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Backcountry skiers have always had a reputation for being tree-hugging greener-than-you dirtballs. Turns out, the stereotype might be true.
“This is a segregated office,” Chris Clark, director of marketing and winter product development for SCARPA North America, jokes as he holds the door open at the company’s base in Boulder, Colorado. “Black dogs stay in the office and goldens stay in the warehouse.” Dogs have the run of the place, bikes line the hallway and there are empty bottles of kombucha in the recycling bin.
SCARPA, one of the biggest manufactures of telemark and AT boots, is making their Tornado Pro AT boots and T2 telemark boots out of Pebax Rnew, a natural, renewable plastic. By next year the material will be in most of their ski boots as well as some hiking boots. “Our goal is to develop products that are green without compromising performance,” says Clark.
The new boots are a part of what they’ve dubbed a planet friendly initiative, started at Scarpa’s headquarters in Italy. In 2008, the European Union set carbon reduction goals that had to be attained by 2020. SCARPA’s response was to change their materials to something made from renewable sources.
They chose Pebax Rnew, which is made from plant-based castor oil instead of petroleum like other plastics.
Pebax is light and stiff, and, it doesn’t lose its rigidity, regardless of how many times you flex it, so it’s ideal for ski boots. It’s what most high-end telemark and AT boots are made of. Clark says that SCARPA was nervous Rnew wouldn’t perform like traditional Pebax, but in testing it held up just as well. It even performed better at lower temperatures.
Talking about plastic gets Clark fired up. He gestures repeatedly at the display wall of boots where the eco models sit, shiny and silvery, next to the rest of Scarpa’s line. “If someone sticks their foot in a ski boot, no matter how green it is, if it doesn’t function they’re not going to use it,” he says.
Rnew passed SCARPA’s performance tests, and it’s cutting their carbon footprint significantly. “It takes 29 percent less energy to create a ski boot with Rnew than with standard oil-based plastics,” Clark says. “And, it uses 32 percent less carbon in the manufacturing. That’s a real savings.”
Other boot manufactures got the green memo as well. This season, Atomic is selling the Renu, a boot made of renewable material including Rnew and bamboo, which is completely recyclable. Donna Ebbett, marketing director at Garmont North America, says their company is also looking into new materials.
SCARPA is also working to integrate more environmentally friendly features, like reusable materials, into all of their boots. In the warehouse there are crates overflowing with blown-out shells and shredded liners waiting to be recycled in to asphalt, or car parts, or new boots.
Clark says he hopes renewable materials will become standard, industry-wide. “The sooner more consumers demand it, the sooner it will be pulled into manufacturing,” he says. “It shouldn’t just be a feature.”