What is a green/sustainable product?

Unless you live under a rock, it is hard to avoid the barrage of “green” and “sustainable” products that are flooding the market.  A lot of companies behind these products are truly dedicated to reducing their impact on the environment.  Unfortunately, there are just as many who are trying to ride the “green” wave to a “greener” bank account.  These companies tend to not tell the whole story of their product.  They might say it is made from recycled content, but they hide the fact that it is only 10% recycled content.  They might say it is recyclable, but that is only good if there is actually the infrastructure to recycle it.  If there is not, it will just end up in a landfill.  At that point, does it matter if it is recyclable?

Last week I received an email from someone asking where we make our products.  I responded by telling him that our fabrics are made in North Carolina and Tennessee and we do our cutting & sewing in Utah and Scarborough, Ontario.  He quickly called to talk about using our tops for a marathon he works on.  He proceeded to tell me that for this year’s race they thought they had bought a “green” technical top.  When they received it, they quickly learned that the top was only partially recycled and was made overseas.  Not green in his book, or in mine.

I am all in favor of companies taking steps to reduce their impact on the environment, even if they are small steps. Ten percent-recycled content is better than 0%.  But, I strongly believe companies need to be fully transparent in how they talk about their green product. Don’t try to hide the imperfections: tell people what they are and improve them (See Atayne: The Naked Truth Part I and II).  While I do not agree with all their practices, Patagonia has truly been a leader in transparency.  I just wish they would do more production closer to where they are selling their products.

As with everything else, I have an opinion on what constitutes a sustainable product. At Atayne, we look at it in several dimensions.  Here are our 4Ms of product sustainability.

Materials – Our goal is to stay at the cutting edge of the highest performing and safest materials and textile technologies available.  We are currently focusing on 100% recycled materials and natural technologies such as recycled polyester, recycled cotton, Cocona (from coconut shells), and Chitosan (from crab shells).  However, we know there will be advancements and we will continue to evolve our fabric and material composition with new developments in the sustainable textile industry.  Additionally, we will look to drive innovation by researching and developing new, high performing people- and planet-safe materials.

Manufacturing – Atayne is dedicated to a localized production model, that is, making our products as close as possible to where we sell them.  This is done to minimize the emissions from our supply chain and to support local jobs.  Our current production partners are located in:

  • Tennessee and North Carolina for fabric development
  • Utah and Ontario, Canada for cut & sew (Currently talking to additional facilities in Allentown, PA and Fall River, MA)
  • New Hampshire for product embellishment, warehousing, and order fulfillment

Additionally, we are striving to create a paradigm shift for the industry in the manufacture of our products.  We are developing an innovative just-in-time manufacturing process.  By delaying the manufacture of goods until they are actually purchased, the process not only promises to be more environmentally sustainable but also more economically sustainable than current methods.

Minimalist Design – We design our products to have a lower impact on the environment beyond our materials selection.  An example of this design technique is the loop that we incorporated into our Grind T.  The loop serves to encourage hang drying to help minimize the amount of energy used in consumer care.  Additionally, we are currently working on a new short design enabling multi-activity use.  The short would allow users to do more with less, ultimately leading to a less resource-intensive product.

Messaging – All of our products come with point of view graphics on them. This allows our customer athletes to promote their values and not just another corporate logo of a billion-dollar brand.  The idea is to create mobile billboards for important environmental and social messages. Our newest line includes 16 different men’s and women’s eco-graphics for running, cycling, hiking, climbing, paddling, yoga, and triathlon.

I also know these 4Ms are not the destination.  Sustainability is a continuous journey and next year we may have 2 more Ms and a couple Xs, Ys, and Zs.  If you have something to add, I would love to hear your thoughts.

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