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Outdoor Retailer: An Impressive Shade of Green

The Outdoor Indsutry Embraces The Green Movement

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by Craig Mortensen | 2007-08-12 21:31:00-06

Outdoor Retailer: An Impressive Shade of Green

While it might be difficult to pick one color to describe the theme of the Outdoor Retailer 2007 Summer Market, it would probably be some shade of green. Or perhaps bamboo, corn yellow, or coconut brown. While the exact color might be debatable, one thing is for sure: it would definitely be an earth tone.

In the nearly 20 Outdoor Retailer shows I have attended over the years, never have I seen the “green theme” so universally applied as I did this time around. From the moment I entered the Salt Palace Convention Center and was greeted by the large sign explaining the “Green Steps” program, to prominent displays on the outside of many of the exhibitor’s booths, to the advertisements in the trade journals, I was never far from learning how exhibitors and show organizers are stepping up their commitment the environment in a big way.

The Green Steps program made it easy to quickly identify which exhibitors were making an extra effort to offer environmentally friendly products and practices. Large green steps (footprints) were prominently displayed in front of booths of exhibitors who are “going above and beyond basic business as usual” in their commitment to “greening” the industry. And there were a lot of green steps on the floor of the Salt Palace this week.

This commitment to the environment is not surprising - given the growing interest in the “green movement” generally - and particularly given that most of the exhibitors and retailers make their living on, and have a passion for, the continued availability of wild places. Even so, it was still impressive to see just how widespread the adoption of green practices has become in the outdoor industry.


Outdoor Retailer: An Impressive Shade of Green (Outdoor Retailer Summer Market 2007) - 1
Timberland, similar to a several other exhibitors, dedicated a fair amount of real estate on the outside of its booth to describing how the booth had been made using environmentally friendly materials.

Outdoor Retailer: An Impressive Shade of Green (Outdoor Retailer Summer Market 2007) - 2
Smartwool touted the environmental benefits of its sole supplier of raw materials: the merino sheep.

Outdoor Retailer: An Impressive Shade of Green (Outdoor Retailer Summer Market 2007) - 3
Johnson Outdoors provided a breakdown of its canoes and kayaks that are made with recycled materials.

Outdoor Retailer: An Impressive Shade of Green (Outdoor Retailer Summer Market 2007) - 4
Golite and Yakima explained what they are doing to offset the environmental impact of their office, manufacturing, and distribution activities.

Outdoor Retailer: An Impressive Shade of Green (Outdoor Retailer Summer Market 2007) - 5

Outdoor Retailer: An Impressive Shade of Green (Outdoor Retailer Summer Market 2007) - 6
Sierra Designs summarized how its booth, office space, and products are all consistent with a larger corporate mission of being responsible environmental stewards.

While the green theme was woven throughout the show, it was interesting that terms like recycled, eco-friendly, natural, sustainable, renewable, and organic were almost always accompanied by terms describing style and/or performance. It is clear that manufacturers are trying to communicate that in addition to doing good by the planet, they are not compromising their commitment to making quality products that both look good and perform well.

So how does all of this relate to the lightweight backpacking? Well, in addition to the obvious of what is good for the environment is good for all of us who like to spend time outdoors -- it begs the question of whether a lightweight backpacker would be willing to pay a weight (and/or cost) penalty in exchange for a product that is produced using a more environmentally friendly method or material.

A case in point is the recent discussion in the BPL forums about the new Patagonia Micro Puff pullover. According to the Patagonia website, the fall 2007 Micro Puff pullover made with a “lightweight…recycled polyester” and “3-oz Climashield® Green continuous filament polyester insulation (40% recycled), weighs 14.7 ounces. My 2004 Micro Puff made with a standard (non recycled) polyester ripstop shell and Polarguard Delta insulation, weighs 12.5 oz -- a difference of roughly 2-ounces.

Peanuts, you say! A paltry 2 ounces for the peace of mind of knowing that you are wearing something that not only keeps you warm but is also keeping rubbish out of the landfill? Apparently not so for some ounce counters who say they would prefer the “less green” version to the current one in favor of saving the 2 ounces. Granted, there are other issues at play here (i.e., technical discussion of Polarguard Delta vs. Climashield Green), so the debate is not simply a matter of ounces, but you get the idea of the discussions that might ensue if the casualty in the green gear movement is increased weight.

