Fourth Element’s Thermocline wetsuit is a more affordable, but less sustainable option from a forward thinking and environmentally minded company. At $252.40 the consumer will be getting a long lasting and versatile wetsuit that uses recycled nylon. However, there are unsustainable materials included in the production of this product as well, such as polyester and elastane. Fourth Element is on its way to becoming a more sustainable company but does not provide enough information regarding the social and governance aspects of its practices.
Fourth Element’s Thermocline wetsuit is made out of 33% Econyl® Recycled Nylon, 57% Polyester, and 10% Elastane with a neoprene free 78% recycled nylon outer. Econyl is a company that takes nylon waste and transforms it into regenerated nylon. Econyl’s website claims that the regenerated nylon is the same as brand new nylon and it can be infinitely recycled. Polyester is created from a chemical reaction using coal, crude oil, air, and water. The creation of polyester uses less water than the production of other natural fibres but still requires a lot of energy and results in high greenhouse gas emissions. Technically polyester can be recycled, but it is a very rare occurrence. There is potential regarding the creation of recycled polyester, as it could utilize recycled plastics. The downside is that wherever recycled plastic is used to create polyester it degrades. Elastane is in a very similar situation to polyester regarding its environmental impact and recycling potential. The positive takeaways from using polyester and elastane is that they are very durable materials that will last a long time. The longer a material lasts, the less often it needs to be manufactured. Lastly, the wetsuit is packaged in a fully recyclable non-plastic wrap. Fourth Element’s Thermocline wetsuits are one of their least expensive offerings. The higher end options are made from more sustainable materials and even utilize recycled polyester. I understand that at this price point, finding sustainable materials can be difficult, but non-recycled polyester goes against the company’s mission.
I’ve already touched on what goes into the manufacturing of the materials used in the Thermocline wetsuit, so this section will be dedicated to the actual piecing together of the product. Since Fourth Element is not a tremendously large company, it is difficult to find specific details on the manufacturing process, such as energy use, waste, and working conditions. The most notable information available is that the Fourth Element headquarters runs on 60% electricity from solar panels, accounting for 54% of their total energy use. The site also mentions that when it is possible that they source locally to lower their carbon footprint. Fourth ocean clearly has a mission to attain materials from sustainable manufacturers when they can. For example their use of Econyl® Recycled Nylon in this product. When Econyl is creating their recycled nylon they are saving crude oil from being used and avoiding massive amounts of CO2 emissions that would otherwise be going into nylon manufacturing. From a consumer perspective I would urge Fourth Ocean to release more information about their in house manufacturing process. How much water is used to create a Thermocline wetsuit? What are the working conditions like for someone involved in the wetsuit making process? Transparency is key in truly understanding the sustainability of a company and product.
Fourth Element may not be as transparent as they are desirable, but they have positive and ambitious goals. For starters, Fourth Element has been involved in countless OceanPositive projects. These projects range from cleaning up fishing gear waste to protecting the lives of multiple ocean creatures. The company has a page on their website dedicated to their 2030 goals of becoming zero plastic, zero waste, zero carbon, and zero impact. They note that some of these goals will have to be achieved using the net-effect but I truly applaud the dedication to zero. The page also includes information regarding some of their current progress such as 45% of their current products being made from at least 30% recycled materials. Unfortunately, the main factor holding Fourth Element back continues to be the insufficient amount of information available. Besides ocean health and materials, what is the company doing about gender or racial inequities, for example? Is the company working towards making diving more accessible to everyone?