Since 2008, The North Face has been committed to responsible chemistry beginning with our partnership with bluesign technologies to ensure significant environmental savings that go above and beyond compliance to identify environmentally preferable chemicals and to reduce overall chemical use in our supply chain. This involved active engagement and partnership with our fabric mills so that they could become part of the bluesign system.
Today, we want to provide customers with an update on our efforts to forge ahead on a path to make products with the highest levels of technical integrity in the most responsible way possible.
An arc of ongoing progress
In 2015, we shared our concerns about perfluorinated compounds (sometimes referred to as ‘PFCs’) found in some Durable Water Repellency (DWR) treatments and the potential threat they pose to the environment in high concentrations. Though it is not clear what percent of PFCs in the environment come from outdoor gear versus other products such as food packaging, The North Face, as part of our commitment to responsibly-made products, proactively phased out long-chain PFCs in our technical apparel beginning with our Spring 2015 line and transitioned all of our apparel products to short-chain fluorinated compounds by the end of 2015. After rigorous testing against our performance standards we were also able to convert a handful of our apparel products to non-fluorinated DWR treatments for our Fall 2015 season.
Building on this momentum, in January we said that our aim was to transition nearly 30% of our newly developed DWR treated apparel materials to non-fluorinated for our Spring 2017 season and today we’re proud to say that we are on track for this transition.
But it was no easy task. Not all of our suppliers offer the same technology and the transition is different for various products, each having a unique construction and intended end-use. However, we continue to gain momentum towards our 2020 goal. We are working alongside our fabric mills and chemical suppliers to ensure we can make this transition as quickly as possible without sacrificing the high performance our consumers expect.
Throughout this work, we must avoid making “regrettable substitutions,” or unintentionally swapping out one problem for another, and this is why we are proceeding deliberately, pre-screening all DWR treatments with our chemical management program, CHEM-IQ, to test and analyze all new DWR chemistry before it is applied to our products. CHEM-IQ was developed by our parent company, VF Corporation, in collaboration with an advisory group of experts from the Natural Resource Defense Council (NRDC), University of Massachusetts – Lowell, University of Leeds and Modern Testing Services (MTS). These screenings on all non-fluorinated DWR treatments ensure that they don’t contain other potentially harmful chemicals and that they meet The North Face brand’s strict requirements for chemical responsibility. In this way, we are working toward true systems change in our global supply chain.
Some of our fabric mills have gone a step further and submitted their entire chemical inventory for a CHEM-IQ screening, which has resulted in significant environmental savings throughout our supply chain. Each sample is screened for more than 430 substances, giving each chemical formulation a rating of preferred, allowed, due diligence required, or prohibited. Our suppliers receive a report and are required to phase out use of any prohibited chemicals. Due to these efforts, there are 230 tons of non-preferred chemicals being phased out of our supply chain. The changes we hope to make will be lasting and scalable. Read more about our holistic approach to responsible chemistry here.
A hands-on approach
When The North Face makes a garment, we normally specify the fabric to be used in the construction of the garment, but recently, we have taken it a step further. We are now working directly with the chemical suppliers that provide our mills with DWR chemistry and other compounds to check that these chemicals are CHEM-IQ compliant, which ensures responsible chemistry in our supply chain. This is similar to the approach we’ve invested in since 2008 with our partners at bluesign which involved partnerships with our fabric mills so that they could become part of the bluesign system and have a lasting effect on the entire industry. As our partners in the supply chain transition to more responsible technologies, they are able to use this technology with other brands, increasing the overall impact of these efforts.
We are proud that, through a legacy of direct partnerships, we are creating a lasting effect on the entire industry.
Where we’re headed
There is more progress to be made and we must work together. We continue to collaborate as part of the Outdoor Industry Association’s Chemical Management Working Group (CMWG), sharing best practices on responsible chemistry with other brands and in turn, learning from them, so that we can meet our goal of transitioning to 100% non-fluorinated DWR used on our apparel by 2020.
It is our promise that we will continue to work diligently to incorporate sustainable solutions that meet the highest performance demands of our customers while making products that are as environmentally and socially responsible as possible.
Stay tuned for future updates.