At Columbia, our mission is to help you enjoy the outdoors longer. That’s why we consider it our responsibility to be conscientious stewards of our shared environment.
With this in mind, we’re excited to preview OutDry Extreme ECO, a new rainwear technology that will be available in Spring 2017. OutDry Extreme ECO is the first high-performance environmentally friendly rain jacket with NO PFCs* (Perflourinated compounds).
*No PFCs intentionally used in this product. May contain trace amounts.
What’s a PFC and why should you care?
The removal of PFCs is a significant accomplishment. Though we’re going to have to get a little geeky to fully explain why this is an important step. So bear with us and take a leap back to your high school chemistry days while we dish out a little science.
The rain jacket you’ve worn for the last several decades hasn’t changed that much (here’s a brief history of rain jackets). Conventional rain jackets repel water by incorporating synthetic compounds known as PFCs. PFCs have been used for decades as Durable Water Repellent (DWR) treatments on the surface of outdoor clothing, equipment and footwear. This treatment allows otherwise permeable, waterproof materials to repel water. Without this treatment, water soaks into the fabric leading to a clammy wet feeling.
The carbon-fluorine bond as found in PFCs is one of the strongest bonds known to man. Due to the incredible strength of this bond, PFCs don’t break down readily in the environment. They have even been found to be bio-accumulative in animals and humans. This accumulation issue can have adverse effects and has been the source of significant discussion amongst environmental advocacy groups and outdoor brands.
A key factor in the persistence of PFCs in the environment is the chemical chain length, or the number of carbon atoms in the chemical structure. Historically, the outdoor industry has used long-chain PFCs, such as the eight-carbon compound PFOA (C8) in DWR treatments due to its ability to impede moisture saturation. But in response to concerns about the environmental persistence of long-chain PFCs, the industry has moved to shorter chain compounds (e.g. C6), which are thought to be less persistent. Columbia has transitioned the DWR used in its entire catalogue of outerwear, apparel and footwear to the safer, industry-standard, C6 chain. With that said, C6 still poses some environmental risk, and most outdoor companies, including Columbia, have committed to finding more eco-friendly alternatives.
Why haven’t outdoor brands eliminated PFCs?
Virtually all outdoor brands rely on a conventional rainwear construction approach that goes like this: take a fabric treated with a PFC-based DWR laminate it to a thin waterproof membrane, and line it with another fabric or print that sits next to the skin. Because this approach places a “water-loving” fabric on the outside of the jacket, the outer fabric needs to be treated with DWR to maintain the jacket’s performance.
So why haven’t outdoor brands eliminated PFCs? Nearly every major outdoor brand has acknowledged that PFC-free DWR alternatives haven’t provided the durability and performance that customers expect.
How we eliminated PFCs and maintained performance
Instead of iterating on the same 40 year-old approach to building rainwear, we decided to start from scratch. In the process, we reinvented the category and developed a process that would allow us to remove PFCs without degrading performance.
In Spring 216, we released OutDry Extreme technology that completely changed how rainwear was constructed. We eliminated the outer fabric layer and thus eliminated the need for a protective coating of PFC-based DWR. This was a huge leap forward to getting rid of most of the PFCs in rainwear. After a quick round of high fives, we immediately set to work on the next step of removing any remaining PFCs from our OutDry Extreme membrane.
Introducing OutDry Extreme ECO
Next spring, we’ll release the outcome of these efforts: OutDry Extreme ECO. We are excited to announce that there are no PFCs intentionally used in the OutDry Extreme ECO Shell. No PFCs used in the DWR. No PFCs used in the membrane. And in keeping performance top of mind, we’re pleased to share that the jacket adheres to our high performance standards and will provide industry-leading rain protection.
We could have stopped with the removal of PFCs, but we decided to treat the first release of OutDry Extreme ECO as an experiment in building our most environmentally friendly, high performance jacket. So we asked ourselves: “What would further reduce this jacket’s environmental impact?” We took a holistic, lifecycle approach to evaluating sustainability and are using the Higg Index framework as a guide to measure, manage and improve the social, environmental, ethical and chemical impacts of the product.
Here are several reasons why we feel that the OutDry Extreme ECO jacket is our most environmentally sustainable performance rain shell:
• The main fabric of the jacket is 100% recycled polyester, and is made from approximately 21 recycled bottles.
• Additional trims and components also contain recycled content.
• Extracting virgin raw materials for polyester is energy intensive and requires dependency on oil. Using recycled Polyester helps to reduce energy needed for oilÂ extraction and reduces landfill burdens by keeping plastics out of waste streams.
• The garment fabric is not dyed. Eliminating the fabric dyeing process reduces water, energy, and chemicals traditionally used in the manufacturing process and saves approximately 13.5 gallons (51L) per jacket. This is an 80% savings from the dyeing stage, when compared to a dyed fabric.
• Raw materials have been sustainably manufactured according to the bluesign® standards. To receive this seal of approval, manufacturers must have verified to meet the strict safety and environmental requirements of the bluesign® criteria and are producing in a resource conserving way with a minimum impact on people and the environment.
Packaging & Logistics
• Hangtags are designed specifically to minimize material use and are super slim.
• The paper is FSC certified, 100% post-consumer recycled content.
• Jackets were shipped in single-wall cartons designed to use 30% less materials as compared to double-wall cartons.
Use & Care
• Since the surface of our jacket is not a textile that easily traps dirt and stains, in most cases the jacket can be simply wiped clean.
• This feature reduces the need for washing and thereby potentially reduces the water and energy used in cleaning the jacket. The use & care phase of a jacket may account for up to 35% of a jacket’s overall environmental impact.
End of Life
• At the end of your jacket’s life, after you’ve explored the world, standing under waterfalls and enduring rainstorms, this jacket can be donated through our ReThreads program at participating Columbia stores where it can be processed for a second life.
When the jacket launches in early 2017, OutDry Extreme ECO technology will be featured in two styles in both men’s and women’s, priced at $199 MSRP.
The Future of OutDry Extreme ECO
While we’re clearly excited to introduce OutDry Extreme ECO to you in early 2017, we’re also humbled by the challenge that remains. OutDry Extreme ECO has proven that it’s possible to build a sustainable waterproof breathable solution for extreme conditions. Now, it’s our challenge (and our opportunity) to educate our consumers about why PFC alternatives matter and why it’s in our collective interests to pursue solutions such as OutDry Extreme ECO. We’re also very conscious of the fact that while OutDry Extreme ECO offers a PFC-free alternative, it does not solve the problem PFC issue entirely. For the near future, short-chain PFCs will still be used in a majority of our waterproof products.
We are committed to the pursuit of non-fluorinated alternatives across our product lines that meet your performance expectations. Consider OutDry Extreme ECO a significant milestone in our commitment to keep you dry and protected, while also helping to protect the environment. So while we’ve cleared that first boulder, there’s still a long climb ahead. And we’re excited that you’ll be joining us on the journey.