How Sustainable Is The North Face? All You Need to Know
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Hey fellow impactful ninja ? You may have noticed that Impactful Ninja is all about providing helpful information to make a positive impact on the world and society. And that we love to link back to where we found all the information for each of our posts. Most of these links are informational-based for you to check out their primary sources with one click. But some of these links are so-called "affiliate links" to products that we recommend. First and foremost, because we believe that they add value to you. For example, when we wrote a post about the environmental impact of long showers, we came across an EPA recommendation to use WaterSense showerheads. So we linked to where you can find them. Or, for many of our posts, we also link to our favorite books on that topic so that you can get a much more holistic overview than one single blog post could provide. And when there is an affiliate program for these products, we sign up for it. For example, as Amazon Associates, we earn from qualifying purchases. First, and most importantly, we still only recommend products that we believe add value for you. When you buy something through one of our affiliate links, we may earn a small commission - but at no additional costs to you. And when you buy something through a link that is not an affiliate link, we won’t receive any commission but we’ll still be happy to have helped you. When we find products that we believe add value to you and the seller has an affiliate program, we sign up for it. When you buy something through one of our affiliate links, we may earn a small commission (at no extra costs to you). And at this point in time, all money is reinvested in sharing the most helpful content with you. This includes all operating costs for running this site and the content creation itself. You may have noticed by the way Impactful Ninja is operated that money is not the driving factor behind it. It is a passion project of mine and I love to share helpful information with you to make a positive impact on the world and society. However, it's a project in that I invest a lot of time and also quite some money. Eventually, my dream is to one day turn this passion project into my full-time job and provide even more helpful information. But that's still a long time to go. Stay impactful,
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Hey fellow impactful ninja ?
You may have noticed that Impactful Ninja is all about providing helpful information to make a positive impact on the world and society. And that we love to link back to where we found all the information for each of our posts.
Most of these links are informational-based for you to check out their primary sources with one click.
But some of these links are so-called "affiliate links" to products that we recommend.
First and foremost, because we believe that they add value to you. For example, when we wrote a post about the environmental impact of long showers, we came across an EPA recommendation to use WaterSense showerheads. So we linked to where you can find them. Or, for many of our posts, we also link to our favorite books on that topic so that you can get a much more holistic overview than one single blog post could provide.
And when there is an affiliate program for these products, we sign up for it. For example, as Amazon Associates, we earn from qualifying purchases.
First, and most importantly, we still only recommend products that we believe add value for you.
When you buy something through one of our affiliate links, we may earn a small commission - but at no additional costs to you.
And when you buy something through a link that is not an affiliate link, we won’t receive any commission but we’ll still be happy to have helped you.
When we find products that we believe add value to you and the seller has an affiliate program, we sign up for it.
When you buy something through one of our affiliate links, we may earn a small commission (at no extra costs to you).
And at this point in time, all money is reinvested in sharing the most helpful content with you. This includes all operating costs for running this site and the content creation itself.
You may have noticed by the way Impactful Ninja is operated that money is not the driving factor behind it. It is a passion project of mine and I love to share helpful information with you to make a positive impact on the world and society. However, it's a project in that I invest a lot of time and also quite some money.
Eventually, my dream is to one day turn this passion project into my full-time job and provide even more helpful information. But that's still a long time to go.
Active people like you are taking a serious look at your athletic wear since the apparel industry contributes 10% of global emissions and is the second biggest polluter of our environment. The North Face is a sports apparel brand that has grown in popularity to become more than sportswear, it’s now known as everyday streetwear, too. So we had to ask: “How sustainable is The North Face?”
The North Face and their parent company have been recognized for their sustainability goals. However, from the available information, they aren’t there yet but they’re working on it. Too, they’d need to be more transparent to prove their sustainable achievements before we can call them sustainable.
