Patagonia’s Answer to Black Friday: A Green Wetsuit

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Patagonia introduces biorubber wetsuit made from guayuleBlack Friday is beginning to get a dicey reputation in the field of corporate social responsibility, but on the flip side, it provides a great opportunity for socially responsible companies to showcase their wares. That could be the driver behind Patagonia’s decision to launch its new “green” wetsuit just one week in advance of Black Friday, even though it won’t be available in the U.S. until next spring.

Be that as it may, the new wetsuit represents a real breakthrough for high performance products made from renewable materials. Developed with the company Yulex, it uses a natural biorubber called guayule to substitute for the petroleum-based neoprene used in conventional wetsuits.

What’s so great about guayule?

Guayule is a hardy, drought-resistant, weedy little plant that can thrive without pesticides and is not fit for human consumption, which makes it ideal as a renewable stand-in for petroleum products. Guayule is among the non-food biofuel crops that the U.S. Department of Energy and the Department of Agriculture see as having a promising future in the marketplace.

Of more interest to Patagonia is guayule’s usefulness in producing substances that can compete with high-performance synthetic rubber, namely neoprene.

As one indicator that guayule rubber has high-performance potential, the global tire leader, Bridgestone, has been eyeballing it as a potential source of material for renewable tires.

A green wetsuit made from guayule

Patagonia’s relationship with neoprene has always been an uneasy one, according to the company’s surf products director, Jason McCaffrey:

“When we started to build wetsuits, we knew that neoprene, by nature of its production, was the most environmentally harmful part the product. Our initial approach was to use innovative materials, like wool, that are highly insulating and allowed us to use as little neoprene as possible. But we quickly realized that we needed to create a new material that could be a true alternative to neoprene.”

Patagonia began working with Yulex about four years ago, and the rest is history. So far, the two companies have collaborated on a wetsuit material comprised of 60 percent guayule. The long-term goal is to achieve a wetsuit made entirely from renewable plant-based materials.

Today wetsuits, tomorrow the world

The new wetsuit is being rolled out in Japan, initially. Next spring, Patagonia’s facility in California will start custom production, and eventually the suits will be available globally.

For a green-leaning company like Patagonia, guayule is providing another opportunity to brand itself as the sustainable role model for the global sporting industry.

Yulex sees an even broader role for itself, as described by the company’s CEO, president and founder:

“Yulex views this partnership as a major step towards a future where use of our renewable, guayule-based biomaterials is the industry standard for consumer, medical, industrial and bioenergy products.”

[Image(cropped): Guayule rubber, courtesy of U.S. Department of Agriculture]

Follow me on Twitter: @TinaMCasey




Tina writes frequently for Triple Pundit and other websites, with a focus on military, government and corporate sustainability, clean tech research and emerging energy technologies. She is a former Deputy Director of Public Affairs of the New York City Department of Environmental Protection, and author of books and articles on recycling and other conservation themes. She is currently Deputy Director of Public Information for the County of Union, New Jersey. Views expressed here are her own and do not necessarily reflect agency policy.

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