Today U.S. PIRG Education Fund and NRDC launched a campaign to urge Columbia Sportswear to eliminate toxic PFAS in their products and supply chain by 2024. The campaign will engage everyday consumers through a petition drive and mobilize the public impacted by PFAS contamination.
PFAS, also known as per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances, are a class of an estimated 12,000 human-made chemicals linked to cancer, damage to the immune system and a host of other health problems. They are often applied to outdoor apparel and gear to make them more water and stain resistant. This convenience, however, comes at a cost. Through the use of PFAS treated clothing and accidental ingestion, PFAS-contaminated apparel can directly expose us to these harmful chemicals. Moreover, PFAS found in clothing can leach into our environment, contaminating our land, air and drinking water.
A recent scorecard released by U.S. PIRG Education Fund, NRDC and Fashion FWD graded major apparel brands on efforts to eliminate PFAS use in their supply chains. Columbia Sportswear earned an “F” for its failure to commit to phasing out all PFAS use from its supply chain.
As one of the largest outdoor apparel brands in the United States and with its focus on supplying products to consumers who enjoy spending time outdoors, Columbia Sportswear should be leading the effort to eliminate PFAS use in apparel, not lagging behind.
Its continued use of PFAS creates risks for people and the planet and could also undermine company sales. Industry experts believe that Columbia Sportswear would like to expand its customer base to younger middle- and upper-middle-class customers. Numerous studies and polls indicate that Generation Z is much more focused on sustainability than previous generations. Given the rising public profile of PFAS contamination due to films, such as Dark Waters, regulatory action, news stories and the emergence of outdoor apparel companies that have already committed to eliminating PFAS from their supply chains, outdoor apparel companies that fail to ban all PFAS use risk a diminished “green” reputation.
Columbia Sportswear’s most recent annual corporate responsibility report states that chemical management is one of the pillars it uses to help “sustain the places we live, work, and play in.” Despite this, Columbia Sportswear still uses PFAS – chemicals known to threaten the environment and public health - in its supply chain. Out of thousands of PFAS chemicals, the company bars just a handful from use in its products.
The company’s website also states:“a sustainable planet starts with clean water.” The company outlines a goal to “help combat our global water crisis by bringing clean water to the world’s most disadvantaged communities.” While this vision is laudable, Columbia Sportswear’s continued use of PFAS in its supply chain threatens to contaminate our clean drinking water. PFAS can contaminate water throughout its life cycle: It’s estimated to be in the drinking water supplies of more than 200 million Americans.
Given the threat of PFAS to public health and our precious outdoor places, and Columbia Sportswear’s vision of protecting clean water and our outdoor environment, the company should immediately commit to a rapid phase out of PFAS use in its supply chain. Anything short of elimination of all PFAS use in its products will present significant risks to the company, to its customers and the outdoor places we love and cherish.