There was much buzz at Ispo about the presence of some managers of Greenpeace at the European Outdoor Group's traditional breakfast at the show. Represented by Martin Besieux and Tony Sadownichik, Greenpeace called for much stronger efforts by the outdoor industry to manufacture ecologically clean products, in line with their general public image.

Greenpeace is calling on the outdoor brands to bring down the level of NPEs (nonylphenol ethoxylates) in garments to zero - below the 0.1 percent limit required by the European Union and the governments of other developed areas of the world - by Jan. 1, 2020. The brands that participated in the event were surprised at the attitude of Greenpeace, which sounded off as if it would create trouble in the outdoor industry if they don't make a formal pledge in this regard.

Besieux, a Greenpeace activist for 27 years, subsequently told this publication that it his organization was not planning from the start to attack the outdoor industry, which he sees as 80 percent walking in the right direction. But he believes that the outdoor industry should work harder on its ecological efforts, especially after companies such as Adidas, Puma, Nike, Li-Ning, and even H&M and C&A have made formal pledges to be nontoxic by 2020 after six months of campaigning by Greenpeace. Besieux says that it is not about signing papers, but it is about making binding pledges to the brands' consumers. On top of this, Greenpeace sees the outdoor apparel industry as an excellent tool for confronting the entire supply chain with the need to eliminate toxic ingredients.

In this context, Besieux welcomes the efforts of Bluesign, Eco-Tex and other standards that all go in the right direction, but Greenpeace does not believe that those standardization bodies have the means to eliminate toxic textiles. Instead, only the brands themselves can make sure that clothes will be clean. Besieux explains his organization's call for “zero discharge” by saying what exactly “zero” means: “Zero” means that toxins are not detectible through currently existing technologies.

Besieux dismisses any suspicion from the industry that Greenpeace would set unrealistic goals. Instead, Greenpeace sees itself as reasonable and does not expect anything impossible from the industry. The organization understands that all that takes time and cannot be accomplished in one day. That's why Greenpeace set the deadline as Jan. 1, 2020.

Asked whether Greenpeace is planning any actions against companies that do not follow the organization's suggestions, Besieux said philosophically that “we are not yet there.” Instead, he wants to see the brands give a formal statement demanding clean clothes to their entire supply chain and to their licensees as well.

Mark Held, the secretary-general of EOG, recommends that member companies should be certain that they know what they sign, and that they should get advice from experts in this scientific field. More generally, Held thinks that every company needs third-party verification and monitoring as it can be done through Bluesign or other independent standard organizations.

Generally, outdoor industry executives are wondering to what extent the requirements of Greenpeace are realistic. In fact, the whole issue is about making promises that cannot necessarily be kept. The environmentalist lobbying group wants the industry to enter an NPE-free “post-toxic world,” in spite of a warning by experts such as the writers of Ecotextile, a well-known publication dealing with environmental issues: They say that “every chemical on earth is toxic above a certain dose,” whereas anything is nontoxic below a certain concentration.

Technically speaking, Greenpeace is criticizing Chinese dyehouses, where waters have been found to have higher-than-legal concentrations of NPEs. Ecotextile claims that Greenpeace's request could have easily been ignored if brands such as Puma, Adidas and Nike had not actually agreed to Greenpeace's demands, but it jokingly argues that “the only way this could be achieved is by Puma [the first company that signed a pledge] closing its operations on Dec. 31, 2019.” It should be said, however, that those big sports brands are doing quite a lot toward environmental improvement.

Representatives from the outdoor industry were surprised by the attitude of Greenpeace because they feel that they are not the big contaminators. They are not the appropriate targets for the organization's campaign, and neither are Puma, Adidas or Nike. The head of a family-owned outdoor company told us that Greenpeace's demands are OK as far as the general direction is concerned, but the radical approach of Greenpeace is unrealistic. A more subtle comment came from another executive who guessed that Greenpeace is pushing the outdoor industry to become a “role model” to show a positive example to the bigger operators in other segments of the textile industry.

One of them who basically shares Greenpeace's ideals, told us that the consumer wants to buy performance in the first place – even at the risk that there might be a few toxic ingredients in the garment. Another manager put the question on the table of whether Greenpeace approached the EOG after its suggestions were not well received by the OIA, the U.S. industry federation.