What you need to consider when buying eco-friendly gear

sierra_t270Buying sustainably means considering a product's lifespan from cradle to cradle—from the raw material used to build it, through the construction and delivery process, to how it is eventually disposed of. This may take some effort—search websites, read hang tags and ask sales people. And remember, sometimes the company's overall effort is as important as any single product.

The raw material

Recycled content is best, but not all recycling is equal. (Post-consumer recycled is generally considered the most environmentally efficient. For instance, plastic yarns require as much as 75 per cent less crude oil than virgin fibres.) Naturally produced products, like bamboo and wool, tend to be better for the environment than petroleum-based plastics. Don't forget to look beyond the product itself: what's the packaging made from?

The production process

Look for efforts to cut water consumption, chemical use, waste and energy.

Delivery distance

The closer a product is made to your location, the smaller its carbon footprint.

Efficiency test

Will using the product mean you consume less? Can you wear a jacket in all four seasons instead of just one? Will slightly more expensive clothing last significantly longer?

The after life

More and more products are now recyclable. Both Mountain Equipment Co-op and Patagonia will recycle poly-pro clothing (see their websites for more information). Buy products that continue to have a use at the end of their life.

Corporate stewardship

What a company does is as important as what they sell. Maybe they have a sustainable headquarters, offset all their carbon emissions, give their staff paid time off to volunteer, protect wilderness or donate to events and organizations. Many manufacturers are members of 1% for the Planet, a grassroots movement to donate one per cent of sales to environmental organizations.