From Amid criticism, Patagonia works to rid outerwear of PFCs

Patagonia, The North Face and other outdoor sportswear makers are responding to a Greenpeace hazardous chemicals report this way: We’re on it.

However, elite outdoor clothing manufacturers say change doesn’t happen overnight to find replacements of hazardous chemicals in their outerwear. And while they insist they’re working hard at finding safer materials that meet their tough standards, they argue the current ingredients in their products don’t run counter to their eco-friendly image either.

Patagonia, The North Face and a handful of other outdoor sportswear manufacturers are the target of a recent report by Greenpeace Germany that highlighted a group of these companies for their use of perfluorinated and polyfluorinated chemicals (PFCs) and other hazardous chemicals in some of their products.

Greenpeace’s report, “Chemistry for any weather,” summarizes the findings of two independent laboratories it commissioned to evaluate the chemical content of specific pieces of outdoor weatherproof clothing. Other manufacturers named prominently in the report include Jack Wolfskin, Kaikkialla and Marmot.

The independent laboratories tested weatherproof jackets and pants earlier this year and found PFCs in all 14 samples, according to the report. High concentrations of the well-documented hazardous compound perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA) was found in all of them and in high concentrations in five of the samples from the manufacturers listed above.

This group of chemicals is used by outdoor clothing manufacturers to make their gear stain and water-resistant. However, these substances also are known as a persistent pollutant that don’t break down once introduced into the environment. In addition, the chemicals accumulate in humans and other living organisms through tainted food, air and water. That’s dangerous because widely-respected studies revealed a connection between those chemicals and problems with fertility and other immune disorders.

“There are no safe levels for PFCs; they are intrinsically hazardous and should be eliminated completely by the textile industry,” asserts Greenpeace Toxics Campaigner Kirsten Brodde, Ph.D., in Hamburg, Germany. “An outdoor industry that draws a picture of itself as being green should stay out of the use of all hazardous chemicals and not try to monitor them and slow down the process of elimination.”

Patagonia has been addressing this matter for the last decade and has made a commitment to rid all of its products of PFOA chemicals by 2015, according to Jen Rapp, a spokeswoman at the sportswear company’s Ventura, Calif., headquarters.

The company has been working on adopting durable water repellency (DWR) technologies that are free of PFOA, she says, adding that by next spring the company expects to convert 40 percent of its DWR products to a shorter-chain C6 technology from the current widely-used C8 technology considered to be more hazardous.

Both the C6 and C8 technologies won’t break down in the environment, but C6 doesn’t accumulate in the body, she notes.

DWR technology is essential to the weatherproof products’ performance and durability because it enables the clothing to bead water, resist wetting, stay lightweight, dry faster and remain stain resistant, the company says on its website. “The longer a waterproof jacket remains waterproof, the longer it stays out of the landfill, and that’s important to Patagonia,” Rapp adds.

What’s taking so long to make a switchover to other materials/ingredients in the finished product? The two biggest obstacles have been finding a good replacement that measures up to Patagonia’s high performance standards and coordinating with other companies in its supply chain that manufacture the component of the outerwear and other gear containing PFCs, Rapp responded.

“Our customers have an intended end use of these products and we go through extensive testing to make sure it meets our high standards,” she said. “We don’t believe PFC-free technology will meet our customers’ quality and performance standards. We believe if we switch to this technology today, a lot of our customers would either return them or throw them away.”

At Patagonia, supply chain partner Gore actually makes the material that’s used in the jacket that Greenpeace had tested for its report, Rapp said. And while Patagonia says it works hard to influence environmental enhancement in its supply chain, company officials tend to make more noise when they’ve found a better technology that meets their performance standards and is also eco-friendly, she added.

“I don’t believe we’re there yet (with PFCs),” Rapp said. “We’ve learned we have to work collaboratively with our suppliers who make our fabrics and finishes. We’re not a big enough company to change supply chain practices by withdrawing our business from them.”

The North Face, on the Chemical Responsibility section of its website, freely admits it uses PFCs in some of its weatherproof products. Its use of PFCs “is conducted responsibly and exceeds or is compliant with all federal and international regulations governing chemical use,” the website reads.

In a prepared email statement, North Face said it’s always identifying new and innovative ways to improve the sustainability of its supply chain. The company did not make a spokesperson available to GreenBiz for comment on its approach to the use of PFCs in its products.

