There's a lot to think about when it comes to buying eco-friendly gear, because the term covers so many bases.
When we buy a new snowboard, or a jacket, or even a pair of socks, we don't often consider where it came from, who made it and what harmful substances might have brought it into being. But now's a great time to start!
At Cooler, we've been looking into which brands source their materials ethically, use eco friendly production methods, recycle their waste products and treat their workers responsibly.
It can be a tricky process, as some companies can be pretty cagey about where their factories are (although here is a handy chart from Illicit Snowboarding to help!)*.
Most don't offer the consumer a transparent supply chain - but things are improving, especially from snowboard brands.
As is the case with most products we buy these days, there is no such thing as a piece of winter sports kit that's good for the environment, but these guys are definitely doing their bit to help sustain the planet.
From the use of water based inks, forest replenishing, plastic recycling, employee car pooling and many many more, we're stoked to see so many companies, big and small, going the extra mile to keep the snow falling and the mountains full of fresh air.
Read on to view our pick of the greenest companies to get your gear from this year...
Burton is the big boarding company many people love to hate, but we actually love Burton. Not only do they have a super awesome women's range that's technical AND cool, they have also managed to make good use of neon coloured, sugar-fest energy drink, Mountain Dew. Burton take used plastic Mountain Dew bottles and use them to make threads for their waterproof clothing. It still means people have to drink Mountain Dew, but at least they're making an effort.*
That may be their most recent adventure, but Burton have been in the process of going green since 2008, making sure they take the most ethical route of production in the making of all their products and using materials which aren't harmful to the environment. Since 2011, the Burton factory has worked towards only using Bluesign approved materials, and as a result, in 2012 they produced a list of restricted substances for all their factories and sub-contractors to adhere to (see super sciencey PDF).And a bit more on the factory: Burton use one factory (the Kiel Ski factory in Austria) which is contracted to exclusively make Burton products. This allows Burton to have more control over the production methods of their products and have more influence on the materials they use.
Burton are currently working on auditing all of their their outside contractors and getting their material suppliers to agree to their code of conduct and list of restricted substances so that they can be 100% harmful chemical free.
Burton like to get environmental on the mountain, too, with the introduction of all-wood, all-natural Stash parks in resorts across the globe, and with the more recent addition of Riglet Parks (in the above video) aiming to help get young kids into snowboarding. They also organise a series of chairlift free events each year in the US.
So turns out Burton are pretty good after all, and the list doesn't end there, check out what else they do to look after the planet HERE.
*As fellow humans, we can only advise you never to drink Mountain Dew - it's REALLY bad for you.
Turns out our favourite thermal manufacturer loves the planet as much as they love the sheep their thermals are made from. The Kiwi clothing company specialises in natural merino instead of man-made, non-biodegradable fabrics such as polyester. The majority of their garments are 100% merino, and are made in a super high performance factory in china that meets top clean technology standards, treats their workers fairly and is ISO 14001:2004 certified.
All the merino wool is washed, combed and dyed (using environmentally friendly dyes) at the factory, and the water used is then sent through a purification system meaning that only clean water leaves the factory. All this means that the finished merino product is completely free of harmful chemicals, during and after the manufacturing process, so it's great for your skin as well as the environment.
And a bit more on the farming process of Merino Sheep: While there was a controversial PETA investigation involving shearers abusing sheep in Australia and the US last year, shearing is actually a necessary process in Merino Sheep to stop their coats from growing too big which can lead to them overheating in the summer, as well as to infections and skin problems. The practice of mulesing (cutting excess skin from the sheep's rump area to avoid painful and fatal disease Flystrike) is also a controversial issue in Australian merino farming, but is being phased out in New Zealand.
Liberty was the first ski manufacturer to use bamboo in their skis instead of traditionally slower growing woods which are harder replenish and farm.
Bamboo is light, strong and stable, and to harvest it you don't need to rip out the whole tree, it'll grow back from where it's cut and in about three years will be ready to harvest again.
The Liberty factory is based in China, (we know what you're thinking) but that's actually because it's where they get the bamboo from, and as it's the main ingredient in their skis, it saves on expensive and harmful shipping.
The Liberty workshop also runs entirely from wind power and all their ski packaging is recycled and recyclable. Not bad for a little company in Colorado; read all about it HERE.
Finisterre - Cold Water Surf Gear
Whether you're surfing in Scotland, or heading to the mountains, Finisterre has something to keep you feeling warm and guilt free.
All the Finisterre garments are made in the UK and Portugal (you can even take factory tours on their website), and the company makes a point of building relationships with the factories and suppliers it works with to make sure their clothes are just right. As a result, they have managed to source all their merino wool from a small farm in the UK, and can guarantee that the sheep have been treated with the utmost kindness - with no mulesing.
Finisterre also offer a garment fixing service to make your stuff last longer, use biodegradable and recyclable packaging, and reused materials for the furnishings in their stores. All in all, they sound like a pretty good bunch of people, and we reckon that soon they're going to have way more than four shops!
Patagonia - Outerwear and technical clothing
Patagonia have been on the scene for years and are at the forefront of responsible clothing production. While they claim to still be learning the ropes of ethical business-running, they're miles ahead of everyone else and we think they're a company that other companies should aspire to be like.