Personally, I would gladly take the 2 oz penalty in favor of the recycled jacket (assuming fit, price, and technical performance were roughly equal), but there is probably a tipping point. Would I still opt for the jacket with recycled materials if there was a 10 oz difference? Maybe not.

After spending a few days observing the attention and resources currently focused on the "greenification" of the outdoor industry, I am confident that if there are any significant performance tradeoffs (including weight) associated with making outdoor gear more green, they will be resolved, making any such current tradeoffs a moot point over time.


Citation

"Outdoor Retailer: An Impressive Shade of Green," by Craig Mortensen. BackpackingLight.com (ISSN 1537-0364).
http://backpackinglight.com/cgi-bin/backpackinglight/outdoor_retailer_green_orsm07.html, 2007-08-12 21:31:00-06.

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Outdoor Retailer: An Impressive Shade of Green
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Ryan Jordan
(ryan) - BPL Staff - MLife

Locale: Greater Yellowstone
Outdoor Retailer: An Impressive Shade of Green on 08/12/2007 23:14:36 MDT Print View

Companion forum thread to:

Outdoor Retailer: An Impressive Shade of Green

John S.
(jshann) - F
Re: Outdoor Retailer: An Impressive Shade of Green on 08/13/2007 07:26:04 MDT Print View

Will the green banner put out by manufacturers become another "politically correct" marketing tool to compete for customers?

http://www.greatglobalwarmingswindle.co.uk/

Edited by jshann on 08/17/2007 03:48:54 MDT.

Steven Nelson
(slnsf) - MLife

Locale: Northern California
It's about sound choices on 08/13/2007 13:20:56 MDT Print View

John - I fail to see how this has anything to do with "politically correct" or "luring" customers.

I think it's great that we have more and more alternatives that are based on sound stewardship of our resources, on recycling, and on the ability to recycle products when their useful life is up.

It's up to us as consumers to make our own choices. As Craig notes in his article, some will go for whatever is lightest, others will go for what uses resources more responsibly.

It's great to have these choices, and responsible consumers will sort the bluster from real information.

William Wright
(FarStar)
Re: Outdoor Retailer: An Impressive Shade of Green on 08/16/2007 04:18:36 MDT Print View

GoLite's carbon dioxide offset program is an insult to consumer intelligence.

ed short
(shortdottedline) - F
Re: Outdoor Retailer: An Impressive Shade of Green on 08/16/2007 21:47:40 MDT Print View

Personally, I would gladly take the 2 oz penalty in favor of the recycled jacket (assuming fit, price, and technical performance were roughly equal), but there is probably a tipping point. Would I still opt for the jacket with recycled materials if there was a 10 oz difference? Maybe not,..end quote
this is a political comment not a valid critique of a backpacking gear. I am 77 yrs old and need every gram I can get off just to keep going, your paltry 2 oz might be the difference for me. If you wish to save the world one oz at a time, fine. I will count the weight first. if it helps the environment so be it! ews

Ryan Jordan
(ryan) - BPL Staff - MLife

Locale: Greater Yellowstone
Re: GoLite - Carbon Offset Program on 08/16/2007 22:26:04 MDT Print View

@William:

Let's discuss this.

Many people view these programs as "marketing without substance".

I have to admit that I'm a slow adopter to carbon offset. I paid for carbon offset for staff travel to OR because I did feel that it was the right thing to do, but I have to admit, for the few hundred bucks that it cost, it seemed awfully insignificant and I sure wasn't going to spend the money on marketing materials that might end up in the garbage soon telling people that I did it.

So, yes, hot topic, good subject for discussion.

Ryan

Brian Sims
(MtnFiend) - F

Locale: Pasadena, CA
Green Marketing on 08/19/2007 09:00:02 MDT Print View

I think if nothing else it sends a message that consumes want, and will pay a premium, for "green" products. Now will everything be truly green, likely not, but will most be green or greener, I suspect they will. Now that companies realize people want these green product they produce more green products, and hopefully will begin to replace their non-green products with green ones. The trickle down action of this will result in people that could careless about green beginning to buy green.

Case in point a coworker who could careless about doing anything for the environment purchased a hybrid two weeks ago. Not because how could give a hoot about doing his part to reduce greenhouse emissions but because it get better gas mileage. In the end we all win. So yes some of this stuff is marketing fluff, but if some of it is true and it helps change the landscape for consumer goods and people decisions when buying stuff then I'm all for it.