Ok, we’ve given you the overall summary of The North Face’s sustainability. But there’s more to it. Let’s have a look at the whole life-cycle of their products, from production to usage to end-of-life. We want to know about The North Face‘s involvement in sustainability-promoting organizations and how they’re rated as an environmentally responsible company.
Here’s How Sustainable The North Face Is
The North Face, often called TNF, is a US-based company that was founded in San Francisco, California by Douglas and Susie Tompkins in 1968 to sell climbing gear. The name refers to the north face of the Half Dome, a well-known rock formation and popular climbing area in Yosemite National Park.
The brand was mostly popular with outdoor enthusiasts until it became stylish as everyday streetwear in the late 1990s. They have a separate retail website for the United Kingdom. In 2000, the company was purchased by the VF Corporation (VF), a company known for buying up apparel brands. In 2020, TNF moved their headquarters to Denver, Colorado, where the parent company is located.
“Sustainable: The ability to be maintained at a certain rate or level | Avoidance of the depletion of natural resources in order to maintain an ecological balance”Oxford Dictionary
To know if The North Face (TNF) really is sustainable we need to look at their manufacturing practices and determine if they are effectively reducing their impact on the planet. To do that we need to look at:
- The information they share,
- data they report to third parties for external review,
- their ratings and reviews, and
- what sustainable organizations they belong to.
And to understand the sustainability of TNF, we must assess their products’ life-cycle and each stage’s sustainability. This life-cycle assessment (LCA) is a method to evaluate the environmental impacts of products and materials. Over the years, companies have strategically used LCA to research and create more sustainable products. So, let’s have a look at the LCA of TNF!
|The product life-cycle stages||Each stage’s sustainability|
Materials: They’re starting to use more recycled materials, but they need to work on their use of animal products like leather, and chemicals like PFCs.
Manufacturing: The parent company VF is making progress telling us where they make apparel for their brands, but has been criticized for their labor practices and not paying a living wage. Like a lot of things, they say they’re working on it.
Packaging: The North Face has done some work on reducing the amount of packaging they use and making it with recycled materials. They are working on getting rid of single-use plastics that aren’t bio-based or recycled.
Lifespan: Known for their durable outdoor brand that became a trendy fashion statement, The North Face is starting to feel a bit like fast fashion that focuses on quantity over quality apparel.
Quality reviews: A high number of reviews recently show customers are unhappy with the quality products The North Face is making, as well as their customer service.
Circularity: Their recycling and reuse programs are pretty solid. They offer collection bins at their stores for used apparel from any company, and they give customers coupons toward future purchases when they donate old garments.
Recycling: They need to promote their circularity programs better to capture more materials for recycling. They need to get better at using fibers that can easily be recycled.
Waste: The parent company’s efforts to reduce waste in distribution centers has been effective. They need to continue working with suppliers to reduce waste in manufacturing, as it looks like they have a ways to go in this area.
How Sustainable Is the Production of The North Face Products
To determine if The North Face’s (TNF) products are sustainable we have to look at how they are made. Are factory emissions monitored and actions taken to reduce them? Does TNF keep material waste to a minimum? Do they use non-toxic chemicals that don’t damage the environment? These are all things we need to know to determine if TNF is sustainable.
The North Face and their parent company have been pretty transparent about their sustainability goals. They have a ways to go with responsible sourcing and production, but they seem to be standing behind their commitment to change. They need to join more organizations to prove to us they’re becoming sustainable.
One challenge is that parent company, VF, lumps sustainability reporting for their 12 brands into one report. However, they’ve been recognized for their transparency and sustainability goals which cover the supply chain activities for all of their brands.
The Fashion Transparency Index scored TNF as one of the top ten brands giving them a 66% overall rating. The average rating was 23% for the 250 apparel brands reviewed. The index noted that TNF had improved their information sharing since previous reports. The company’s policy and commitment ratings, as well as their traceability score were in the top-ranked at over 80%.
So, it sounds like they’re doing pretty good with sharing information about their plans to be more sustainable and transparent about it, but let’s look at how they currently make their products and the materials they use.
