I would like to highlight something that I came across a little while ago (via a link from Twitter, so I assume it’s meant to be in the public domain), and feel I should share with readers of this site:
Part of my original intent for starting Ethical Athlete was to offer advice and guidance on those making decisions about what to buy for participation in their chosen sport. The plan is that this aspect of the site grows organically as myself and other contributors submit reviews. The site is still young, so the reviews section is still a little thin. I also recognise that there are many instances where other people have already done the research in a far more comprehensive way than I could, and as part of my own brief to try and enable others to make informed decisions it makes sense that such effective research is given the attention it deserves.
Ethical Consumer is a fantastic organisation that has been helping people challenge corporate power since 1989. They produce independent research into the social and environmental records of companies, and work to inform the development of ethical consumerism. Most of the content on their site is only accessible to subscribers – they also produce a magazine – but occasionally special buyers’ guides are made available to the public. The one that caught my eye was the Outdoor Gear Special (OGS), originally published in the Summer of 2010, the introduction of which reads:
There’s a great irony that those who love the outdoors can have such a negative environmental impact through the clothes and kit they buy to enjoy it. And with policies on workers’ rights in the outdoor market lagging behind other clothing sectors it’s people, as well as the planet, that pay the price. While scandals about conditions in clothing supply chains have hit the big fashion labels and retailers, prompting change, the outdoor brands have failed to keep up.
This 46 page document looks at the environmental, animal, human, and political impact of over 60 companies. It is well worth a read, and I will most likely refer to it in some of Ethical Athlete‘s future reviews, but in the interim I have decided to highlight a few segments of the OGS that particularly caught my eye.
Firstly, merino wool. I had always considered that wool must be better than synthetics, but this is not always the case:
Commonly used for wool, Merino sheep are bred to have excessively wrinkly skin, so they’ll produce higher yields. Because of this, their skin collects moisture and attracts flies, who lay eggs in the folds of the sheep’s skin. The hatched maggots often eat away at the sheep’s skin, a problem known as “flystrike.” Most Merino wool sold throughout the world comes from Australia. In an attempt to create smooth, scarred skin that won’t harbor fly eggs, many Australian sheep farmers cut flesh from lambs’ hindquarters with gardening shears—without using painkillers. A practice known as ‘mulesing’.
There are humane and effective alternatives. No other country muleses sheep—New Zealand stopped mulesing 10 years ago. Many Australian woolgrowers have stopped mulesing their lambs, opting to use better husbandry methods or breed bare-breeched sheep, who don’t have wrinkly skin on their bottoms and therefore aren’t susceptible to flystrike.
An issue at the heart of Ethical Athlete is the need to balance sustainability with performance. This is a subject also highlighted in the OGS:
Ethics are all very well, but the crucial question for any hill-walker or mountaineer is whether a piece of gear is up to the job. OK some companies, such as Páramo, produce top- notch quality gear that’s ethical to boot. The gear made by other ethical companies though isn’t as reliable.
Take vegan walking boots for example. Sure, they’re perfect if you’re bumbling along a country lane but when it comes to more demanding terrain then they’re just not up it. When I tested them out in the rigours of the Scottish Highlands the upper part of the boots were way too flexible and gave my ankles minimal support. The result was that I had a very long and very careful descent down a particularly steep mountainside to make sure that I didn’t go over on my ankles. Not good.
The path to sustainability is indeed a long and tricky trail.
The segments above are just two examples of the areas covered by Ethical Consumer. If this has whet your appetite then I recommend you download the PDF and also be sure to check out their website. I should also point out that I have no affiliation with Ethical Consumer, and don’t stand to profit from this article in any way. I am, however, a fan of what they do and feel the need to share it.