Their most interesting initiative is all about not buying stuff, which is maybe a little counter-productive, but is also totally altruistic; instead of convincing people to buy new clothes, Patagonia are convincing people to only buy what they really need, and are working to help their customers repair old clothes instead of just throwing them away. There are even some handy hints on their website for how to repair your broken gear. They've developed the Worn Wear initiative (see above video) which not only points out how well their gear is made and how long it lasts, but also demonstrates the importance of having outerwear you can rely on and trust, and not need to throw away.
Alongside donating 1% of their yearly profits to environmental projects, Patagonia also have a totally transparent supply chain, use 100% responsibly sourced down (making them the only brand in the world to do so) and merino and have used organic cotton since 1996. Alongside this, Patagonia also use a whole host of recycled, natural, reclaimed and renewable materials in their clothing, more than any other company, in fact. Check it out HERE because it's super interesting!
Take a look at their website to read in more detail about what they do for the planet; there's nowhere near enough space to write it all down here!
Picture Organic Clothing
French company Picture have a very distinct look, so whenever you see someone wearing their outerwear or clothing you know they're doing their bit for the planet!
All of Picture's cotton clothes are made from organic cotton, and their base and mid layers are all at least 50% recycled polyester. They also make board shorts from recycled ski jackets which, in turn have liners made from factory offcuts. Similarly to Patagonia, once you don't need a Picture garment any more, you can send it back to them and they'll recycle it.
Picture have also won three ISPO awards for their services to the environment, including one for the development of a completely recyclable backpack, which can be turned into a number of smaller bags when it's no longer needed as a backpack. Other genius ideas from Picture include a helmet made from 100% recycled materials (see above video) and kids' snow pants that have un-pickable stitching to make them longer so you don't need to buy new ones every year!
Read more about Picture HERE.
Mervin: Lib-Tech, Roxy and GNU snowboards
If you're looking for a super green snowboard, Mervin are the guys to go to, just watch this video above; we really want to be friends with this guy because he's so good at recycling!
The Mervin factory is situated in the US and all the boards are hand made, which gives the guys that work there complete control over the manufacturing process. Consequently, the factory is run using absolutely no toxic chemicals, and absolutely everything is recycled.
All excess material is reused; sawdust is used to make compost at a local composting plant, excess plastic is used in the production of experimental recycled sidewalls and excess wood is expertly fitted together to make more boards instead of being thrown away. This wood-joining process actually makes the boards stronger, so it's a win-win.
AND they digitally print all their board graphics using water based ink so that the off-cut plastic can be recycled too, as oppose to screen printing, which uses highly toxic inks, making recycling excess plastic impossible, and is super hard to clean up after.
Just goes to show what you can do on your home turf! Read more about Mervin HERE.
We've got big respect for Jones, because as a relatively new company, they've done what not many snowboard companies can claim to do and have published a transparent supply chain.
Just by looking at their website you can find out all about the factory they use, and where they source all their materials. Consequently, everything they need to make a snowboard is sourced from within 500km of the factory so they're not unnecessarily shipping parts from all over the world. Furthermore, the factory (GST in Austria) is dedicated to making their boards as eco friendly as possible, and runs on green energy and recycled water.
Jones is also a member of 1%For the Planet and POW (Protect our Winters) and also make apparel and backpacks using recycled fabrics, organic cotton and water based inks. We're really hoping that at some point in the future, they'll be transparent about where their clothes come from, too.
Take a look at the Jones website HERE.
Volkl - Skis, Snowboards and Clothing
While Volkl are far from having a transparent supply chain and may have lost a few customers when they discreetly swapped factories from Austria to China which may or may not have affected the quality of their skis... and then just as discreetly moved back to Austria... Volkl have arguably done more for the environment than many other ski companies out there.
They have won an ISPO Eco Responsibility award three times, for different ski models that have all been made with the planet in mind. Their most recent one, in 2011, was for an eco-friendly rental ski, made from entirely recycled or renewable materials; the NAWARO RENT skis are made with linen, flax fibres and recycled steel, as well as having minimal colouring to avoid using more materials than is absolutely necessary.
Since then, Volkl have also cut down on unnecessary packaging and have reduced the number of clothes hangers they use by 80,000 and have cut down on cardboard packaging by 30%. Their most recent success was being the first ski manufacturer to gain an ISO 50001 certification for the energy management system in their Austrian factory, which runs off a closed circuit water recycling system. In turn, this qualification meant that they were awarded and Ecoride Silver Award for their conservation efforts.
Read all about it HERE.
Niche make use of a whole host of manufacturing techniques, innovative materials and production methods to make sure each of their boards is kind to the environment in some way or another.
All their boards (like Jones) are made at the GST factory in Austria, and to save the workers from inhaling nasty chemicals, Niche uses the eco-friendly OneBall Jay wax for its factory waxes, and digitally prints all their topsheets instead of using chemically-heavy screen printing. On some of their boards, a clean wood veneer replaces toxic lacquer and all of their boards are made with recycled steel edges, responsibly sourced Poplar wood, and recycled ABS sidewalls.
Innovative materials-wise, Niche make use of hemp instead of carbon fibre, eco friendly resin made from leftover paper pulp, basalt fibre (like, from volcanoes!) instead of fibreglass and bamboo is used as an alternative sidewall material.
Read more about Niche and how they make their boards HERE.