December 25, 2019

Responsible outdoor gear (part two)

This is a follow up to a previous post I published a month or so ago: https://louiswaterman-evans.com/blog/blog/responsible-outdoor-gear-part-one/

As with the previous post, the image is completely unrelated to the post, but it’s from a recent outing up Buachaille Etive Beag in Glencoe. 

The previous post covers a chain of thoughts we can use to help us BEFORE purchasing a new bit of gear - Refuse/ Reduce/ Reuse/ Repair/ Recycle.

The starting point for this post is that we have gone through this process, and identified that we need to purchase something new. So where do we look? How can we filter out the green wash and work out who really cares, and is willing to put people and the environment before profits?

Source: ethicalconsumer.org

If you haven’t yet heard of it, I urge you to have a look at ethicalconsumer.org.

“Ethical Consumer provides the tools and resources you need to make these choices simple, informed and effective.”

Doing the work so we don’t have to

Most of us simply don’t have the time, inclination and/or wherewithal to find out what companies or products represent responsible choices. Thankfully Ethical Consumer does the leg work for us, and has developed a simple and easy to use rating system for companies and products, based on over 20 years of in-depth primary and secondary research, updated daily. For transparency, I should add here that it is a paid-for service, and costs £29.95 per year to be able to view full reports.

How the rating system works

Products are given a score out of 20, whereas companies are scored out of 15.  They use a negative scoring system; for example, a company starts with the full 15 marks, and then loses marks if it gets criticised in one of their categories. These categories are:

- Animals

- Environment

- People

- Politics

- Sustainability

Each of these categories is multi-faceted and you may not necessarily agree with their take on certain issues, so it’s worth delving into in more detail if you have the time: https://www.ethicalconsumer.org/about-us/our-ethical-ratings.

Clearly you can use Ethical Consumer for far more than just purchasing outdoor gear (they have guides on over 40,000 companies, brands and products), but for the purposes of this post I’ll keep it outdoor - oriented.

Let’s imagine you want to buy a new waterproof jacket.

1. Go on ethicalconsumer.org and search “waterproof jacket”. This takes you to a product guide page: https://www.ethicalconsumer.org/fashion-clothing/shopping-guide/waterproof-insulated-jackets (note: not all products or companies have their own guides, but the list reported is ever growing) .

2. Read about the key issues for this product/ company.

source: https://www.ethicalconsumer.org/fashion-clothing/shopping-guide/waterproof-insulated-jackets

3. Look at the score table.

source: https://www.ethicalconsumer.org/fashion-clothing/shopping-guide/waterproof-insulated-jackets

4. If you then want more information, you can click on the company to get more detailed information, delving deeper into each of the 5 categories above. For example, Paramo receives the best score when it comes to waterproof jackets, but why?

source: https://www.ethicalconsumer.org/company-profile/paramo-ltd (yellow underlining added)

So, Paramo and Patagonia come out on top for waterproof jackets and score equally as high in other areas such as fleece jackets.

That’s all well and good, but those brands both leave a serious laceration in the wallet! Thankfully there are a few ways to help on this front:

- If you’re in the US, Patagonia runs its own second-hand online store: https://wornwear.patagonia.com/

- Paramo has a great eBay seconds store, where they sell previously worn or field tested products: https://www.ebay.co.uk/str/paramoseconds

- If you’re in the UK, Outdoor Gear Exchange UK is a very active Facebook group where people buy, sell and trade their used outdoor gear (there will undoubtedly be similar groups for lots of other countries): https://www.facebook.com/groups/usedgearexchangeuk/?ref=search

Don’t reinvent the wheel

Buying outdoor gear responsibly can be a minefield navigating our way through different claims of sustainability by different companies. Fortunately there is a team of people that are on our side, and have done the research for us. Ethical Consumer is a treasure trove of useful information on outdoor gear, but also on numerous other products, such as standard household items and restaurant chains, as well as providing detailed reports on a whole host of issues and topics.

Before jumping into the January sales, I urge everyone to take a look here first: https://www.ethicalconsumer.org/