By Kristen Pope Explorebigsky.com Contributor
Being an eco-friendly skier or snowboarder can be challenging, especially when selecting gear. There is no universal standard for “green” gear manufacturers, and it would take eons to wade through the environmental and sustainability practices, policies and philosophies from the manufacturers of all possible products.
It’s also difficult to discern truly ecologically sensitive practices from the “greenwashing” marketing that some companies use in order to make consumers think they are far greener than they actually are.
How can a responsible consumer know which companies truly act with the environment in mind? The short answer is that it is quite difficult.
When looking for an eco-friendly product, some factors to consider include: materials used, the production process, and post-production factors including shipping and packaging. Check if the materials used are recycled, sustainably harvested, or from an eco-friendly source. Avoid production processes that use harmful chemicals and non-renewable energy. Finally, consider how the gear is shipped, including distance shipped, how it is transported, and the packaging materials used.
While there are organizations that certify products to meet certain sustainability standards, (including the Rainforest Alliance, Green Seal, Forest Stewardship Council and Ancient Forest International), there is no universal “green” standard for gear. Consumers have a number of different factors they can consider.
Looking at the main materials used in production is a good place to start when researching a purchase. Sustainable bamboo is becoming more popular in skis (such as Salomon’s Geisha and Shogun skis).
Rossignol uses renewable wood in 90 percent of their skis and snowboards. Völkl’s NAWARO Skis are made from 74 percent renewable resources including wood cores, recycled steel, linen, and flax fibers. Oakley even has a pair of recycled sunglasses that are accented with sustainable organic bamboo.
However, some manufacturers such as Arc’teryx insist on using non-renewable resources, believing them to be superior to other materials. Arc’teryx, for example, states on its’s website says, “We have not yet found acceptable renewable alternatives that don’t substantially affect our product’s performance or durability.”
The website goes on to note thatAccording to the site, a durable product is more environmentally responsible than an inferior product that requires frequent replacement.
It is hard to compare manufacturers’ assertions and weigh their relative environmental impact. Is sustainably harvested bamboo from halfway around the world a better choice than a locally made product using virgin wood from a company that donates to environmental causes? The possible comparisons are endless.
Repurposing and recycling used gear is more straightforward. Worn out gear can be transformed into a completely different product. Vermont-based Green Mountain Ski Furniture transforms old skis and gear into chairs, benches, coat racks, bottle openers, and birdhouses. People can even have personalized items made from their old gear.
Snowsports Industries America runs the a Snow Sports Recycling Program, that which has collected over 350 tons of used skis, snowboards, ski boots, snowboard boots, poles, and helmets and, transformeding them into materials for construction, landscaping, fixtures, and furniture, divertingkeeping worn out gear from ending up in material from landfills.
“We saw a lot of materials going to the landfill, and we wanted to be able to stem that,” Snow Sports Recycling ProgramSSRP Manager Greg Schneider said. “These materials are made to last who knows how long.”
Currently, most SSRP collection centers are located in Colorado, but SIA hopes to expand the program to Montana, Wyoming, and Idaho in the near future. Check snowsrp.org for current drop off locations.
By keeping the environment in mind when making purchasing decisions, buyers encourage manufacturers to use eco-friendly materials and practices. Consumers can also make wise choices with their equipment once its useful life in its first incarnation is over.
While there is not one correct eco-friendly choice, every little bit helps protect the mountains where we live and play.
Kristen Pope is a writer and environmental educator who lives in Jackson, Wyo.