Whats ironic about Orvis is their hypocritical mindset on sustainability. On one hand, they donate 5% of profits to saving the salmon population, on the other hand, they manufacture rain coats that use extreme amounts of synthetic textiles which pollute the very waterways they are trying to save. Again, on one hand, they loving fishing and produce fishing rods, lines, and nets, while on the other hand, discarded fishing equipment is the #1 cause of micro-plastics in the ocean. Orvis’ conservation donations do not offset their cost of production on the environment. If Orvis did truly care about life under water, they would be taking further steps to protect it, rather than just asking customers for money to donate under the Orvis name.
When it comes to making a water-proof jacket, there really is no option but to use synthetic materials. Polyester and nylon tend to be the most used in rain coats because of their durability and long lifespan. However, the same qualities that make these textiles great for rain jackets make them terrible for the environment. The Orvis Storm Jacket is made up of 100% nylon, which is a synthetic textile that cannot biodegrade and will persist in the environment indefinitely post-consumer use. In fact, one of the top two sources of micro-plastics in the ocean comes from washing synthetic textile fabrics, such as as this rain coat. Nylon has an incredibly negative impact on aquatic life from all stages of its life cycle- which is ironic from a company like Orvis that cares so much about aquatic life. Making nylon requires an enormous amount of crude oil, energy, water, and GHG emissions- in fact, it requires the most amount of energy to make compared to other textiles. Washing nylon and disposing of nylon all directly and negatively impact life under water as well.
The durability and lifespan of nylon are both a blessing and a curse. Because of these qualities, it can never break down, so if this rain jacket got thrown into a landfill tomorrow it would stay there indefinitely. However, because of nylon’s toughness it can also be recycled indefinitely. The world could cease all nylon production and still be able to survive at the same level of production by just using recycled nylon. Unfortunately, Orvis does not have a clothing recycling or buy-back program, so their company is only involved in putting out more nylon into the environment. At the very least, Orvis should offer their customers a used-clothing program to reduce their role in the nylon production industry. I encourage Orvis to take it even one step farther than just a clothing recycling program and switch to using econyl, which is the recycled version of nylon. Econly is made from used fishing lines and other post-consumer waste, and it has the same durability and qualities of virgin nylon. As a company that specializes in fly-fishing and fishing line production, they should be able to make that sustainability commitment to keep their products out of aquatic waste by reusing them post-consumer use.
I was surprised at the blatant lack of information that Orvis provides on their sustainability commitments and impact reports. The only information available about their manufacturing process comes from their facility that manufactures their fly fishing rods, and the only reason this information was on their website is because they sell tickets for customers to tour the facility.
The most recent information available about their environmental impact and commitments comes from a 2017 Sustainability Strategy report conducted by a department of Duke University for an Orvis executive. I use the word “information” loosely since there was very little tangible data, just vague commitments that sounded like they are talking in circles. The portion of the report that spoke of Orvis’ current sustainability comes from their section on the Higg Index Assessment. The Higg Index was developed by the Sustainable Apparel Coalition that allows brands to accurately measure their company/product’s sustainability performance based on environmental, social, and labor impacts. The report stated that Orvis had the Higg Index assessment done on 3 of their brands, but did not offer any information on how they scored. Orvis also stated that they have not yet completed the facility module of the assessment which, “evaluates social and environment performance with a focus on the environment impact of manufacturing facilities.” This means there is no information readily available about the sustainability of Orvis’ manufacturing process. I have assumptions on the negative impact this rain coat has while being manufactured, but none of these assumptions can be proved true, or refuted, without access to more information.
Since the start of the Orvis brand, the company has been passed down through the same family based in Vermont. What started as a passion for fishing turned into one of the leading manufacturers in fly-fishing and sportsmen equipment in America. Orvis has partnered with a number of conservation non-profits to promote their main goals of protecting aquatic life and maintaining canine health and well-being. In order to reach these goals, Orvis donates 5% of pre-tax profits every year to the protection of nature and man’s best friend. Orvis has taken on a number of great initiatives and made numerous donations to conservation causes such as a Saving Bristol Bay and The Everglades Foundation. While I applaud them for their commitment to important causes such as canine health and the conservation of salmon populations, it is not nearly enough to enact actual positive change in terms of sustainability. Orvis is still profiting off of the same environmental commitments that earned their former CEO the Chevron Conservation Award in 1994 (by the way, a conservation award from a company that continuously spills oil in waterways is not a good look). Probably the most informative, yet damning, quote from the 2017 Sustainability Strategy Report reads, “although Orvis has taken on many sustainability initiatives, the company currently does not have an overarching sustainability strategy that would allow the company to align various siloed sustainability initiatives with internal business objectives.” A drastic change in Orvis’ sustainability mindset is needed. While it is somewhat helpful to donate 5% of profits to these organizations that specialize in canine health and conservation, it does not out weigh Orvis’ negative impact from manufacturing or their lack of acknowledgment to further sustainability goals.