How Sustainable Are the Materials That The North Face Uses for Their Products
Most athletic and outdoor wear contain cotton, polyester, vinyl, rubber, and plastic. Cotton is the only one of these that doesn’t come from fossil fuels. Many apparel companies, like TNF, also use Animal Derived Materials (ADMs) like leather, wool, and down.
The North Face is on the right track with using sustainable materials and their focus on regenerative ag is good, but they have work to do if they’re going to reach their goal of 100% responsibly sourced by 2025. They need to address chemical use, like PFCs for waterproofing, as well as reduce their use of animal-derived materials, like leather.
The shopping guide Shop Ethical noted that TNF has stepped up its sustainability commitment through responsible sourcing of down and by ending the use of angora. The guide gave them an overall C rating, meaning praise and some criticisms. The final rating was for all VF brands combined, and most of the criticism was for the parent company’s supply chain labor practices.
What types of materials does The North Face use for their products?
Ethical Consumer reviewed VF’s Animal Derived Materials (ADMs) policy and found that they used a substantial amount of leather in their footwear. The review also found that wool and down were ADMs used a lot by VF brands. Their substantial use of these materials is one reason they lost points and ended up with a rating of 4.5 out of 15.
The Textile Exchange gave a 3 out of 4 rating to TNF for their responsible use of cotton, polyester, and wool, and a 4 rating for their responsible use of down. But gave them a 1 for how much leather they use. In the end, they gave TNF a 3 rating, for maturing, because of their current efforts and plans to sustainably source materials in the future.
While we found a materials page on the parent company’s site, it doesn’t give details on what they’re using to make products. Instead, it is a narrative on their plans to use more regenerative, responsibly sourced renewable, and recycled materials. TNF doesn’t have a materials page.
Are the materials used by The North Face virgin (new) or non-virgin (recycled)?
When Treehugger evaluated VF’s 2018 sustainability report they praised their increased use of recycled content and efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and waste. We weren’t able to find how much of their materials are currently recycled, but the VF materials page talks about their goal to be using 50% recycled polyester by 2025.
An article in Sustainable Brands details VF’s plans for scaling regenerative agriculture for their top brands, including TNF, and their work to build the first regenerative rubber supply chain in the world.
TNF’s Exploration Without Compromise product line currently lists 79 products they say contain “75% or greater recycled, regenerative and/or responsibly-sourced renewable materials by weight,” according to TNF Sustainability page and defined by VF’s Materials page.
Since the company says they’ll be using 100% responsibly sourced materials by 2025 we should see more recycled content in their products over the next few years.
Is The North Face part of any organizations to “prove” their sustainability?
They’re a member of the Textile Exchange, an organization that helps brands measure and track their use of preferred fibers and materials. They’re also a bluesign® systems partner, which means they follow best practices for chemical, water, and energy use set for the apparel industry. The program monitors their manufacturing and helps them reach 100% sustainability in order to earn the bluesign® product label, which TNF hasn’t done yet though some of their suppliers are bluesign® certified.
Interestingly, apparel companies that join organizations that help them prove their sustainability tend to highlight these memberships on their sustainability page. TNF does not.
How Sustainable Are the Manufacturing Processes of The North Face
In the apparel industry, manufacturing is the biggest cause of climate change inducing waste and emissions. From wasted fabric on the cutting floor, to the chemicals used on materials and the carbon output from operations and making apparel – these all have a huge impact on our environment.
The North Face has a ways to go before we can say their manufacturing is eco-friendly, but they seem to be on the right track. If their parent company, VF Corporation, follows through on aggressive sustainability goals for their supply chain and joins organizations to prove it to us, we might one day be able to call The North Face’s manufacturing sustainable.
The sustainable shopping guide Fairify gave TNF a D for current practices that are mostly unsustainable. They didn’t give them the worst rating of E because of the sustainability goals set by the parent company and improved supply chain transparency. However, the guide pointed out that it’s challenging to do sustainability audits of a parent company with a supply chain that spans nearly sixty countries.
