Your Spongy Laptop Sleeve Giving You a Headache?

neogreeneOr maybe that wetsuit sitting in the trunk of your car, or hanging in your closet, is smelling kind of toxic? Well, guess what – you’re right on. Those products, and thousands of others, are made of a material called neoprene – and albeit revolutionary and incredibly versatile in its applications, it is a toxic soup laden with chemicals and compounds such as formaldehyde, PVC, lead and chlorine.

Enter Neogreene. Unlike regular neoprene, Neogreene uses no solvents and only water-based adhesives. What you end up with is a no VOC product that looks and feels like regular neoprene, requires 25% less petroleum and energy to produce, is free of all the major toxic chemicals, is lighter and increases insulation performance.

Neoprene is a synthetic rubber that was invented in the 1930’s by scientists at DuPont. Its polymer structure has made it a favorite for thousands of commercial and industrial uses because it is incredibly functional – padded, insulating, and flexible yet strong – it has an endless amount of applications.

One example of a large consumer of neoprene:  the surf industry. For the production of wetsuits alone, it is estimated that 250 tons of neoprene ends up as scrap waste every year! To be fair, the surf industry is cognizant of the environmental impacts of their products – foams, resins, solvents, neoprene – in both surfboard and wetsuit production, and many of the major surf brands are on board to recycle their waste and smaller upstarts are exploring new technologies to replace traditional materials.

Sustainability pioneer Patagonia knows full well the adverse effects of neoprene on the environment and spent a long time developing non-petroleum based wetsuits. They, among others, have accomplished this by swapping the oil for limestone, but even Patagonia admits that the environmental impact is negligible.

So why hasn’t anyone tried to make an earth friendlier version? The answer is:  someone has. The folks at GreenSmart were determined to add a product devoid of these problems to their line of bags and cases, and keeping in line with their company philosophy of people, product, planet and their supplier code of conduct, they have brought Neogreene to market in the form of two popular products – a bottle tote and laptop sleeve.

Originally developed for children’s shoes, GreenSmart saw the opportunity and potential impact this product could have on the bag industry. Always looking to find good partners, they worked diligently with their supplier to bring Neogreene into their product line; and considering the amount of neoprene in the consumer market, the impact could be massive.

We mentioned the surf industry as one example – but consider this:  it is estimated that the sale of netbooks alone this year could top 39 million units. And that doesn’t include laptops! That is a lot of computer cases. But don’t expect GreenSmart to introduce a mountain of new products to the market anytime soon. See, Neogreene falls perfectly in line with what GreenSmart CEO Tom Larsen refers to as “eco-progress.” Essentially, they want to provide the consumer with an alternative while giving industry time to perhaps come up with something better. Their goal isn’t to flood the market with a ton of new products; they just want to replace neoprene.

Sounds like a pretty lofty goal – but could Neogreene really replace neoprene entirely? Who knows – but it is an important start. Having a non-toxic alternative that benefits the people manufacturing the product, the consumer, and that is better for the environment is a strong move in the right direction, and significant “eco-progress” indeed.

Brian Thurston is a sustainability consultant working on research, strategy and policy development. Brian is interested in building awareness and unique relationships within and between corporate, government, and NGO partners. He holds a BA in Literature from University of Southern California, and a MS in Environmental Policy from The Johns Hopkins University.

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