Saturday, August 05, 2006

This time last weekend I was having lunch atop Mt Ngauruhoe with a few friends. We were all well equipped - prepared for a quick change of weather that can bring danger in such an exposed place.

Being well equipped comes within a wide spectrum. Gear junkies and their heavy packs sit toward the compulsive end of the spectrum - the end opposite to the minimalist approach often taken by those of adventure racing pedigree (who obsess about reducing weight).

In kitting yourself for the outdoors there is clearly an environmental impact. Mt Everest is often referred to as the worlds highest rubbish dump - oxygen canisters, ropes, empty food tins... and that's just what's left behind. The average gear junkies basement is a treasure trove of kit.

I've posted before about the virtues of Yvon Chouinard of Patagonia outdoor, and a few weeks back he received an award for his contributions to environmental protection (hat tip Treehugger). Chouinard was an early proponent of clean climbing and has refined the Patagonia business model to minimise impact. But it's pretty hard to get Patagonia gear here in NZ - their online store doesn't ship it, and there are no outlets.

Over on The Piton, there has been a lot of discussion this week about Hummer sponsoring a large US outdoors trade event; an interesting aside to my post about SUV's last week. The Piton also had a link to - who claim to be "the most technically advanced and eco-sensitive [outdoor] brand on the market". All very well and good, but availability in NZ?

It seems that the best Kiwis can do to reduce the gear junkie impact is to buy NZ made. Brands like Norsewear, Swazi, Ground Effect, and Cactus are still made here; but the Cameronising of Fairydown and the offshoring of Macpac and Icebreaker have been well publicised.

A National Radio interview a month or so back featured Icebreaker arguing that the location of manufacturing is not as important destination of profits (not too dis-similarly argued in my earlier post on malls). Some opponents of the Greens Buy NZ Made campaign concur. The argument goes along the lines of "why support low skill NZ manufacturing when it is always going to be cheaper to manufacture offshore... we should be concentrating on high value production." I tend to agree - anyone can be a plodder, but we are good at innovating.

Recently, organisations like the New Zealand Institute and Better by Design have been particularly vocal: differentiate our products so it is natural for Kiwi (and global) consumers to "buy Kiwi owned".

Like food miles, gear miles is a valid concern. So your 1st priority should be to buy NZ made. But if that means you can't get what you need then buy NZ owned and be aware of where it has come from. Failing that buy offshore, but always be aware of the company's environmental position. It's all part of being an intelligent consumer...


johnny-johnny said...

"It seems that the best Kiwis can do to reduce the gear junkie impact is to buy NZ made."

I don't understand how you jump to that conclusion. HOW does buying Kiwi-made reduce the gear junkie impact?

Guv said...

Assuming you're asking why kiwi-made is any better than elsewhere-made. Lets start with my assumption that
"In kitting yourself for the outdoors there is clearly an environmental impact"
and assume also that those of us who love outdoor persuits need safety (etc) gear. Hence the "treasure trove effect".

1. The process of shipping "raw" material to cheap production locale before shipping the final product to NZ is energy intensive (a problem emerges then, that we have to assume production is for the local market, otherwise we exacerbate the transport problem by shipping to distant markets... a whole new argument for a whole new day...)

2. If its produced here we know what environmental and labour regulations must be adhered to during production. For elsewhere-made products we're often guessing (if indeed we think about it at all).

3. The loss of local jobs and skills when production moves off-shore is well documented. Supporting kiwi-made gives the best chance of retaining the assiciated economic and social benefits.

I guess then, for accuracy, the sentence you highlighted should have read:
"It seems that the best Kiwis can do to reduce some negative gear junkie impact[s] is to buy NZ made."