Patagonia’s new Neoprene-free wetsuits promise reduced environmental impact

01 September 2016

Surfing

Patagonia’s new Neoprene-free wetsuits promise reduced environmental impact

If you’ve worn a wetsuit in the last few decades, you’ve worn a material called neoprene. It provides the light, flexible but effective heat insulation that is the whole point of wearing a wetsuit in the first place.

It’s not the worst material in the world, but it does have a significant environmental footprint in terms of its manufacture. It may be derived from oil or limestone (both non-renewable materials) and, although the limestone route arguably has some advantages, both are highly energy-intensive processes. And that means significant carbon emissions.

For decades, there has been no alternative. Now, after years of exploration and trials, Patagonia has delivered the first 100% neoprene-free wetsuits that are priced competitively to the standard and, by some reports, actually perform better than neoprene.

The suits are made with Yulex, a natural rubber made from hevea trees which are grown to Forest Stewardship Council standards in Guatamala.

It took a lot of trial and error to develop the process to transform the base rubber into a material with the properties that make up a good wetsuit, namely stretch, performance, durability and warmth. But they think they’ve got there, and say that tests have shown that Yulex is actually 30% more flexible than Neoprene.

Blind testing has suggested that water sports enthusiasts have noticed no difference with the new suits. This is key because the end of the day, it is comfort and performance that counts. Nobody is going to put up with hypothermia in the name of environmental credentials.

But Patagonia is confident enough in the quality of its product to make an ironclad guarantee that it claims is unique in the surf industry – namely a no-quibble replacement, refund or repair if, for any reason at all, a suit doesn’t perform to the buyer’s satisfaction.

And those environmental credentials are very real. As well as shifting the source for the material from non-renewable to renewable resources, the process of production releases around 80% less CO2 – a major improvement.

There are still some artificial materials that go into the linings, namely polyester. The polyester used by Patagonia has the highest possible recycled content, but no doubt solving that particular puzzle remains on the to-do list.

Perhaps the most remarkable thing to note about this innovative new product is that Patagonia and Yulex giving the process away for free – hoping to encourage the surfwear industry as a whole to begin following their lead. That’s the difference between a company that develops its own process to make the most profit, as against one that develops a new process to make a difference.

 

[Note: No sponsorship or other funding was involved in this article.]