It's easy to say you haven't got something in your product. Encouraged even. Petroleum free is a popular one. And yet, what are the consequences of what's used in its place? GreenSmart faced this quandry, and came up with an interesting, evolving solution. Read on...
I have a confession to make: I like the smell of gas. And neoprene too. Yes, two things made from a substance that, as a sustainable business consultant, I should be by default expressing some cartoonish righteous indignation about their being petroleum based products.
And yet, there's something that hits my nostrils in such a pleasant way, I can't help it. But, at least when it comes to neoprene, I'd better.
You see, as I learned from the folks at GreenSmart (client) that neoprene, especially what's used to glue it to other things, is nasty business. Formaldehyde. Toluene. Phthalate. Chlorine. "Hang on, Toluene, what's that," you say? According to Wikipedia, "It is an aromatic hydrocarbon that is widely used as an industrial feedstock and as a solvent. Like other solvents, toluene is also used as an inhalant drug for its intoxicating properties; however this causes severe neurological harm."
Ah, brain damaging glue. No thanks.
What about neoprene itself? Again, let's tune in to Wikipedia:
"Although neoprene itself is not a skin contact sensitizer, certain neoprene adhesives contain 4% rosin (CAS No. 8050-09-7, previously known as "colophony"), which is a skin contact sensitizer under the European Union Dangerous Preparations Directive 1999/45/EC. Some people are allergic to neoprene while others can get dermatitis from thiourea, a compound used to vulcanize rubber into neoprene which can be left over after the manufacturing process.
Lead-containing compounds, such as litharge (lead(II) oxide), are used as compounding agents to prepare finished products made of neoprene, and these can have a toxic effect on human blood, kidneys, and reproductive systems."
That doesn't sound good.
But what to do? The formulation for neoprene, and what's been used with it, has stayed largely the same since it's creation in the 1930s. Patagonia has done an admirable job attempting to create a non petroleum based neoprene, but it misses the mark on two points: It's limestone based, another non renewable resource, and it still uses those toxic solvents.
GreenSmart, previously known for converting their entire line of products to recycled plastic bottle based fabric has now created Neogreene. What's different, aside from a catchy name?
No toxic solvents. Water based, in fact. No VOCs. (that Neoprene smell, oh I'll miss it!) 25% less energy to make their products. 25% less petroleum, too. I know, petroleum is still in there, and they intend to reduce/eliminate that as well, but it's going to take thorough thinking, finding a replacement that doesn't likewise deplete resources.
All fine and good, but how's the gear they make with it?
Having tried a sample of both their laptop sleeve and water bottle tote, I can confirm they've done their homework on the rest of the product as well. You can see holes punched in the Neogreene at the base of their laptop sleeves, where your laptop is likely to still be cooling off after you've closed it. Two simple zipper pulls, with a nicely sized rubber grip on each.
No big box or cardboard frame around the sleeve when you buy it in a store. Just a small elastic loop to hang it up on the rack, and a small tag + sticker for your laptop.
On the sleeve itself there is stylized column of words detailing what it does and doesn't have. The color is just slightly different then the sleeve itself, so it manages to be subtle yet noticeable.
The water bottle tote repeats this same design scheme, helping de-granolify this most useful accessory for people wanting to carry their water bottles around while hiking, out on the trail, or on the train. And the green coloring of the Neogreene? Water based dyes (neoprene cannot be dyed)
Would I recommend them? Definitely. Yes they're my clients, and yet it should be noted I only work with companies I can respect. GreenSmart definitely earns that.
Want to dig deeper in to what Neogreene is about, learn for yourself about it? See for yourself here. (It's both a web page and a pdf download.)
And before you say it, yes please, do contact them to tell them you're interested in wetsuits out to them. I've stopped being surprised after hearing it 4 times now. Hmm, an unmet need just waiting to be filled. You never know! They're making lunchbags next, why not scuba gear? Ok, perhaps not, but they can pass on interest to their partner in creation of Neogreene.
Readers: What other things that we all use are in need of a sustainable rehaul? What are some examples of success at that? Please comment below.
Paul Smith is a sustainable business innovator, the founder of GreenSmith Consulting, blogs weekly on green start ups of note at Triple Pundit and has an MBA in Sustainable Management from Presidio Graduate School in San Francisco. He creates interest in, conversations about, and business for green (and greening) companies, via social media marketing.