We keep talking about sustainability, in every sphere, in every way, sometimes saying everything and the opposite of everything. In some cases, one comes to think of green-washing, although often and often one is simply dealing with a superficial attitude to an issue of enormous complexity.
In order to understand how it is possible to approach in a serious, transparent and forward-looking way, a sustainable path in the making of outdoor footwear (but the argument also applies to other types of shoes), we turn to Garmont.
The Italian company, founded in 1964, which believes in an outdoor future, has been committed to environmental protection for years. It recently decided to take a considerable leap forward, as Paolo Martignon, Garmont’s product manager for both technical and marketing, explains.
Paolo has been part of the Garmont family for just over a year but has decades of experience in the world of technical footwear, having worked for major brands such as La Sportiva and CMP. He is looking forward to the public launch day of the new DRAGONTAIL TECH GEO.
Where do you start to transform a historic model like the Dragontail into a more environmentally friendly shoe? It doesn’t seem like an easy step.
“For the past few years, the theme of sustainability has been at the heart of Garmont’s collections: where it was possible we tried to include recycled or naturally sourced materials in the collection. Almost all models now in stores feature a more or less small percentage of responsible materials.
However, there was a lack of long-term planning and, above all, a lack of a system capable of coordinating and quantifying efforts.
The landscape has changed since we activated the Mission GEO project, which aims not only to talk about sustainability, but also to provide real numbers that can clearly and certifiably quantify the level of environmental impact reduction that we will gradually achieve.”
How have you planned to move forward?
“About a year and a half ago we made contact with ACBC, the first and to date only Italian B-Corp company in the footwear world that, in addition to its own brand, collaborates with others and offers a consulting service to implement sustainability paths within the industry.
With them we embarked on two parallel paths. The first led us to create a lifestyle sneaker (an unusual product for us) for next Winter 2023/24 and which will be on sale soon. The second path, on the other hand, returns to technical outdoor footwear. Because performance cannot be discounted in this area and each shoe must pass tight laboratory and field tests, the development of the new DRAGONTAIL TECH GEO required more time, investment and research.
A more difficult path to take, but one that led us to transform and replace our iconic model with a shoe made entirely of responsible materials, accompanied by a document certifying the origin of all components and an LCA study that calculates the level of CO2 equivalent emissions by going through the entire supply chain, production, packaging, all the way to the storage of the finished product in our warehouses. We also considered the worst-case scenario for the product’s end of life: landfill.”
A long and complex but satisfying process?
“Very. Because we succeeded in our intent: to make a technical shoe with performance perfectly in line with market demands in terms of reliability, physical-mechanical performance and durability, but with a reduced environmental impact.”
While we have not yet seen the shoe, which will go on sale in early 2024, what can the numbers from the LCA study tell us?
“The beauty of the results obtained is that they are not striking. They are not mind-boggling numbers. But they are important because they say that our collections were already environmentally conscious. They also mark the beginning of a journey that we can now measure and analyze to see where we can further improve.
Which is not to say that the reduction in the environmental impact of DRAGONTAIL TECH GEOs is not significant. We went from 14.6 kg of CO2 per pair of the old Dragontails (an already positive number given that the industry average is around 20 kg) to 10.4 kg in the DRAGONTAIL TECH GEO, for a 28.8% reduction.
A decrease in environmental impact of almost a third is a very important result if you multiply it by the number of pairs we will sell and if you consider that the shoe has the same performance as the previous model.”
What was the biggest challenge to overcome?
“Realizing that the choice of materials affected 80% of the environmental impact. Much of the project conducted together with ACBC focused on finding, testing and sometimes perfecting, recycled or naturally sourced, visible and non-visible materials that would ensure sustainability but also performance.
For upper and sole, the components that weigh most on the LCA of a shoe, we found very interesting solutions that allowed us to reduce the impact quite a bit. On other components, such as reinforcements or lace loops, we had to accept some compromises and give up to have an even lower impact, because our goal was to get a shoe that was as sustainable as possible in the face of technical performance with high standards.
Outdoor models are worn in situations that require the highest degree of safety and reliability so no exceptions can be made.
This is also why we tested the DRAGONTAIL TECH GEO in the real world to evaluate every aspect of it in the field.”
Have any ‘side effects’ of the project particularly impressed you?
“Since Garmont does not have its own factory, we have not yet been able to affect the production phase to further reduce impacts. However, we are joining forces with other brands, including competitors, such as IceBug, Aku and Mammut, who share some sources of supply with us, to equip a plant with photovoltaic panels, with a view to greatly reducing emissions from the production phase.”
Plans for the future?
“The DRAGONTAIL TECH GEO is just the first step in a project that will gradually be extended to all our lines. Some will be completely replaced, while for others the customer will be given a choice.”
Paolo Martignon’s story and Garmont’s experience help us understand how the word sustainability does not have magical powers capable of transforming a product or an industry just because you say it over and over again.
Sustainability is a value to be pursued day by day with seriousness, accepting the complexity of an issue that requires investments, measurements, certifications, communication, culture… a path that probably does not foresee a point of arrival, but rather the opening of always new ways that allow us to improve our way of being in the world.
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