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?
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:
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.
3. Look at the score table.
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?
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/
[In case you were wondering, the photo has nothing to do with this topic. I couldn’t find anything suitable. But at a time when days are getting shorter, and staying warm seems to be a key focus of most days, I like it as a nice reminder of what sunny summer days in the mountains look like. For the record, the photo is of Lac de Moiry in Switzerland.]
This post is overdue.
As an outdoor enthusiast and someone that works in the outdoor industry, I travel often, and spend lots of money each year on gear. At a time of environmental crisis, I’ve got a lot to answer for. Most of us in the outdoorsy world probably do. Yet paradoxically I see myself as an environmentalist (again, as lots of us that love spending time outdoors probably do), and as someone that wants to leave the world in a better state than what I was born into. So how does that tally with my lifestyle?
Before delving any deeper, a quick admin note:
Part one (this one!) looks at the broader issue of consumerism; part two (to follow!) will cover the brands that I believe have the most responsible track record and bring about the most positive change, if we do indeed need to make a purchase.
When we talk about consumption, there are often different words attached preceding it, such as sustainable, conscious and responsible. So let’s first be clear on those definitions:
Sustainable - able to be maintained at a certain rate or level
Conscious - perceiving, apprehending, or noticing with a degree of thought or observation
Responsible - to have control and authority over something; to be the person who caused something to happen
I don’t kid myself in thinking that my lifestyle is sustainable in any way. If everyone lived like I do, the world would be in dire straits. I recently took the WWF’s environmental footprint calculator quiz to see just how unsustainable my life is - for the record, my annual estimated carbon consumption is 7 tonnes (less than the UK average, but if everyone in the world had this impact we’d need a few more earths to deal with it).
Being conscious is a good start, but it doesn’t imply any actual action. We all know the consequences of a lot of our actions, but we often choose to pull the wool over our eyes about them when push comes to shove, and we want that latest bit of kit. It’s all well and good to know about things; but knowledge without action is useless. Sometimes I feel like there is good reason for the adage ‘ignorance is bliss’.
So I believe we need to be responsible with our actions, meaning we take control and cause things to happen through our decisions. When it comes to outdoor gear (and consumption more generally), I’ll win no awards for originality in stating that I believe the starting point should be the Rs. This originally started out as Reduce, Reuse, Recycle, but has since been expanded to include others such as “Repair”, “Rot” and “Rethink”. I’ll expand on the ones I think are most relevant for us when buying outdoor gear.
1. Refuse & Reduce
First, let’s think about not caving in to the marketing campaigns that make us feel that we always need to buy new gear. Moreover, there is often a feeling that each new activity or sport requires its own specific garment or bit of kit, when in actual fact what we already own will probably do the job well enough. I’ve found saying “No” to making a purchase actually incredibly rewarding and stress- relieving. Having cupboards and drawers (or loft in my case) full of gear can be quite draining - it all requires maintenance and if you move home then it all has to come with you.
I’m as guilty as anyone of being drawn in to big ad campaigns and trail running stars wearing the latest kit, and then feeling that maybe I do actually need that new bit of gear I had never even thought about purchasing. I’m challenging myself to question this - I’ve found a good starting point to be drawing up a kit inventory, going through all the outdoor gear I currently have, and seeing if this aligns with the activities I see myself doing in the next few months. If and only if there’s a gap in what I already have and what I need will I then thinking about making a purchase.
I’ve also unsubscribed from sites such as Sport Pursuit and decluttered my inbox to reduce the number of sites bombarding me with flash sales every day of the week. These sort of sites seem to generate demand solely by the virtue that a product is cheaper than it used to be, ignoring the question of whether you actually need it or not.
2. Repair & Reuse
I spent an evening recently trying to repair old shoes by glueing the soles back on with Gorilla glue, and by sewing together holes in my duffel bag. I’m hopeless at sewing, but giving it a go, as well as trying to take on board the coaching from my dear mother and partner, proved to be a fun, therapeutic evening. Sure, the holes will probably reopen and the soles will likely fall off the shoes again, but at least I’ve extended the life of them a little bit, and postponed a further purchase.
On the topic of reuse, I also think it’s important to consider the functions of the kit we have - it’s increasingly common to see products that have one sole use, that you would never use them for anything else other than that one highly specific function. Soft cups for trail races are a prime example of this. When would you ever use these for anything else other than to get water at an aid station in a trail running race? We almost certainly all have camping cups/ mugs at our disposal. They might add a few extra grams and be a little more cumbersome, but are we really competing at such a level where the weight and convenience matter that much?
It’s easy to accumulate endless piles of gear that all serve the same function. But do we really need any more than one of most things? (some clothing items being an obvious exception here) I’ve made a rule of selling or donating any outdoor gear if I purchase a new bit of kit that does the same thing. For example, I recently bought a new stove. So the old one needed to go. Today I cycled across town to give it to someone that was very happy to receive it and will no doubt make good use of it, instead of it collecting dust in my loft.
So that hopefully covers the ground of what to do before deciding to purchase new outdoor gear; part two will look at the brands that have the most responsible track record.