Patagonia Footwear Take Up The Zero Impact Challenge (Updated)

patagonia footwear branding image

For four years now we've been following Patagonia Footwear as they strive to apply their business mantra of "Build the best product, cause no unnecessary harm, use business to inspire and implement solutions to the environmental crisis" to the art of shoemaking.

Now we've been invited to join Patagonia Footwear as they accept a challenge from Backpacker Magazine to build a backpacking boot with the least environmental impact, as part of the mag's "Zero Impact Challenge." TreeHugger will be tagging along as Patagonia transparently reveal the good, the bad, and the ugly of the entire design process. Read below about this will all come together.

Backpacker Magazine's Zero Impact Challenge

Previously Backpacker Magazine have run Zero Impact Challenges for backpacks and sleeping bags. They found that overall it was easier to make a greener pack (30% reduced carbon dioxide equivalent emissions) compared to a more eco sleeping bag (10% less emissions). But the exercise certainly gets the participating manufacturers to reevaluate their products and their environment impact. And that can only be a good thing for the industry and the planet.

Corporate Transparency

For 2009 the challenge has shifted to hiking boots and Patagonia Footwear are keen to give it their best shot. And in keeping with the same pioneering corporate transparency that spawned the Footprint Chronicles they want to chart their progress during the Challenge, with sketches, letters, videos, images and findings all specific to the design and development process of this new product, whilst allowing TreeHugger readers to communicate their thoughts and ideas.

Zero Impact Experts photo

Design Gurus

To rise to the challenge, aside from working with Backpacker Magazine, Patagonia Footwear are deploying their big guns to get the job done. From left to right we have Clark Matis, founder of Merrell, technical footwear designer for Patagonia Footwear and Olympic nordic skier. Robin Cheu is the production guru from China where the working prototype will be made within less than 3 months. JDK, represented here by partner Michael Jager, is Patagonia Footwear's creative agency, is working hand in hand with Clark Matis on the development and creative. They developed the Ecotone concept (see below) specifically for this challenge and Patagonia Footwear.

Ecotone and LIDS image


An Ecotone is the transition area between two adjacent ecological communities (ecosystems). Although in this case, Patagonia Footwear see the Ecotone (left image) as a guide on how to bring harmony to the broad, and often disparate, diversity of needs in a hiking boot. Which Patagonia see as:

Fit: Support, Flex, Variable Volume, Heel Hold, Toe Room
Protection: Stability, Traction, Durability, Critical Protection Points, Cushioning
Efficiency: Light Weight, Optimized Energy Transfer
Climate Control: Fast Drying / Waterproof, Vented / Breathable, Temperature Regulating
Clean Design: Nothing More Than is Necessary

Life-Cycle Design Strategies

On seeing the Patagonia Footwear's Ecotone I found it to be remarkably similar to the LiDS Wheel used to guide eco-design. (right image) The Life-Cycle Design Strategies Wheel maps eight key aspects of product before re-design (light grey) and hopefully a smaller footprint (dark grey) evolves after the ecodesign changes.

Those eight design strategies are:
• New concept development
• Selection of low-impact material
• Reduction of materials
• Optimisation of production techniques
• Efficient distribution system
• Reduction in the environimpact in the user stage
• Optimise initial lifetime
• Optimise end of life system

(read more about LiDS and other ecodesign tools in this PDF)

Eco Design Criteria

And this is pretty much these are same strategies that Patagonia Footwear are employing to find ways to develop a hiking boot with the least "zero" impact, a boot also capable of carrying 30 pounds. In their own words here is what they'll be assessing:

Recycled content - All materials have been examined and selected based on recycled content.

Reduced Weight - This is one of our primary goals. The more we can reduce the weight of the end product - the lower the carbon emissions in terms of shipping.

Reduced and/or Reusable packaging - Consideration being given to alternative material shoe boxes that can be repurposed and/or recycled. No unnecessary packaging (hang tags etc.)

Reuse - We're examining materials and manufacturing processes that allow for materials used in the zero impact boot to be repurposed at the end of their life cycle. Either through re-uppering the sole or recycling through Common Threads. To date we have been close on developing a fully re-usable shoe but stuck on what to do with leather - any suggestions would be most helpful.

Best Product, No Unnecessary Harm - Through material choices and quality manufacturing, the zero impact hiking boot will hold up to extended abuse and the elements and therefore won't need to be replaced as frequently as less well made boots.

More To Come

So, watch this space, as we get a bird's eye view of the design process required to make a hiking boot with as close to zero impact as is currently possible. The first walkable prototype. will be submitted to Backpacker Magazine in September 2009, after which Patagonia Footwear will continue research, development and testing for another six to eight months with the intention to build an entire Patagonia Footwear collection for launch in Spring 2011. It should be exciting and enlightening.

UPDATE: See the next zero challenge installment here
:: Patagonia Footwear
Images: Top - JDK, Others - Patagonia Footwear, LiDS wheel - INOV8
More Patagonia Footwear
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Patagonia Put Their Best Foot(wear) Forward
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Patagonia Salt & Pepper: The Shoe Fits a More Examined Life
Patagonia Say: Resole Worn Shoes, Before Buying New
Patagonia Continue to Walk Their Talk
Green Gift Guide - Outdoor Athletes
Disclosure: In the past this writer has received trade sample shoes from Patagonia. See product reviews above.

Patagonia Footwear Take Up The Zero Impact Challenge (Updated)
For four years now we've been following Patagonia Footwear as they strive to apply their business mantra of "Build the best product, cause no unnecessary harm, use business to inspire and implement solutions to the environmental crisis" to the art of

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