy. Astral, which was founded by Philip Curry, founder and former owner of Lotus Designs, introduced the first PVC-free PFD. The Norge and Abba, which retail for $108, are made from natural kapok fiber in the front and PVC-free recycled foam in the back. Outside fabrics meet the Bluesign standard. Though many missed Astral, which was in a side room off the downstairs hall, those who knew it would be introducing its new technology sought Astral out, including the folks from Lotus Designs who were certainly taking notes.
Many green trends required more than just a casual look to find
Prana quietly grew its organic cotton offerings to 30 styles this show. Sportif was showing a dozen organic cotton pieces divided between men's and women's, and several pieces in the women's line that were an organic cotton/poly blend, all at conventional cotton prices.
Fox River showed its commitment to certified fibers with new organic merino socks that will hit stores Jan. 1. Retailers got a peek at prototypes in Fox River's booth. One step ahead of Fox River, Teko introduced two new green sock lines: Ecopet recycled polyester and organic cotton. Teko was tucked out in the pavilion in a booth made from recycled car tires and compressed recycled sawdust.
At Shoes With Souls, located in the old registration area, CEO Christopher Brian was saving the planet one step at a time, enticing retailers into the earthy booth with a bowl of particularly good granola and a line of lifestyle footwear that is eco-friendly, socially responsible and cruelty-free. Shoes With Souls buys the tree-tapped rubber for its soles from a former cocaine producing community in Colombia as part of a Colombian government self-help program. The company's 30 Colombian employees have full health plans and pension plans. Shoes With Souls midsoles are 100-percent recycled cardboard, made with all water-based solvents and glues, and its uppers are made from a microfiber woven to simulate the structure of leather. Uppers are tanned without many of the toxins typically used for leather (like chromium and cadmium), and production uses as little as one-tenth the water and solvent of traditional tanning processes. Its packaging is 100-percent post-consumer recycled material, boxes are embossed not dyed to keep additional toxins out of the waste stream, and shoe bags are made from renewable, reusable jute. Whew! Shoes With Soles has taken footwear production to a new level of low impact, which may be why it had at least two joint venture offers from major outdoor industry players at the show.
Down the escalator, El Naturalista displayed its line of comfort shoes and sandals made from vegetable leathers and recycled rubber soles. In the pavilion, Green Brand Recycled had a large booth of recycled cotton clothing, and Indigenous Designs featured its own line of organic lifestyle wear in the main floor hallway.
Kiss My Face was joined this show by Tom's of Maine, demonstrating the opportunity for crossover between the $227 billion LOHAS (Lifestyle of Health and Sustainability) market and outdoor specialty retail.
And Patagonia had a new environmental tale to tell. It has started using a non-proprietary process for odor control in its Airius base-layer line. Instead of silver, the mining of which has serious environmental impact, Patagonia is injecting flecks of clay into the Airius fabric to neutralize odor which the company says works just as well.
Good to see suppliers getting on the bandwagon
Fabric and clothing manufacturer Of the Earth moved into the main hall where it attracted attention from manufacturers like Cloudveil which is reportedly considering organic and alternative fibers. Of the Earth not only sells organic cotton, but develops natural alternatives for water and pesticide intensive conventional cotton like hemp, ramie, linen, silk, wool, soy and bamboo-blended fabrics.
DuPont was proudly touting its new synthetic Sonora fabric. Sorona is made from fermented sugars including corn sugars. DuPont, in partnership with UK-based Tate & Lyle, developed and refined this technology which uses less electrical energy, has lower manufacturing costs, and replaces petroleum products with renewable resources. Last year the U.S. EPA awarded DuPont the "Presidential Green Chemistry Award" for the research leading to the development of Sonora's bio-based process. In June, DuPont announced 2010 goals as part of its sustainable growth mission, including: to derive 25 percent of revenue from non-depletable resources, to reduce global carbon equivalent greenhouse gas emissions by 65 percent, to hold energy use flat, and to source 10 percent of its global energy use from renewable resources.
We'll give them an "A" for effort
Sperry Topsider planned to introduce an organic cotton sneaker this summer, but postponed that product launch until next year. And at Acorn, the hot news was its new Ecospa collection, a line of "organic" hemp slippers. We laud Acorn for taking steps in the right direction, but a little research revealed that there is no certified organic source of hemp, and that Acorn may be mistakenly misrepresenting its slippers.
We'd like to see Outdoor Retailer get more proactive with recycling
While it is all fine and dandy to talk about how green our industry is becoming, it all rings a bit hollow with our most important industry gatherings twice a year, the Outdoor Retailer trade shows, generating so much trash and waste, including bottles, cans and mixed paper. We'd like to see Outdoor Retailer insist that the convention center provide comprehensive recycling of glass, plastics, metal and paper. We've been told that a couple of years ago, Teva happily sponsored plastic recycling bins at the show, but was frustrated by Salt Palace restrictions on placement and dropped the sponsorship. Granted, there are a few poorly placed and hard-to-track-down recycling bins currently, but come on people -- can't we make recycling bins widely available in obvious areas, such as near snack bars, throughout the convention center halls?
Time for the industry to place environmental consciousness front and center
What likely made an impression for those looking intently for signs of a growing environmental consciousness within our industry was what was not being said. Too many industry leaders were not waving the promotional banner and demonstrating that an environmentally responsible company position is an important part of providing good products to sell. According to Robert F. Kennedy Jr., this year's speaker at the annual Summer Market Gore Roundtable, national polls show that most Americans favor tougher environmental standards. The outdoor industry is starting to grasp that, but we feel too many companies are pussyfooting around the message, even when their company has a story to tell.
The Gore-sponsored Kennedy talk wasn't the only forum for discussion on the environment. Outdoor Retailer deserves kudos for hosting a panel on sustainable business practices moderated by Rick Bunch, faculty representative from Bainbridge Graduate Institute (BGI). BGI is a West Coast-based grad school founded by Gifford Pinchot that prepares industry leaders to run a better world. Presenters included Mark Pagan from Chaco, Peter Metcalf from Black Diamond, Jill Vlahos from Patagonia, Bill Mellor from Nike and Gary Smith from Timberland. The panel was informative and engaging, and attended by a crowd that was small, but passionate and thirsty for information. Unfortunately, those who needed to be reminded of the panelist's message that business is part of society, not an island unto itself, probably weren't there to hear it.
SNEWSÂ® View: The bottom line is that, too often, our editors' inquiries about environmental initiatives were met with blank stares or referrals to other people in the exhibiting company that were not at the show. If we are going to seriously play the "save the environment" card as we have been publicly portrayed as doing in Utah, we must pay the same attention to taking care of the environment through our own business practices. Not doing so will come back to bite all of us in the long run. We, as an industry, must all walk our talk at home and in the field and that has never been as important as it is now.