Testing in the Lab
MEC lab guru John Shen manipulates the machines and devices that grade potential components of MEC gear.
Innovation in product design not only ensures high function in our gear but success in our journey towards environmental sustainability. By choosing lower impact materials and production techniques, we are working to reduce our ecological footprint on the planet.
We've established a set of guidelines to distinguish products that use a significant sustainable initiative. We originally identified MEC-brand gear that fits these criteria. Now we've expanded it to include other brand partners who have proven that they follow the same guidelines.
Looking closely at fabrics: bluesign®
Making performance outdoor clothing requires some complicated chemistry. Lightweight fabrics that breathe and shed water are often made from complex polymers and use specialized chemical treatments. Even natural fabrics like cotton and wool are chemically dyed and finished.
The designers at MEC know a lot about what these fabrics do. We test our fabrics and prototypes to make sure they meet performance requirements. But these tests don't tell us anything about the stuff in the fabrics or any effect their manufacturing may have on the environment. We don't actually have the knowledge or facilities to do such testing. So we've chosen a knowledgeable partner who does, bluesign technologies of Switzerland.
Bluesign provides independent auditing of textile mills. They examine the manufacturing process from raw materials and energy going in – to water and air emissions going out. Audit findings are ranked in order of concern, and they suggest ways to reduce consumption, and recommend alternatives to harmful chemicals or processes wherever possible. Mills that commit to verifiably adopting their recommendations earn formal bluesign system partner certification.
The process of auditing a textile mill or raw material supplier follows several steps:
- Bluesign completes a thorough questionnaire with each factory and designs a screening procedure tailored to the facility.
- The mill agrees to undergo screening, an examination of every component and process that goes into the mill's products. It covers raw materials, energy use, emissions, and effluent.
- After the screening, bluesign communicates their findings and recommendations to the mill. Whereever possible, they recommend benign alternatives to problematic chemicals and components. (They maintain a continually updated list of such safe components called the bluefinderTM.) Where no bluefinder alternatives exist, they recommend ways to mitigate harm and control chemical outputs.
- The mill signs a binding contract agreeing to implement the recommended changes according to a specified timeline. This makes them a bluesign System Partner.
- As each recommendation is implemented, the mill submits the material for bluesign approval.
- At a designated time, the mill is re-screened to verify the changes have been made and that all components are being selected from the bluefinder.
Partnerships and Alliances
Earning bluesign approval costs mills and raw material makers time and money. They have to be convinced they'll get a return on their investment in the form of increased demand for their products from clothing manufacturers like MEC. But, as we are a tiny player in global terms, we try to "punch above our weight" by building alliances with other manufacturers and retailers to increase worldwide demand. It's a journey we've just begun. At the end of 2007, only 15% of the 48 mills we use had been or were being screened. Our target is to audit 70% of our mills by 2012.
Our long-term aim is to see bluesign certification become the world standard. We think that will make the world a bit of a better place.