Greenpeace and the Outdoor Industry

Climbing in poor weather needs durable, high performance clothing

Climbing in poor weather needs durable, high performance clothing

How is the outdoor industry approaching the problem of PFCs and the challenges from Greenpeace?

In 2012, in Chemistry for Any Weather, Greenpeace challenged the outdoor industry to clean up and called for a ban on the the use of damaging perfluorinated compounds in waterproofing processes. Their new report, Footprints in the Snow, suggests there is a link between the PFCs in mountain areas and lakes and those in mountain jackets and footwear. The suggestion is that traces of the chemicals the outdoor industry has turned to as alternative to PFCs – perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOCs), are to be found in mountainous regions. There is no question that PFCs are nasty chemicals, which are harmful to the environment and bring significant dangers to human health. According to Mammut, ‘the campaign group knows the chemicals have not necessarily come from outdoor apparel but says it is targeting the outdoor industry first in a new anti-PFC campaign, because it wants outdoor brands to lead the way in bringing non-PFC alternatives to market. (WSA:November-December,2015,36) Research by Stefan Possner research analyst at SWEREA, based on a study of 3,000 PFOCs, confirms that it is highly unlikely that apparel and footwear are a significant cause of such contamination.
This set us thinking. We are currently writing a chapter for our book/training system Keeping Dry Staying Warm on Durable Water Repellent (DWR), beading and capillary action. This lies at the core of the functionality of outdoor garment layering systems and of course the chapter covers PFCs.




Far from dragging its feet, the outdoor industry is ahead of other, larger PFC users in identifying and implementing ways of waterproofing that are not reliant on PFCs. My information from the Spring 2015 edition of USA publication, ‘Inside Outdoor’ is that production of PFOC’s was agreed voluntarily to cease by end 2015 and that the major chemical producers had already done this, though  this does not yet apply to their customers ie fabric/garment brands. In addition, the EU has been pursuing a consultation on chemicals in textile that damaging to human health which ends in January 2016. Looking forward,  Greenpeace originally applied a test to fabrics for presence of PFO’s so I assume this can be repeated by another group with funding to re check.

Our research suggests that within 12 – 18 months considerable innovation will have taken place on garments in terms of waterproofing.  This means that brands will be openly stating what they are NOT using and, just as important, what they ARE using.  Some brands right now are saying we are PFOC free but not releasing just what is being used.  We suspect that within 2 years there will be several different new methods of achieving DWR performance, all being communicated by brand marketing people.  We have a section within our training book called ‘emerging technologies’ and this will keep you up to date with what is happening.
We Outdoor Gear Coach are entirely independent and self funded. We are endorsed by the Outdoor Industries Association (OIA) We are working with Guides and MTA to gain acceptance as CPD training.  Keeping Dry and Staying Warm is available for different levels knowledge and experience. We are including a section on sustainability within each chapter (not for level 1 readers but at a level 2) and our final chapter brings it all together. We are partnering with who have a ‘transparency tool system for rating the position and progress of brands. quote
‘Our Transparency Tool is a powerful way to determine the ecological performance of a brand, it’s commitment towards responsibility and its products including their supply chain.

Bicycle Outdoor and Snow Sports Newsletter, September 2015

Stefan Possner, Polyfluorinated Chemicals and Transformation Products

Volume 17 of the series The Handbook of Environmental Chemistry, 2011 pp 25-39

‘Why Greenpeace targets outdoor brands’ WSA, November-December 2015,36-37.


2 responses to “Greenpeace and the Outdoor Industry”

  1. charles ross says:


    Private comments as I think your statement is wide of the mark & I want OGC to be a good source of information. I am surprised Stefan did not explain more to you: he has been trying to find a PFC alternative for around 20 years, whilst the team at Leeds/ other Outdoor interests have been trying for just short of a decade

    The best thing that has happened is the ruling in Norway, but clothing brands have until 2017 to comply after lobbying for an extension; I am not up to date with the status of the ECHA recommendation yet (but would expect Pamela to be – you are talking with her?)

    It is VERY unlikely that in the next couple of years that a substitute ingredient will be found

    PFC DWRs do three things well: repel water/ stay on the garment/ repel stains. The first quality is easy to do (with all, apart from hydrocarbon finishes); the second is rapidly improving (I know of PFC-free finishes that still have 80% effectiveness after 30 washes – which beats C6 PFCs); the last is what is failing. Sports is not too concerned about this as since the Millennium we are all washing our performance garments a lot more (thus getting rid of the skin detritus which caused the problems previously)

    There are still avenues to explore for durability (Plasma for one) – but if the raw fabric was washed & dried before the DWR application, durability would shoot up. Patagonia’s investment in the Swiss green-chemical company this spring which specialises in stain resistance might well produce results (whether they will share it with others is another question: the Californian brand has already been caught out restricting who can use Yulex wet-suit material that they had stated was available to anyone who wanted it)

    I disagree with the spin from Mammut. Greenpeace are targeting Sports brands as they offer something of desire, rather than necessity. Just like their work in picking out Zara’s parent group this time last year, Greenpeace are keen to prompt controversy, rather than work constructively to assist the brands to achieve their aims. Four Paws, the down lobbying group, have achieved far better trade co-operation in a shorter space of time. At least Greenpeace are accepting that their original standards will not be achieved – there is no such thing as a PFC-free world, but they will compromise on a very low figure now (announced at Outdoor 15)

    It is always easier to attack things of want, as opposed to need. Perhaps if Greenpeace wanted a solution faster they should try to assist their enemies, rather than just attack them with dodgy figures as evidence



    • Mary Rose says:

      Hi Charles,
      Thanks for highlighting ways we could develop this but I think you are misreading what we are saying here.
      ‘Perhaps if Greenpeace wanted a solution faster they should try to assist their enemies, rather than just attack them with dodgy figures as evidence’ -is exactly what we are saying. Similarly much of what we write is based around the notion of emerging technologies – what is always uncertain is what emerges and how and why see

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