Where does The North Face produce their products?
VF has made efforts to be transparent about where their products are manufactured. We found a traceability map that uses Open Sourcemap to list supplier and producer locations. While they don’t yet list all products, they do currently trace 14 products under the TNF brand. So, it looks like they have some work to do on telling us where their products are made, but they’re off to a good start.
We found VF’s factory list of their Tier 1 and Tier 2 suppliers, those are the facilities that assemble final products and the ones that directly provide those assemblers with materials. Of the 48 countries listed, here’s the ones with the greatest number of factories that supply products and materials to all 12 brands.
- China – 576 factories
- Vietnam – 174 factories
- USA – 151 factories
- Mexico – 143 factories
- Taiwan – 93 factories
- Guatemala – 53 factories
- Turkey – 53 factories
- Bangladesh – 51 factories
- India – 48 factories
This fits with a review we found that checked TNF product labels online and in stores. The products they looked at showed The North Face clothing, footwear and accessories are manufactured in Vietnam, China, Bangladesh, the USA, Turkey, Cambodia, El Salvador, Jordan, Indonesia, Romania, and India. Of these, Vietnam was the most common.
What does The North Face do to reduce their CO2 emissions?
VF earned the Best Ethical Consumer rating for carbon management and reporting. The report gave them credit for reducing CO2 emissions and for their carbon reduction plans. Ethical Consumer found no reasons to mark them down in the category of climate change. So it sounds like the parent company is taking steps to reduce carbon emissions.
VF’s climate page points us to the company’s call for climate policy that says they’ll be using 100% renewable energy by 2026 and plan to reach net zero emissions by 2050. We found a Climate Change page for TNF where they talk about purchasing carbon offsets from the non-profit Bonneville Environmental Foundation (BEF). However, the page is no longer linked on TNF website.
What does The North Face do to reduce their water consumption?
A Green America Toxic Textiles Report gave VF a thumbs up for their water management policy and for sharing their progress in meeting goals. As a bluesign® systems partner, water use is monitored throughout their supply chain and improvements are made with the goal of earning the bluesign® label.
Under VF’s Responsibility page, they have a Water page that tells how they work with suppliers to reduce water use, and their goal to source 100% organic cotton by 2025. Sourcing organic means eliminating toxic chemicals that contaminate our global water supply.
What does The North Face do to reduce their chemical usage?
A review of VF’s chemical policy by Ethical Consumer gave them a “Middle” rating because they seemed to be addressing the issue of PFCs for waterproofing, but it wasn’t clear what they’re doing or if they would completely eliminate them. Specific to TNF, the review mentioned a Greenpeace Detox Outdoor campaign that was successful in getting brands like TNF to address their use of PFCs.
A Green America report on how well apparel companies do with regards to chemicals, gave TNF a passing grade on protecting customers and workers from toxic chemicals, but didn’t give them a pass on their “commitment to eliminate or reduce hazardous chemicals.” In their 2019 Toxic Textiles Report, Green America mentions improved transparency from VF Corporation and that they showed better environmental and labor practices than the other apparel companies reviewed, though the benchmark was unclear.
TNF UK Recycled Materials page says their recycled materials use 50% less water and chemicals, and 25% less energy.
Which organizations has The North Face joined to showcase their social sustainability?
TNF is a member of the Outdoor Industry Association (OIA) and participates in their Chemical Management Working Group (CMWG) that collaborates on best practices for chemical management in manufacturing. As a member of the European Outdoor Conservation Association (EOCA), the company is involved in conservation work done by the outdoor products industry.
However, we couldn’t find TNF or VF in the database of certified B Corp companies, a standard that evaluates and verifies a company’s social and environmental performance, transparency, and accountability. They aren’t certified by OEKO-TEX, an independent research group that verifies sustainable practices throughout supply chains. And they don’t show up as being a member of the Fair Labor Association, nor are they found in Fairtrade International’s Fairtrade Finder. They also don’t show up as being certified by The Global Organic Textile Standard (GOTS) for use of organic materials.
