Exploration is defined as the act of searching or traveling a terrain for the purpose of discovery. For The North Face, it defines our raison d’être. In scientific research, exploration is the attempt to develop an understanding. We have to explore together this concept of sustainability and to act on our understanding — incomplete as it may be.   — Lizzy Hawker, The North Face athelete
  • Todd Spaletto explains why sustainability is part of our heritage
  • Our global reach
  • Sustainability Manager Adam Mott explains our program philosophy
  • Key sustainability data in one handy table
  • Five areas are critical for our sustainability program
  • A formal stakeholder session provides valuable feedback
“Our products are built to last a long time thus reducing their impact on the environment. From there, our sustainability philosophy is to focus on our largest volume materials to create the greatest environmental benefit. In addition to incorporating recycled and renewable content in our products, we are implementing the bluesign® standard, a system for managing chemical inputs and resource efficiency in the supply chain. ” — Philip Hamilton, Vice-President of Product
  • We work with the bluesign® standard to reduce supply chain impacts
  • We build products that last and that have a lifetime warranty
  • We use castor oil to replace petroleum-derived materials in our Venture Line of apparel
  • Almost 42,000 plastic bottles were incorporated into our 2010 Denali fleece collection
  • We are reevaluating our approach to sourcing cotton
  • Our internal Product Rating Tool drives sustainable design
Our passion for the outdoors inspires us to preserve the well-being of our planet. We believe that few issues affect The North Face as deeply as climate change. Our athletes, customers and employees return from expeditions with stories of receding glaciers, decimated forests, unprecedented drought, and a natural world that is changing visibly. This has energized our efforts to minimize our environmental impact and to protect the earth for future generations.
  • Our athletes help us educate others on this issue
  • We are working to improve our progress against our GHG reduction goal
  • Our suppliers reduced GHG emissions by 3.1 million pounds in the manufacturing of our products
  • We offset 9,662 MT of GHG emissions, equivalent to keeping 1,895 cars off the road for a year
  • We joined with other forward-looking companies to support climate change policies through BICEP
Just as with any expedition we undertake, our goal is to leave no trace. On any journey, carrying less waste out starts with bringing less in, using durable materials, and reusing and repurposing as much as possible. In keeping with this philosophy, we are committed to eliminating waste and inefficiencies in our operations, manufacturing, packaging, and in our day-to-day activities. Here’s what we’re working on:
  • Creating a culture of sustainability helps reduce office waste
  • Follow our trail to paperless workbooks
  • Our Closed Loop Tote bags “close the loop” by using scrap fabric
  • We joined with TerraCycle to upcycle plastic polybags
  • A new recycling program proves successful
  • Watch the video about our supply chain water and wastewater work
At The North Face, our sense of community extends far beyond the walls of our offices. We ensure that our associates are motivated in their jobs and that the workers in our supply chain are treated fairly. We support the communities where we work and play and we partner with many organizations that share our mission to enable exploration. Our goal is to ignite a passion to preserve the natural world by enabling access to outdoor activities and building a sustainable connection between people and the planet.
  • Our mission to enable exploration expanded its reach with four new programs in 2010
  • Three athletes share their inspiring stories
  • We showcase our work with the Conservation Alliance and the Khumbu Climbing School
  • We have strong protocols in place to protect the workers in our supply chain
  • Our 2,080 associates are the source of our success
We are pleased to present our first public sustainability report. By providing this picture of where we are today and where we plan to go, we are engaging our stakeholders and upholding our commitment to transparency and corporate responsibility. We have followed the Global Reporting Initiative standards for a C Level Report. While much of this report leans heavily toward the achievements in our United States office, we also provide details on some of our global sustainability work.

  • Standard disclosures for the Global Reporting Initiative
The North Face 2010 Sustainability Report: Design Tools
Design Tools

New tools drive sustainable design.

We strive to provide our product design, development, materials and sourcing teams with cutting-edge tools to allow them to evaluate sustainability considerations in the earliest phases of the design process before inferior choices are deeply embedded. We use our internal Product Rating Tool as well as the results of the life cycle assessment (LCA) studies we completed in 2010 to guide the design process. We are also actively participating with other outdoor and apparel peer companies to develop the Outdoor Industry Association Eco Index, an environmental assessment tool that will define sustainable products for our industry.

