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.
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).
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.