In fact, there’s not a lot of evidence that TNF or their parent company have joined very many organizations that would help them become more sustainable and showcase it.
How Sustainable Is the Packaging Used for The North Face Products
Nearly half of the plastics made are for product packaging. While some packaging is necessary or is required by law, some of it isn’t needed. Since plastics are made with fossil fuels, can’t be easily recycled, and take hundreds of years to break down, they are a huge contributor to the carbon footprint and waste caused by product manufacturing.
There are signs The North Face is working to reduce product packaging and make it more sustainable. They recognize the need to eliminate single-use plastics and say they’re working on it. If they reach their sustainable packaging goals and share what they’re doing, we may one day be able to say their packaging is eco-friendly.
How much packaging do they use?
TNF’s Sustainability page tells us they’re working to reduce product packaging. The branding company T/Alvarez says they did a packaging rebrand for TNF that significantly decreased the volume of materials used and their environmental impact.
How sustainable is their packaging?
The design company CDA says they redesigned TNF footwear packaging and it now contains 100% recycled tissue. TNF sustainability page talks about them using recycled or certified content for their paper materials and cardboard shipping boxes. And, they say their goal is to eliminate single-use plastic packaging that is not bio-based or recycled content.
So, It looks like they’re reducing packaging waste and using recycled materials in some areas. But without specific data we may have to wait and see what they do over the next few years to meet their goals and how transparent they are about it.
How Sustainable Is the Usage of The North Face Products
Having sustainable products also means making them durable so they last. It is estimated that 64% of garments made end up being disposed of in landfills within a year after purchase. So it’s important to know if The North Face makes their products to last so people keep using them for a long time.
A focus on design and manufacturing is important to making quality apparel. This may have gotten lost on The North Face once they became part of a large parent company and an expansive supply chain. And, becoming a fashion trend could have affected their focus on designing durable gear.
What Is the Lifespan of The North Face’s Products
The lifespan of a product is the period of time from when a product leaves the manufacturer to the moment it becomes obsolete or cannot be used anymore and is thrown out.
Now that The North Face brand has become known as a fashion statement, they may be more focused on keeping up with the trends than making long-lasting outdoor apparel.
Are The North Face’s products designed to last?
They tell us they have products that are “nearly indestructible” like their Base Camp Duffel, but reading customer reviews from the past few years it sounds like they may not be making the high quality, long-lasting products they were once known for. In the 620 bad reviews on Trustpilot, most talked about being disappointed in the quality, and a number of people commented that TNF used to make products that last, but not anymore.
Of course, quality control may be harder since they were bought by VF and have to navigate a much bigger supply chain.
Can The North Face’s products be considered fast fashion?
The idea behind fast fashion is to make trending designs cheap so everyone can afford them and be able to replace them with the next fashion cycle, which can be as short as a few months.
The North Face (TNF) may have started out making outdoor gear designed for use by athletes and sports enthusiasts, however it’s possible that the brands growth in popularity as trendy street wear could have led them to focus on quantity over quality, which would make them more like a fast fashion brand.
Outdoor athletic gear has to be tough if it’s going to meet your needs. TNF grew as a brand by becoming known for its durable climbing, hiking, and camping gear, but that story may have changed now that they’re also considered fashionable.
How Is the Quality of The North Face’s Products Rated
When a product is rated as being high-quality it reflects on its durability and lifespan potential. If it is made poorly or from inferior materials, it is not likely to last or be rated very well by consumers.
Reviews in recent years have not been favorable, with many complaints about quality and customer service. While it could be growing pains or the transition to more sustainable practices, it needs to be addressed if they want people to see The North Face brand as quality outdoor apparel.
How do users rate the quality of The North Face’s products?