Life Cycle Assessments. In 2010, we conducted LCA studies in our outerwear, equipment and footwear categories to better understand the environmental hot spots that present the best opportunities for improvement. This holistic process evaluates the effects a product has on multiple environmental endpoints throughout its life cycle from material production all the way through end-of-life. The examination of our Surge backpack, Plasma Thermal jacket, and Hedgehog shoe confirmed that our biggest environmental impacts occur in the materials production and manufacturing stages of the product life cycle. This validated our strategy of working with bluesign technologies in our supply chain.

Global Warming Potential Impacts for Surge Backpack

Focusing on issues regarding water, energy use and global warming potential, the LCA studies identified six key strategies for achieving the greatest sustainability improvements in our products:

  • Decrease product material.
  • Select lower impact materials.
  • Reduce impacts of dyeing.
  • Improve performance of Tier 1 Suppliers.
  • Improve retail resource efficiency.
  • Minimize washing and drying requirements during consumer use.

Sustainable Materials Landscape

All material choices come with trade-offs. Organic cotton can be water-intensive, readily available bamboo requires a chemically-intensive process to turn it into usable fibers, and using merino wool raises questions about animal welfare. To help our designers make informed choices, we are developing an interactive “Sustainable Materials Landscape” tool for all VF brands to use. It will provide the environmental profile for a wide range of materials used in our industry. Work began in 2010 and will be completed in 2011.

Internal Product Rating Tool and TNF Sustainability Goals

In 2009, we developed our internal Product Rating Tool with binary metrics for bluesign® approved, recycled and organic content. Every product style gets a “yes” or “no” based on whether it meets the thresholds established for each parameter. No credit is given for recycled content, for example, until a 50% threshold is reached. Our Action Sports Product team recently designed cycling shorts with only 49% recycled content — then worked to redesign them until they achieved the 50% threshold. We set the bar for these metrics higher each season.

“This tool has been a crucial catalyst in fostering sustainable material development. With every product team responsible for hitting progressive goals each season, the tool encourages collaboration on challenging issues and potential opportunities. When teams have difficulty meeting goals, they engage other associates, partners and vendors on sustainability issues around materials and sourcing to develop solutions.”
— Corporate Sustainability Manager Adam Mott

In the following video, Philip Hamilton, VP of Global Product, discusses our internal product rating tool in the context of our overall efforts to address product environmental impacts.

“Until this point it has been ‘my sustainable is more sustainable than your sustainable.’ This is not a win-win scenario. It should be about conservation and the environment. It should be about deeply rooted corporate responsibility not market positioning. Once we have a robust set of brand and corporate standards in place, it will drive the whole industry forward.”
— Philip Hamilton, VP of Global Product

Outdoor Industry Association Eco Index

No company alone can create groundbreaking change across the industry’s supply chain. That's why we joined with over 200 companies globally to advance sustainability in the outdoor industry by collaborating to develop the Outdoor Industry Association (OIA) Eco Index. This pioneering environmental assessment tool provides companies with a way to measure and benchmark their products’ environmental footprints and identify areas for improvement. The tool informs product design and sourcing decisions addressing the entire length of the supply chain. The framework is broken into product life cycle phases and covers seven critical impact areas: water, waste, biodiversity, energy use/greenhouse gas emissions, land use intensity, and chemistry/toxicity regarding both people and the environment.

The Eco Index was spearheaded by the OIA Eco Working Group and the European Outdoor Group (EOG) Sustainability Working Group, which TNF EMEA (Europe, Middle East, and Africa) chaired from its inception in 2008 until spring, 2011. The non-profit organization Zero Waste Alliance was also a valuable partner.

The North Face piloted the beta version of the Eco Index in 2010 for three different products (Men’s Paramount Peak Pants, Men’s Short Sleeve Easy Tee, and 100 Glacier 1/4 Zip). Our designers found the framework and content to be robust and helpful in focusing attention on opportunities for improvement they had not considered before.

The Eco Index has caught the eye of others in the apparel industry outside of the outdoor sector and was recently combined with Nike’s Material Assessment Tool to create a comprehensive product sustainability evaluation tool for the apparel industry under the Sustainable Apparel Coalition (SAC). VF joined the SAC in mid-2010, piloting a number of programs across its brands in 2011 to test the SAC’s version of the upgraded tool.

Read on: 2011 Product Update