The environmental protection organization Greenpeace has launched a campaign aimed at raising awareness of hazardous substances in the production process of outdoor products.
Greenpeace approached us a few months ago because of our clear brand positioning on the issue of sustainability, our promotion of the issue within the outdoor industry, in sales, for our customers and in our industry associations, and our desire to be pioneers regarding eliminating the use of fluorocarbons.
We agree with Greenpeace and are absolutely convinced that perfluorochemicals (PFCs) must be strictly eliminated from all production processes. We made this very clear in a joint press release with the German Association of Sporting Goods Industry BSI and its professional association German Outdoor Group (FGO) dated 20.09.2012.
We welcome that Greenpeace focus on this subject now. From experience, we know that higher attention to environmental and consumer protection issues by media and public have led to technological and organizational innovations which allow VAUDE as well as the entire outdoor sector to utilize more environmentally friendly materials without having to compromise performance.
Greenpeace particularly accuses the outdoor industry of using polyfluorinated and perfluorinated chemicals (PFC). These fluorinated organic compounds are used in the textile finishing of outdoor clothing, sleeping bags, tents and footwear. With their water, dirt and oil repellency effects, they guarantee the high functionality of outdoor products.
Our products do not present a health risk and can be safely worn and/or used and bought.
In the countries where these products are manufactured, where the finished products are later washed and where these products end up when customers are finished with them, PFC substances present a risk for both people and the environment. They are bio-accumulative in the environment and in the human body through the food chain, and are not biologically degradable.
VAUDE has been proactively committed to environmental and social responsibility for many years now. As the first company in the outdoor industry to do so, VAUDE introduced an environmental management system and has been certified by EMAS since 2008. Since 2001, we have been working closely with bluesign technologies AG (www.bluesign.com) and currently manufacture over 60% of our clothing collection in accordance with the bluesign® standard.
We have been confronting the fluorocarbon issue for years and have communicated all activities in this respect openly and honestly in our annual sustainability reports, as well as on our website, for example here:
PFCs are a group of chemical substances with very different functions in the textile industry and various environmental aspects. As a bluesign system partner, our products do not include resources from the bluesign Restricted Substance List, which also strictly regulates the use of PFCs and sets strict prescriptive limits for substances that are not already prohibited under bluesign in final products. The bluesign standard is the strictest textile standard for environmental protection, consumer protection and occupational safety. It always conforms to the world's best available technology.
Years ago, we took a strong stand against the use of PTFE membranes in our products (which require PFCs for their manufacturing) and work only with membranes made from PE and PU. We do this deliberately, even though products with PTFE membranes enjoy better sales due to the high marketing presence of major PTFE membrane manufacturers. Nevertheless, the market offers convincing alternatives such as Sympatex, which we use.
In addition to membranes, PFC presents a major problem for water, oil and soil-repellent finishes (DWR: durable water repellency). DWR finishes on the market today can lead to PFC residues in finished products. This is most often due to PFOA, for which there are no legal limits. These are, however, strictly regulated under the bluesign standard.
Greenpeace also tested VAUDE products and found traces of PFCs in them. Unfortunately, Greenpeace’s actual VAUDE product test results are, despite our requests, not available.
We therefore do not know whether the residues that they found are within these limits. However, we can say with fair certainty that they are a matter of a "residue" of the DWR production process with C8 technology, that are not intentionally used.
Although we are working hard on the issue, there are, unfortunately, no current PFC-free DWR alternatives that provide equivalent water repellency, dirt or oil repellency in final products. We have had very poor test results with PFC-free alternatives: the few existing commercial PFC-free alternatives in mass production cannot yet be reliably applied and the products do not cause water and soil to bead up on the outer surface, but rather penetrate into the fabric. Rain, for example, soaks in which leads to a damp, clammy product that’s uncomfortable to wear.
Although our customers’ expectations of product functionality are particularly high in this aspect, their sensitivity to the environmental and consumer protection issues that DWR involves have thus far been relatively low.
Nevertheless, we are continuing to work hard on finding PFC-free alternatives and gradually transition our entire collection. By the end of 2014 we will discontinue all use of C8 technology, making our entire collection PFOA-free.
We clearly see this just one step on the way to complete withdrawal from PFC. This is our stated goal.
However, we wish to point out that as a midsized family company, the impact that VAUDE has on the supply chain is, unfortunately, not very high. We are therefore working closely with other companies inside and outside of our industry (e.g. the chemical industry) in order to meet this challenge together.
Please do not hesitate to contact us for further information or if you have any questions.