Although Quiksilver has made great progress in sustainability overall, the Syncro Chest Zip Wetsuit does not incorporate much of this progress. The materials are nonrenewable and involve environmentally detrimental processes to extract and refine. Despite the many recycling initiatives, the wetsuit is not made of any of the recycled material. Additionally, the materials in the wet suit have more eco-friendly alternatives that are not used. The wetsuit is a high quality product at a decent price ($189.95), but sadly comes with hidden environmental costs.
The main materials in the Syncro Chest Zip Wetsuit are neoprene, nylon and elastane. Neoprene is an important part of the wet suit as it provides warmth, flexibility, and is light, but it is derived from either limestone or petroleum. Quiksilver’s neoprene including this wetsuit are made from limestone, which is nonrenewable. Although limestone seems like a relatively benign material, its extraction is quite damaging to the environment. I was not able to find where Quiksilver gets the limestone for the neoprene, but it stated that a lot of raw materials are from unaffiliated suppliers located primarily in Europe and Asia. Nylon is a plastic derived from crude oil that undergoes various chemical processes to turn into a usable fiber. Not only does nylon support the oil and coal industries, the chemical processes add to the greenhouse effect. There are more environmentally friendly alternatives for nylon and limestone based neoprene, such as econyl and natural rubber.
The mining of limestone for the neoprene is unsustainable due to limestone being a nonrenewable substance and the mining process being highly detrimental to the environment. Groundwater can be contaminated with excessive sediment and accidental spillage including oil and gas from the mining equipment while quarrying limestone. The mining also removes an important storage for groundwater called the subcutaneous zone, leading to changes in the volume as well as the flow of the groundwater. After mining is over, there is still long term groundwater contamination. Lowering of the water table can also lead to an increased risk of collapsing caves and sinkholes. Condensation polymerization and other processes involved in nylon production release N2O, a greenhouse gas 300x more potent than CO2. They also require large amounts of water and energy. The water is used to cool down the fibers, so it becomes unusable and can become a source of environmental pollution and contamination. Quiksilver’s factories are primarily in China, Pakistan and India which are not known for their stringent environmental regulations. This accompanied with the environmentally taxing processes involved in the making of the wetsuit is quite concerning.
Many companies have jumped on the bandwagon of sustainability, putting up pristine nature pictures on their website and saying how committed they are to the environment. Unlike those other companies, Quiksilver has been making changes in their company’s sustainability for the past 20 years. After developing an environmental department in 2000, they were able to qualify for ISO 14001 in 2003. ISO 14001 is an environmental management system that requires “improvement” in a company’s sustainability. Although there are not any concrete guidelines, Quiksilver still goes above and beyond. Instead of focusing solely on the factory, they looked into the lifecycle of their products from cradle to grave to see where they could make long term environmental improvements. In recent years, Quiksilver has incorporated recycled material into many of their products. They have also partnered with Repreve, one of the most trusted brands for making performance fibers out of recycled materials. Repreve takes millions of plastic water bottles and transforms them into chips that are melted down and reformed to make fibers. Quiksilver has turned over 200 million bottles into useful products. Unfortunately, the Syncro Chest Zip Wetsuit is not one of them. For the most part, the board shorts and swim suits have the recycled material, with a strong majority of the product being made from recycled material.