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Will Environmental Labels Follow Patagonia's Footprints?

by Alicia MacLeay
January 16, 2008

Wool 2 Crew
Patagonia Wool 2 Crew: natural fibers and no heavy metals in dyes, but lots of miles to travel from New Zealand



Current Sandal
Mion Current: 98% material efficiency and carbon neutral, but non-recyclable materials

Is that organic cotton shirt environmentally better or worse than that wool baselayer? How about the recycled fleece vest? And what makes an item “better” or “worse”?

While environmentally friendlier outdoor clothing options keep increasing, it can be next to impossible to know the total environmental costs of any one piece. But Patagonia has stepped up in an effort to start answering those tricky questions with its Footprint Chronicles.

Synchilla Vest
Patagonia Synchilla Vest: 100% recycled and recyclable, but truck travel drives up emissions


Nau Two-Faced Zip
Nau Two-Faced LS Zip: organic cotton and PLA, which means genetically-
modified corn

The Footprint Chronicles track the environmental good and bad backstories of five pieces: the Wool 2 Crew, 100%-recycled Synchilla Vest and Eco Rain Shell, Honeydew shoes, and organic cotton Polo Shirt.

For each item, Patagonia measured the distance traveled (Honeydews travel farthest: 19,485 miles), carbon dioxide emissions (Eco Rain Shell had least: 15 pounds), waste generated (Polo Shirt had most: 10 ounces), and energy consumption (Synchilla Vest used least: 58 megajoules).

It can be surprising to see how many resources go into making a single item, even for a company like Patagonia. Check out the site for the full stories, a blog, and the chance to comment.

Mion has done something similar with its ecoMetrics label, which tracks energy use, greenhouse gasses emitted, and material efficiency for each pair of its sandals. Last year Timberland announced plans for a Green Index label on its footwear.

And Nau’s web site has a Grey Matters section, which explains the company’s rationale behind decisions like carbon offsets, using PLA (polylactic acid derived from corn, which is often genetically modified), and where products are made, though it lacks Patagonia’s transparency and hard numbers.

These are all a start. I hope Patagonia's Footprint Chronicles challenges more outdoor companies to publicly examine their own products' green creds.

Ultimately, I’d like to see standardized environmental measures, like food nutrition labels, included on all clothing and footwear. It would be one more set of information for consumers to compare when choosing gear and outerwear. Then we could see how Patagonia's Eco Rain Shell stacks up against say, a North Face or Mountain Hardwear jacket.


Trailspace gear reviews and product info: Patagonia Wool 2 Crew, Synchilla Vest, Eco Rain Shell Jacket, Honeydew shoes, and Polo Shirt; and Mion footwear.