From outdoor stoves to backpacks to eco-designed skis. Hard goods expert Joel Svedlund provides a chronological guide to products demonstrating cutting-edge sustainability innovations – and what challenges lie ahead.
The first stop takes us to the kitchen which, like safety equipment, is covered by standards and regulations. Stoves and fuel systems need approval according to product safety standards, and food contact materials need approval according to food regulations. This makes sustainable development slower than in many other areas, as new materials often need formal approval for the specific use before entering the market.
What: An outdoor stove that burns forest wood scrap and small wood pieces with high efficiency for cooking. Also, a power bank for charging electronics.
Pros: A stove truly running on biofuel – small sticks, pinecones or scrap wood with high effect suitable for cooking. A thermoelectric element generates electricity which drives a fan and generates an oxygen surplus, boosting the combustion with higher power and cleaner flames. The technology is a true innovation for small outdoor stoves. With an over capacity of electricity generation and an added battery with charger, the stove also acts as a phone charging unit both while cooking and in between uses. The company has also developed a home wood stove product for third-world home cooking.
Cons: Even efficient wood burning deposits a little soot on the pans, which need some cleaning on the outside after use. The consumption of wood is quite high because of the oxygen surplus and high output, so you will need to refill the stove a few times during a cooking session. Adjusting the flame is possible through the amount of wood and fan speed, but not as straightforward as in a gas- or multifuel stove.
Primus SIP Power Gas
What: Single-use gas canisters, scaling up biogas production by mass-balance purchasing.
Pros: There has until now only been fossil fuel alternatives in the canisters for outdoor gas stoves. By buying biofuel certificates, Primus reserves production of bio-propane and stimulates the upscaling of a European bio-propane market. Through the certificates, they buy gas production for SIP Power Gas in biogas. The actual gas in the canisters is still fossil-based due to transport limitations, but their intentions are clear – they want to increase the purchased volumes of biofuel until they can fill actual Primus canisters with biobased propane gas. Certificates are excellent tools upscaling of new energy sources and biogas availability can grow with increasing EU requirements for biodiesel. The GHG emissions is reduced by approximately 50%, the production is in Europe and cooking with biofuel in the nature just feels much better!
Cons: The solution requires a bit of explaining but with clear goals, this is a truly ground-breaking initiative in the outdoor gas market. The standard EN 417 gas canister itself is still a challenge, though. Re-filling is not permitted for safety reasons and there is currently no dedicated recycling method for them.
The Personal Protection Equipment (PPE) requirements which apply to safety equipment provide an extra challenge to sustainability efforts. The standards are strict with high safety factors, meaning that any change of design, materials or processes must be rigorously tested and proven safe to make sure the product integrity is unaffected. But the last years it has been clear: higher bars do not stop innovation.
Edelrid HMS Bulletproof Eco
What: A carabiner combining high abrasion resistance with low-impact surface treatments.
Pros: The highest wear on an HMS carabiner is from rope running through it in top-rope or belay situations. Steel is often used in professional equipment but considered too heavy for recreational climbing. With a stainless-steel insert, this aluminum carabiner extends useful service life considerably and protects the rope from burrs or sharp edges which can be the result of extensive wear. Since the wear surfaces are made of stainless steel, the rest of the carabiner body can be produced in natural, oxidized state which totally eliminates the chemical surface treatment process associated with anodizing.
Cons: The non-anodized surfaces do not look as shiny as anodized surfaces and may need some explaining for people to choose it. It is also more sensitive to corrosion, an issue mainly for equipment that is either stored wet over longer times or exposed to salt water and not rinsed.
Edelrid NEO 3R 9.8 mm
What: A dynamic climbing rope from 50% recycled material.
Pros: The NEO 3R 9.8 mm is the first rope to be made from 50% reused ropes. Edelrid has succeeded in producing a recycled rope that meets the high safety standards for climbing ropes. The challenge lies in fine-tuning processes to achieve the desired strength and elasticity in recycled yarns. They can now re-utilize production scraps into high-end use in ropes and minimize the production waste, with a maximal material value.
Cons: There may still be customers not trusting recycled materials, even with thorough controls and certifications.
Skiing & Snowboarding
In this category, the basic construction is very similar between most models, and the efforts made by brands are also along similar lines. Recycled materials for metal and plastics, responsibly grown wood and biobased epoxy and fibers are common ingredients for the more sustainable products.
Rossignol Essential Ski
When: To be introduced 2023
What: An eco-design ski paired with a recycling solution.
