In 2015, Vaude signed the Greenpeace Detox Commitment with the goal of systematically eliminating chemicals of concern (such as controversial PFCs) from the manufacturing process by 2020. The Vaude apparel collection has been PFC-free since 2018; in 2020 this was achieved also for all footwear and backpacks.
Seven out of eleven hazardous substance groups have already been fully eliminated from production and the outdoor brand has made great strides in four other groups. These efforts have been recognised by Greenpeace.
Viola Wohlgemuth, Consumption and Chemistry Campaigner at Greenpeace, e.V., said, “Vaude takes its corporate obligations seriously and is a living example of the fact that transparency and the regulation of global supply chains is possible. The company is showing the rest of the outdoor sector how to move towards a sustainable recycling economy. The substitution of hazardous chemicals is at the forefront and the company has initiatives for ecological design, durability, rental and repair to extend the life of their products.”
By voluntarily signing the Greenpeace Detox Commitment, Vaude made a clear commitment to phasing out the use of hazardous chemicals by 2020 and to reporting transparently on the process. In addition to the PFCs which were the focus of attention, there were another ten critical substance groups that could no longer be used or released into the environment. Vaude also committed to creating responsible business models for more sustainable consumption.
For example, the outdoor brand has launched the eBay Upcycling Store – a material exchange platform for creative people, where residual materials that accumulate in manufacturing are auctioned off for a good cause. The platform is open to other companies from the textile industry and hopes to provide motivation for them to also offer their valuable residual materials instead of disposing of them.
With its iRentit service, it has been offering a shared economy platform since 2017 where gear can be rented and used by several people. To ensure that the products can be used for as long as possible, it also focuses strongly on the issue of reparability. The idea that products should be able to be repaired is firmly anchored in the company’s design process using a rating system.
It has an in-house Repair Workshop and co-operates with the online platform iFixit as well as Repair Cafés. Further, its Academy for Sustainable Business was founded in May 2020 to help the successful sustainability pioneer share its experience and expertise with interested companies, organizations and educational institutions.
Vaude has been a partner of the bluesign® system since 2001, following one of the strictest sustainability standards for textiles. However, there were (and continue to be) critical groups of substances in use due to a lack of alternatives. Although their use and application are strictly regulated by limit values, Vaude voluntarily began gradually eliminating these chemicals even before the Detox Commitment.
Vaude CEO Antje von Dewitz recalled, “When Greenpeace set its sights on the outdoor industry in 2012 with its Detox Campaign, we saw a great opportunity to finally make a difference across the industry and develop alternatives for chemicals of concern. As a single mid-sized brand, we hadn’t had enough influence with the material manufacturers before that time.”
Greenpeace’s demands were focused on eliminating the use of polyfluorinated and perfluorinated chemicals, known as fluorocarbons or PFCs for short. These are used to produce membranes that make textiles both waterproof and breathable. They are also applied to the outer surface of rain gear to provide durable water repellency. The water-beading effect is what makes a rain jacket effective.
Vaude had already eliminated the use of PFCs in its membranes by 2011 so the biggest challenge was to provide the outer fabrics for weatherproof gear with a durable PFC-free water-repellent finish. Public pressure from the Greenpeace campaign provided the push the industry needed which also affected the chemical supply industry. The sustainability-committed brand worked closely with producers and suppliers, organised round table discussions and brought together partners who were used to acting as competitors.
Wohlgemuth added, “Vaude is meeting its Detox Commitment after eliminating PFCs from its production line and continues to report honestly on its progress. As an industry pioneer, Vaude still needs to ensure that wastewater data from suppliers is publicly available so that civic institutions can transparently track the data behind the reported progress.”
Not all is plain sailing. Vaude had to go back to a PFC-containing finish for two styles of weatherproof jackets and weatherproof pants in the current Winter Collection 2020 as acceptable water-repellent properties could not be achieved with PFC-free alternatives.
It was a setback that shows how complex and challenging the transition to pollutant-free chemicals continues to be. In both the Summer 2021 and Winter 2021/22 Collections, all apparel products will again be 100 % PFC-free.