Of the 788 customer reviews on Trustpilot, 12% rated them excellent (5-stars) and 79% rated them bad (1-star). This is over the past five years. There were a number of comments from people unhappy with the quality of their product, and more than a few mentioned the product falling apart within a few years. However, that was drowned out by the numerous complaints about their customer service. Since TNF offers warranties, they need to do better serving their customers to show they stand behind them.
From the sound of these reviews, it’s clear TNF has some work to do in the areas of product quality and customer service.
How Sustainable Is the End-of-life of The North Face Products
The biggest environmental impact of the apparel industry is in the processing of materials and manufacturing of products. Reusing already developed materials and keeping them out of landfills is one of the best ways to reduce this impact.
While they do a good job to support circularity with recycling and reuse programs, they need to do a better job at promoting these so customers know they can turn in old clothes for The North Face to reuse and recycle into new apparel.
How Circular Are The North Face’s Products
Apparel companies need to take responsibility for their materials if they are going to say they support circularity. Key to clothing being circular is that manufacturers take them back and refurbish them or recycle the materials to make more clothing.
Supporting circular apparel is one thing The North Face does well. In their drop-off recycling they take any apparel, not just their’s, and they reward donations with coupons. But they need to do a better job of telling customers about this so more garments are reused and recycled.
“Circular economy: A circular economy within the textiles industry refers to the practice of clothes and fibers continually being recycled, to re-enter the economy as much as possible rather than ending up as waste. | A circular textiles economy is in response to the current linear model of the fashion industry, in which raw materials are extracted, manufactured into commercial goods and then bought, used, and eventually discarded by consumers.”Wikipedia
The business resource and brand community Sustainable Brands lists TNF as one of the apparel companies “that repair, recycle, and resell garments and accessories.” They do this with the circularity programs we found listed on their Sustainability page.
- Their Clothes the Loop program offers collection bins at TNF retail and outlet stores where you can drop apparel from any company, in any condition, and get a coupon towards your next purchase. The wearable products are donated to people who need them, and stuff that’s too worn is recycled. They make it easy with an app you can download to find a drop-off location near you.
- A Returns & Warranty program that they say provides a limited lifetime warranty against defects that extends the life of their gear.
- The Renewed Collection where they sort and select products for renewal, check products for known quality issues, and if they can’t be reconditioned for resale, they upcycle the materials for their Remade Collection.
When it comes to circularity, these programs make TNF stand out. When we reach a point that all the clothing we buy are made from recycled materials we will have circular apparel. The best way to do this is for companies to continue collecting used apparel and materials for reuse and recycling, like TNF does. It’s sad we’re not seeing much promotion of their drop-off recycling program.
Are The North Face’s Products Made for Recycling
Natural fibers, like cotton, are usually the easiest to recycle as they can be taken apart and reused as thread or yarn to make more material. Synthetics, on the other hand, aren’t easy to take apart for reuse. So, the types of materials TNF’s products are made with will make a difference as to how easily they can be recycled.
While they’re taking the right steps to capture and recycle used products, they need to continue working on what materials go into their products. The more eco-friendly those materials the easier it is to recycle them when a garment is at its end-of-life.
From their Renewed Collection About page we learned that their damaged or defective garments are either refurbished for resale, donated, or upcycled through their Remade Collection. They also appear to capture and recycle materials through the Clothes the Loop program.
So, they’re trying to recycle apparel but they also need to make their products with materials that can be recycled. They will get better at this as they continue working on eliminating harmful chemicals, and using organic or eco-friendly fibers.
Will The North Face’s Products Go to Waste at Their End-of-life
No matter how durable a product is, it will one day no longer be useful. When it comes down to apparel it is becoming critical to avoid having it end up in landfills, which reports say is where nearly 80% of our clothing eventually goes, meaning that only about 20% ever gets recycled.
The North Face parent company has done a lot to reduce waste in their distribution centers and with recycling and reuse programs that support circularity. But, they’ve only just begun to address waste in their extensive supply chain, which is where most of it happens.