Greenpeace officials say sports outerwear companies aren’t moving quickly enough to change. They point to other manufacturers’ promise of a speedier shift away from PFCs, including H&M and Marks & Spencer, as evidence that some retailers aren’t waiting for laws to get tougher in order for them to act more responsibly toward the environment and human health.

“If H&M and M&S are phasing out all PFCs (in their garments), that means there are viable solutions available on the market. The outdoor industry should follow their steps,” says Brodde.

Patagonia counters and says they hold their garments to higher performance standards than the fashion-focused retailers.

“It’s a different landscape when you compare a technical product to a fashion product,” Rapp says. “Patagonia sells products that keep people safe in really extreme climates. We can’t sell a product that someone is relying on to keep them safe and dry in the Himalayas.”

Posted in Uncategorized | Comments Off on From Amid criticism, Patagonia works to rid outerwear of PFCs

From Edible Chicago Magazine: Fresh Moves: Produce Store on Wheels Hits Food Deserts

Posted in Uncategorized | Comments Off on From Edible Chicago Magazine: Fresh Moves: Produce Store on Wheels Hits Food Deserts

From How IKEA plans to take its buildings energy-neutral

Delft, Netherlands — IKEA’s announcement last week of its bold plans to pursue energy independence by 2020 didn’t happen overnight.

The Swedish home furnishing giant designed its strategy after several years of painstaking data collection, intensive energy audits and energy needs assessments, and an aggressive construction plan already in motion to own and operate solar and wind power systems throughout its global operations.

Unlike Walmart crowing about plans for energy neutrality, IKEA Group was willing to set a timetable after calculating how long executives there believed it would take to reach their goals.

And although there is much transparency in IKEA’s plans for achieving energy neutrality, executives there admit the plan doesn’t extend to the entire company footprint to include its total supply chain.

Indeed, the program began as a value-driven decision to be a corporate leader ahead of the curve in sustainability, according to Steve Howard, IKEA’s chief sustainability officer.

“We really need to tackle global warming,” Howard says. “We want to take a stand for renewable energy, and we can do that most effectively by investing directly in it. Then we can meet our energy needs from our own renewable energy assets.”

Establishing a convincing business case for energy independence gave IKEA’s top brass the confidence to move the project forward, he says. “It’s highly likely that our energy demand will increase and more countries around the world are heading to carbon pricing. If you have your own energy production, you cut off that risk completely.”

IKEA owns the land where its stores are located, and controlling its own future energy supply is in keeping with that ownership philosophy, says Howard. What’s more, IKEA intends to continue growing at a rapid pace. The company expects to double in size by 2020, with plans for stores in India and elsewhere.

The business case was further strengthened after IKEA conducted extensive energy audits at its U.S. operations in 2008 and 2009 with Sieben Energy Associates. Implementing energy efficiency measures to reduce overall power usage was an essential part of IKEA’s strategy for energy neutrality, but audits seeking those savings went way beyond the typical assignments, recalls Craig Sieben, president of the Chicago-based consultancy.

“They had every evaluation include a comprehensive assessment of renewable resources they could use to offset their reliance on the energy grid,” says Sieben. “That’s not typically what companies ask for in an energy audit. Now they’re taking on a stretch goal for the next seven years that’s very ambitious and I think they have a high probability of success based on their history and demonstrated commitment.”

So far, the retailer has installed 342,000 photovoltaic panels on 81 IKEA Group buildings worldwide that generates 43 MW of power. About 40 percent of IKEA’s solar power investment is concentrated in the U.S. alone, with solar panels on top of 34 of its 38 stores and distribution centers there.  Says Howard: “We look at each rooftop as a power station in the waiting.”

The furniture retailer will continue installing more PV systems in the U.S., especially since prices are still at record lows, notes Howard.

The cost of solar panels have fallen about 50 percent since early 2011, and sun is plentiful there too, says Tom Kimbis, vice president at the Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA), a Washington, D.C.-based trade group. Most utilities in the U.S. are embracing solar, but Kimbis cautions IKEA could run into some resistance from utilities in the Southeast where operators haven’t been as progressive compared to other parts of the country.

