Famed Alpinist Tours Gore Facility
Visit focuses on responsible manufacturing and sustainability
Extreme alpinist Stefan Glowacz and Bernhard Kiehl, sustainability leader at Gore Fabrics, recently visited the GORE-TEX laminates manufacturing facility of W. L. Gore & Associates GmbH in Putzbrunn, Germany,to tour the manufacturing plant and share their thoughts about environmental influences and sustainability.
The motto, “by fair means” embodies the environmentally focused approach that Glowacz has demonstrated in his more than 20 years of climbing expeditions. GORE proudly supports his dedication to use public and human-powered transport as much as possible and leave no trace of his expeditions on the mountains as he explores.
A prominent figure in the international climbing scene, Glowacz has first-hand experience with the functionality and high performance of the GORE-TEX brand’s waterproof, breathable and windproof fabrics. During his visit, he received a behind the scenes tour of the GORE-TEX products manufacturing facilities with the goal of learning more about the working environment and the company’s Life Cycle Assessment approach as well as the processes used in creating outdoor clothing products. Glowacz also gained a better understanding of the Gore commitment to social responsibility and the health, safety and environmental standards along the value chain.
“Sustainability in the production of outdoor apparel is a matter of concern to a lot of the people who attend my talks. This is something they often ask questions about. That’s why my visit today is so important to me. After all, I wear the GORE-TEX brand logo on my chest,”Glowacz explained.
The Putzbrunn facility is the only site in Germany where the Fabrics Division manufactures its functional laminates for an array of applications. An expert in this field and responsible for the sustainability program of Gore Fabrics, Bernhard Kiehl accompanied Glowacz on his tour of the plant. At the beginning of the tour, Kiehl explained, “everything happens under one roof — from the production of the fabrics through quality control and packaging.”
Throughout the one-hour tour, Glowacz asked questions about production conditions, waste disposal, working hours and chemical management. Kiehl explained that the plant, “passed an audit by the bluesign® standard; currently the strictest environmental manufacturing standard worldwide in the textile industry. Our high production and environmental standards are applied everywhere in the world, whether we are manufacturing in Germany, the USA or China.”
Safety is paramount in the Putzbrunn facility. Walking paths in the production area are marked in yellow to ensure that visitors don’t disrupt the production process and visitors are required to wear appropriate footwear.
The media attention that the publication of the Greenpeace reports in 2012 and 2013 received had a strong impact on Glowacz and he is often asked about the results in his talks. This was his motivation for learning more about the Gore position on the topic. Kiehl explained that Gore has been conducting extensive research in this area for the past 10 years (http://www.gore-tex.co.uk/responsibility). In fact, at the end of 2013, Gore completed a project specifically designed to eliminate perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA) from all raw materials used in the manufacture of its weatherproof functional fabrics.
Kiehl noted, “This makes Gore one of the first companies in the sector to successfully manage the changeover to PFOA free raw materials for its entire range of textile products. In many ways we were actually ahead of the current debate and we are proud to make consumers more aware of our long term history and commitment to responsible manufacturing.” During the tour, Glowacz questioned Kiehl about several other areas of interest, including child labor and the company’s ecological footprint.
Kiehl explained that Gore does not use child labor in its manufacturing plants. “Child labor would be a blatant violation of the Fabrics Business’ global social responsibility guidelines (http://www.gore-tex.co.uk/remote/Satellite/content/responsibility/social-responsibility). Besides, the manufacture of our products is a rather sophisticated process that requires skilled workers with a high degree of experience and technical know-how”.
When asked about the ecological footprint of GORE-TEX jackets, Kiehl responded that Gore is committed to continuously reducing the environmental impact of its products. To meet this goal, the company uses the Life Cycle Assessment (LCA), a sophisticated ecological evaluation tool. Kiehl explained that by rigidly applying this“cradle to grave” approach, Gore is able to assess the entire process from raw material extraction through manufacture, use by consumers and final disposal.
One important argument in support of the company’s commitment to responsible manufacturing is the durability of GORE-TEX products. “Production and distribution account for two thirds of the product’s Global Warming Potential (GWP),” Kiehl explained. “In other words, the longer the lifetime of a GORE-TEX jacket, the lower its ecological impact.” It is important, however, that consumers should wash their jackets, as proper care during use significantly extends the useful life of a GORE-TEX jacket.
Glowacz and Kiehl concluded the tour over lunch in the company canteen, during which Glowacz commented, “If I look ‘round the canteen at everyone eating their lunch, I see nothing but cheerful, happy faces.” While this was what Glowacz expected to see in the Putzbrunn facility he was curious if he would find the same in the Gore plant in China. Kiehl responded with an invitation to visit that facility, “Stefan, go and see for yourself. Next time you are in the area please have a look at our production facilities in China. You will see that our social responsibility guidelines and environmental standards are applied in all of our manufacturing plants around the world.”