Most outdoor enthusiasts value waterproof, windproof and breathable gear made with GORE-TEX materials and trust in Gore´s GUARANTEED TO KEEP YOU DRY™ promise. When browsing shops for new outdoor clothing, however, some people may ask: “This jacket is great for my needs, but does it harm the environment? And what is this PFC issue all about?”
As an innovative and technology driven company that has unique expertise in processing fluorinated materials, we at W. L. Gore & Associates think we might be qualified to shed some light onto these questions.
The invention of expanded PTFE (ePTFE) by Bob Gore in 1969 enabled us to make products that protect people from harsh weather conditions, using fluorine-based materials safely and responsibly. At the same time, we have also always been striving to protect the environment from unnecessary harm by continuously reducing the impact that GORE-TEX garments may have on our environment over their entire lifespan – also known as “environmental footprint.”
Our ambitious goal: eliminating PFCEC from all GORE-TEX consumer products
As one of our key initiatives in improving this footprint, in February 2017 we set the ambitious goal of eliminating so-called “PFCs of Environmental Concern (PFCEC)” from all our GORE-TEX laminate shipments to customers in a step-by-step approach over the coming years.
This goal includes eliminating PFCEC from the entire product lifecycle of our membranes as well as from our durable water- and oil-repellent treatments. This will be completed by the end of 2023.
It’s also worth knowing that Gore has developed this goal – including a scientifically sound definition of PFCEC – in close alignment with Greenpeace, the internationally established environmental NGO.
Durable water repellent (DWR) playing an important role
Many GORE-TEX products are treated with an ultra-thin durable water repellent (DWR), a polymer that’s applied to the outermost fabric layer of the garments. This DWR reduces the surface tension of the fabric, so that water simply rolls off. The DWR is very important, because the wearer can feel damp and clammy if water saturates the garment’s outer fabric layer – even if the product isn’t leaking.
Before talking about the specific progress that we´ve made with our DWR and what you can do to benefit from it, it may help to quickly open the chemistry book and briefly explain what PFCs are and why some of them give reason for concern, leading us to try to avoid them.
Focusing on PFCs of Environmental Concern (PFCEC)
The term PFC often refers to per and poly-fluorinated chemicals, has no commonly agreed definition, and generally stands for a broad group of highly fluorinated compounds with vastly differing physical attributes and properties. So, at Gore, we believe that it is very important to be very specific when talking about PFCs.
From intensive discussions with our key stakeholders we identified and defined a specific group of PFCs as causing environmental concern. These are highly fluorinated, small enough to be bioavailable, and persistent. They also have the potential to become widely dispersed in the environment and water, where they will remain for multiple generations. That´s in short how and why we came up with the term and definition of “PFCs of Environmental Concern”.
Key project within Gore´s Fabrics Division delivering first results
Our goal to eliminate PFCEC from our consumer products by the end of 2023 is the #1 prioritized project within our Fabrics Division. So far it has triggered investments of several million U.S. dollars which, by the way, resulted in Greenpeace – apparently in recognition of our efforts and initial outcomes – praise Gore publicly as a “real game changer” in the outdoor industry.
Today – still less than two years into this major undertaking – we are proud to say that we have indeed made some significant progress.
Gore introduced new PFCEC free DWR to market – specific labeling to inform consumers
As the first important milestone achieved on our PFCEC free roadmap, in early 2018 we introduced the first GORE-TEX laminates to the market that have a new high-performance PFCEC free durable water repellent (DWR).
During a thorough screening and field-test phase, this new PFCEC free DWR has proven that it fully meets the performance expectations users have for general outdoor activities such as lift-served skiing or day hiking – certainly fulfilling our GUARANTEED TO KEEP YOU DRY™ promise.
Jackets made with GORE-TEX 2-layer laminates with the new DWR are already on the shelves. Outdoor gear manufactured with GORE-TEX 3-layer laminates utilizing the new PFCEC free DWR will be available at retail in the Autumn/Winter season 2019.
To help consumers identify these products, we – together with our brand and retail partners – also implemented specific product labeling with “PFCEC Free DWR” hangtags. So, people can easily identify jackets with our innovative DWR when browsing the shops for new outdoor gear.
Proper care of DWR enhances protection of people and environment
When talking about fit-for-use products and Gore´s GUARANTEED TO KEEP YOU DRY™ promise, a few words about proper care of GORE-TEX garments, and its DWR in particular, might also be of interest.
In general, routine care, like washing and drying, will maintain high performance and thus can extend the useful life of your GORE-TEX gear. Don’t forget to read the manufacturer’s care instructions. Advice on how to wash and care for GORE-TEX products is also given online in the care section on our web site.
Many of our products are protected by a DWR that is durable, but not permanent. Regular wear and tear, exposure to dirt, detergents, insect repellent, and other materials can affect its strength, such that the treatment needs to be reactivated to keep it as effective as possible.
Good news again: Repeatedly restoring the stain resistance and water repellency of GORE-TEX fabrics is also very easy. Follow the wash instructions for your product, then dry your garment. Once it’s dry, tumble dry it for a further 20 minutes – this will reactivate the DWR treatment.
The same procedure should also be applied to any brand-new GORE-TEX jacket or other outerwear to activate its DWR properly prior to being used outside for the first time.
How you can (re-) activate the DWR of your gear is also shown on Gore´s YouTube Channel at www.youtube.com/watch?v=s3GAmwwaJJM (“Easy Care of GORE-TEX Outerwear”).
As you can see, caring for your GORE-TEX products is easy. Good care, in particular of the DWR – regardless of whether it is already PFCEC free or not – will ensure excellent performance and allows you to extend the useful life of your outdoor gear. That’s better for you, for your budget, and for the environment, since well-maintained garments can stay in use longer, which not only saves on direct-user costs but also saves on the environmental footprint.
This has, by the way, also been proven by the Life Cycle Assessment (LCA) studies that we made to assess the entire lifespan of a finished GORE-TEX product from “cradle to grave.”
Outdoor enthusiasts, who – as we know – are smart consumers, have already come to the same conclusion. And I am sure, you have, too.