IKEA ranked fourth among U.S. companies for generating solar power in a survey published this fall by SEIA. Walmart came out on top, while Costco Wholesale and Kohl’s Department Stores, ranked second and third, respectively.

IKEA has no near-term plans to invest in wind farms in the U.S. because the policy environment is too risky and there aren’t good incentives to draw them in that direction, says Howard. Meanwhile, the furniture giant has concentrated its wind farm construction in Europe. IKEA built its first wind turbines in Europe a few years ago to test it out and now owns 126 turbines in Sweden, Poland, France, Germany and the U.K.

It will take several years before IKEA is energy neutral at each of its stores, but it will be totally energy independent in Scandinavia when the second of its wind turbines under construction in Sweden is soon completed. In fact, the furniture retailer could end up over-producing more energy than it needs in some areas and possibly push excess energy back onto the power grid in Northern Europe, says Howard.

The company uses a lot of power. In 2011, the IKEA Group consumed 3600 GW of total energy. Close to 2000 GW of that total was electricity consumption.

For now, the game plan for energy independence is to move forward primarily with solar and wind power. The company may explore some creative uses of biomasses. Already, it uses waste wood for biomass heat and power in some of its own factories, and diverts food waste to anaerobic digesters, says Howard.

However, “We made the decision that we won’t be chasing anything that comes from food crops,” he says. “We have some caution over the use of food crops for biofuels due to the very direct competition it can set up with food versus fuel issues — these are likely to intensify over the next few years.”

While IKEA’s grand announcement about its pursuit for energy neutrality has grabbed headlines, Howard concedes total energy neutrality is a more difficult forecast to make if you include the company’s entire supply chain. Only about 20-25 percent of its energy consumption from its total footprint is derived from its own factories, stores and distribution centers, says Howard. The rest of its energy use comes from independent suppliers and their factories, which is harder to control from corporate headquarters, he admits. The furniture giant has more than 1,000 suppliers in about 50 countries.

“We said explicitly in our strategy that it’s more complex to include suppliers in our plan,” says Howard. “We don’t own the factories and we can’t coerce suppliers. There’s an opportunity for them and we expect many suppliers will come along with us on the road to energy independence, but we have far from fully worked that out.”

Howard notes they’ll make decisions about what to demand of its suppliers by next summer when its current fiscal year ends.

In the meantime, IKEA already has been working with some suppliers to make energy improvements. The retailer deployed 70 energy efficiency auditors to textile mills in Southeast Asia and already has achieved 20-30 percent reductions in energy use, says Howard. One goal has been to pinpoint its most energy intensive suppliers and focus on gaining energy reductions there. He adds the company has agreed to commit some of its own funds to finance some energy efficiency improvements, and possibly invest in renewables with long-term suppliers.

“About 20 percent of our supply chain is from China and while they have very modern factories, some have really good opportunities for upgrading with energy efficiencies,” he notes.

IKEA is putting financial muscle behind its expansive strategy toward energy independence. The furniture giant earmarked 1.5 billion euros (close to $2 billion) between 2010 and 2015 on that effort. Some of those funds will be spent on energy efficiency activities, with a goal of reducing overall energy consumption by 20 percent.

Howard isn’t pinning down a firm investment amount beyond 2015 until the company has more data to conclude what it will need to achieve those goals. IKEA will make another five-year financial commitment by 2014 or so when it has better insight about what kinds of projects will require further financing.

If the current course continues as planned, Howard is confident IKEA will get to 70 percent renewable by 2015 and 100 percent by 2020.

Even though IKEA isn’t publicly-traded and answerable to short-term investors, it still has a supervisory board that demands top performance from the furniture retailer. Eco-minded leaders there can’t just stretch toward sustainability dreams in a vacuum.

“You need to be in a secure financial position to pursue this kind of project,” Howard says. “We see investing in renewable energy as one of those long-term relationships, just like investing in our customers.”

Long-range plans with such lofty goals as the ones set by IKEA also means  employing the discipline of keeping your eye on the ball for a long time with a super-steady gaze, cautions Sieben.

“The toughest part, in our experience working with large corporations on leadership energy initiatives, is to maintain the focus and dedicate the resources — both people and money — to achieve that goal, and be both creative and relentless in their pursuit of a decade-long process.”

Posted in Uncategorized | Comments Off on From How IKEA plans to take its buildings energy-neutral