VF’s 2020 Sustainability & Responsibility Report says they’re working with direct suppliers to complete the annual Higg Facility Environmental Module (FEM) to assess their waste and its environmental impact. Their company-owned distribution centers have zero-waste standards and 72% have met them. They define a zero-waste facility as one that diverts at least 95% of their waste through recycling, reuse, or composting. They say their goal was to reach 100% zero-waste in their distribution centers by 2021. We don’t know yet if they met this.
While reducing waste in distribution centers is good, this doesn’t address waste in manufacturing, where most apparel waste comes from. We’ll have to wait for their next sustainability report to find out if VF has made changes to reduce waste in their supply chain where TNF products are made.
Is The North Face Involved in Any Charities Promoting Sustainability
In 1989, TNF became one of the founding companies of The Conservation Alliance. An alliance of outdoor industry companies that donate their member dues to support grassroots environmental efforts. They also have an Explore Fund that gives grants to nonprofits that support exploring wild places and protecting the environment.
TNF’s Clothes the Loop program sends gently used donated apparel to Soles4Soals, a non-profit that distributes them to people in need. The organization also trains and empowers people to build businesses selling the clothes.
Here’s How Sustainable The North Face Says They Are
Between TNF and their parent company (VF) they’ve said a lot about their plans to be sustainable, but they don’t really promote them. TNF isn’t currently pushing their Renewed Collection or their Exploration Without Compromise products on their website. You have to go looking for them. VF has a responsibility blurb on their homepage, and a recent press release about being recognized as one of The 100 Best Corporate Citizens Of 2022 by 3BL Media.
Sustainability in TNF manufacturing is mostly talked about by VF, which set down some aggressive goals in their 2020 Sustainability Report. An updated 2021 report will hopefully show us they’re making a lot more progress on them.
What Is the Sustainability Strategy of The North Face
VF’s 2020 Sustainability & Responsibility Report details a strategy to use sustainable materials and responsible business practices. It provides a list of goals around people, planet, and product, and tells about their progress toward meeting them.
We found a manufacturing page and a product page for TNF that tell us they’re working on using more recycled materials and being more responsible with chemical, water, and energy use. Both of these pages show they fall under a responsibility page that is no longer linked or appears to exist on their website.
What Sustainability Marketing Messages Does The North Face Share
They don’t push sustainability much on the TNF homepage.
- At the bottom they promote their Renewed Collection of reconditioned apparel.
- Their menu has an About page where we found their Sustainability info that talks about their goals for circularity, and to become more sustainable in their supply chain, materials sourcing, and packaging.
- They’ve done some campaigns around their Remade Collection of upcycled products, making a big splash about it for Earth Day 2020.
- But it doesn’t look like they promote their Exploration Without Compromise products that are made with 75% or more responsibly sourced materials and use PFC-free durable water repellent (DWR). We had to dig a bit to find this product page.
“Greenwashing: behavior or activities that make people believe that a company is doing more to protect the environment than it really is”Cambridge Dictionary
The fact that TNF doesn’t highlight their sustainability on their homepage is actually a good thing. If they tried to push a message that they are currently a sustainable brand, we would have issues with it. It would sound like they were greenwashing to seem better than they are at it.
How Does The North Face Compare to Their Competitors
There are some outdoor apparel companies that have made it further to be sustainable, and there are some who haven’t. So we would consider TNF to be in the middle of the road when comparing it to current sustainable practices of competing brands.
It’s clear they see Patagonia as being their biggest competitor in the sustainable outdoor apparel market. This could explain why TNF has gotten more aggressive about sustainability over recent years; it’s hard to compete with a company that’s been working on it a lot longer like Patagonia has.
How Can You Buy More Sustainable Sports Products
As a consumer, you’d want to verify what the company says on its website about their sustainable practices. Yet, you have to watch out for the companies that use marketing buzzwords to sound good but don’t stand behind those claims.
