Columbia Sportswear Eliminate PFAS Campaign Launching Today

Outdoor gear and apparel company set to steer industry away from using toxic ‘eternal chemicals’

Today, the NRDC and the US PIRG Education Fund launched a campaign urging Columbia Sportswear to eliminate toxic PFAS chemicals from their products and supply chain by 2024. The campaign will engage everyday consumers through a petition campaign and mobilize the public affected by PFAS contamination.

Use of PFAS in the outdoor industry

PFAS, also known as per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances, are a class of a estimated at 12,000 chemicals linked to cancer, damage to the immune system and a host of other health problems. They are often applied to outdoor clothing and gear to make them more water and stain resistant. This convenience comes at a cost, however. Through the use of PFAS-treated clothing and accidental ingestion, PFAS-contaminated clothing can expose us directly to these harmful chemicals. Additionally, PFAS found in clothing can seep into our environment, contaminating our land, air, and drinking water.

A recent dashboard published by NRDC, US PIRG Education Fund and Fashion FWD ranked leading apparel brands on efforts to eliminate the use of PFAS in their supply chains. Columbia Sportswear earned an “F” for its failure to commit to phasing out all use of PFAS from its supply chain.

As one of the largest outdoor apparel brands in the United States and with a focus on providing products to consumers who enjoy spending time outdoors, Columbia Sportswear is expected to lead efforts to eliminate the use of PFAS in clothing, without being left behind.

Columbia Sportswear would benefit from eliminating PFAS

Not only does the use of PFAS create risks for people and the planet, but it could also harm the company’s sales. Industry experts believe that Columbia Sportswear would like to expand its customer base to young middle-class and upper-middle-class customers. Numerous studies and surveys indicate that Gen Z is much more sustainability-focused than previous generations. Given the growing public profile of PFAS contamination from films, such as dark watersregulatory actions, news and the emergence of outdoor apparel companies that have already committed to eliminating PFAS from their supply chains, outdoor apparel companies that fail to ban all PFAS risk losing their “green” reputation.

Columbia Sportswear’s latest annual corporate responsibility report states that chemicals management is one of the pillars it uses to help “sustain the places where we live, work and play”. Despite this, Columbia Sportswear still uses PFAS — chemicals known to threaten the environment and public health — in its supply chain. Of thousands of PFAS chemicals, the company bans only a handful in its products.

The company’s website also states: “a sustainable planet starts with clean water.” The company has set itself the goal of “helping to combat our global water crisis by bringing clean water to the most disadvantaged communities in the world”. While this vision is laudable, Columbia Sportswear’s continued use of PFAS in its supply chain threatens to contaminate our drinking water. PFAS can contaminate water throughout its life cycleand it is estimated to be found in the drinking water supply of more than 200 million Americans.

Given the threat of PFAS to public health and our precious outdoor spaces, and Columbia Sportswear’s vision to protect clean water and our outdoor environment, the company should immediately commit to quickly eliminating the use of PFAS in its supply chain. Anything less than the elimination of all use of PFAS in its products will present significant risks to the company, its customers, and the outdoor places we love and cherish.

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About Lonnie G. Mitchell

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