Pros: With reduced number of materials, low-impact materials and focus on recyclability, this ski is defining a new direction in ski design for Rossignol. It is made in France with renewable energy and materials that are either recycled, certified natural or biobased. In the development, Rossignol has teamed up with a recycling partner to assess and develop a recycling method for the product where up to 77% can be material recycled and 17% incinerated, leaving only 6% residual waste.
Cons: The recycling looks promising, but the method does not currently seem to recover the valuable fiber materials which become residual waste, not possible to incinerate.
Burton Snowboards with biobased epoxy
What: High-performance snowboards made with bio-based epoxy.
Pros: It is not known by many, but all Burton snowboards have been produced with biobased epoxy for some years. After extensive performance testing and LCA assessment to determine the environmental impacts, the new material was tested in the Family Tree product line in 2017 and one year later rolled out in the full Burton production. The epoxy replaces around 30% of the petroleum-based carbon with bio-based carbon from plant material. The raw materials used are primarily sourced as a waste stream from the production of biodiesel that also uses recycled or reclaimed materials as its raw material source, such as used frying oils from the food industry. This reduces the carbon footprint from epoxy production by up to 33% compared with conventional epoxies. In addition, the wood cores are FSC certified for sustainable forestry practices.
Cons: Epoxy is a thermoset plastic, which has a non-reversible chemical reaction in the production. The end-of-use solutions for skis and snowboards are today limited to re-design as craft material, or shredding for incineration or landfill. Recyclability solutions are needed.
Backpacks & Tents
Backpacks and tents are product groups with many mixed materials – textiles, plastics, foams, metals and even wood and composites are often involved in the making of these products. For backpacks, the main achievements have been in recycled materials and textile finishes. In tents, the big sustainability wins are still to come. The materials in tents have very specific performance criteria – high strength, controlled stretch, light weight, UV resistance, packability and water resistance in combination, which require meticulous testing for any changes of raw materials, processing or surface treatments.
Fjällräven Lappland Hike 15
What: A hiking/hunting daytrip backpack with back panel and shoulder straps from pressed discarded Swedish wool.
Pros: Backpacks are often designed with a combination of many materials, to achieve the desired properties. The structurally stiffer parts, like back panels, shoulder pads and hip belts, are often padded with different kinds of synthetic foams. The dominating method for foam production involves chemical foaming agents with a challenging toxicity profile, require careful handling in the production. In this backpack, the whole back panel and inside of shoulder straps have been made of compressed wool felt instead of a foam material, thus lowering the potential chemical load and work environment risks from the product. The wool felt, from Swedish discarded wool qualities that are considered too coarse for general textile use, has an added benefit of breathability and better moisture management, increasing the comfort for the user.
Cons: The source of the wool is important – it is resource efficient to use wool that would otherwise have been discarded. Wool felt have higher moisture retention than closed-cell foams – this may be an advantage on warm, intense hiking days by wicking away sweat, but can be a comfort drawback in rainy weather or in wet snow conditions when soaked.
DAC tent poles
What: Tent poles that are surface treated with ”green anodizing”.
Pros: The Korean tent pole supplier, DAC, invested eight years in R&D to find an alternative to the harsh acid chemistry for pickling of the material before anodizing. Pickling is a process where the aluminum oxide on the tent pole surface is removed, to prepare for the anodizing process. The typical chemistry consists of sulfuric, phosphoric and nitric acid. For a company with DAC volumes this means more than 100 tons of acids per year. The acid use contributes directly to worker health challenges, high demands on wastewater treatment and risk for environmental pollution. Their solution was a chemical-free process where the oxide is mechanically removed by abrasion. It is unique in the industry, has lowered their chemical load drastically, and eliminated transports of over 100 tons of chemicals per year.
Cons: The abrasive surface pre-treatment creates aluminum oxide dust, which has to be managed carefully in closed environment with ventilation and personal protection, to avoid problematic particle air emissions and work environment hazards.
Accessories / Electronics
Outdoor accessories and electronics have few examples of products demonstrating sustainability innovations. However, this may change fast as electronics are within scope for EU circularity and chemistry initiatives.
Silva Terra Scout headlamp
What: A lightweight headlamp for hiking and camping.
Pros: The Terra Scout has a shell made from recycled polypropylene and hemp fiber, offering a CO2-footprint reduction of up to 90 percent compared to standard plastics. A rechargeable battery with USB charging is included in the top model, adding to the lamp convenience and sustainability by reducing the need to change batteries.
Cons: While this bio-composite is recyclable and hence can be re-purposed in new products, they need to be correctly sorted and returned to the manufacturers at end-of-use to avoid their fiber content as a contamination of pure plastic fractions. The return and sorting system is not yet realized.
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Photos: Joe Wagner on Unsplash