Here are some organizations that certify companies as sustainable and provide ways to search for them:
- OEKO-TEX Buying Guide – search for companies with sustainable practices
- Global Organic Textile Standard (GOTS) – find retailers in your area with this certification
- Fair Trade – monitors companies for social, economic, and environmentally fair practices
- Ecocert – lists certified companies that say they use organic materials
- Worldwide Responsible Accredited Production (WRAP) – certifies companies based on their social compliance and provides a search map to find these retailers
- B-Corp – search for companies certified to have the highest level of social and environmental standards
With all these resources and a few minutes of your time, you can quickly check before you next purchase how the respective company might be.
Though they’ve been praised for a commitment to their goals, it looks like TNF and their parent company have a long way to go in their journey to make sustainable products. But it feels like they know that, and they’re not backing down.
The ethical apparel review site Good On You said it best with their rating of “It’s a Start” in their article, How Ethical Is The North Face? They noted that, though the brand has been improving their practices, they have work to do when it comes to paying a living wage, using eco-friendly materials, and setting water reduction targets.
While it’s clear that TNF is making changes to become more sustainable, we won’t know for sure until they welcome more third-party reviews and join more organizations that help them reach their goals and prove it.
TNF’s About page talks about their mission to make the best products for the earth. Let’s give it a few years to see if they can stand behind this claim.
- World Economic Forum: These facts show how unsustainable the fashion industry is
- The North Face
- Wikipedia – The North Face
- Wikipedia – Half Dome
- Wikipedia Yosemite National Park
- The North Face UK
- VF Corporation
- Science Direct: Life-cycle assessment (LCA)
- MIT SMR: Strategic Sustainability Uses of Life-Cycle Analysis
- Fashion Transparency Index
- Shop ethical! The North Face
- VF Corporation Brands
- Ethical Consumer
- VF Corporation’s Animal Derived Materials (ADMs) policy
- How Ethical is The North Face – Ethical Consumer
- Textile Exchange
- Material Change Index – Textile Exchange
- VF Corporation’s Materials page
- Treehugger: The North Face Unveils First Sustainability Report
- VF’s 2018 sustainability report
- Sustainable Brands
- Trending: The North Face, Timberland, Vans Scaling Regenerative Supply Chains
- The North Face: Exploration Without Compromise
- The North Face: Sustainability
- bluesign® systems partner
- bluesign® product label
- How Sustainable is The North Face: Fairify
- VF Corporation: traceability map
- Open Sourcemap
- VF Corporation’s factory list
- VF Corporation’s brands
- The Men Hero: Where Is The North Face Made? Is It In China?
- Worldwide Responsible Accredited Production (WRAP)
- Fair Labor Association
- VF Corporation’s Climate page
- VF Corporation’s call for climate policy
- Net Zero Climate: What is Net Zero?
- The North Face Climate Change page
- Bonneville Environmental Foundation (BEF)
- Green America Toxic Textiles Report
- VF Corporation’s Responsibility
- Best Hiking: The use of PFCs in Outdoor Clothing
- Green America: Toxic Textile Scorecard
- The North Face UK Recycled Materials
- Outdoor Industry Association (OIA) – Chemical Management Working Group (CMWG)
- European Outdoor Conservation Association (EOCA)
- Find a B Corp – B Lab Europe
- OEKO-TEX: Buying Guide
- Fair Labor Association
- Fairtrade International’s Fairtrade Finder
- The Global Organic Textile Standard (GOTS)
- Supply Chain Dive: Packaging makes up nearly half of plastic waste
- CDA: The North Face
- EDGE Fashion Intelligence: Fashion Industry Environmental, Waste, and Recycle Statistics
- The North Face Base Camp Duffel
- Trustpilot: The North Face
- The North Face: Returns and Warranty
- Wikipedia – Fast Fashion
- The North Face: Clothes the Loop
- The North Face Retail Stores
- The North Face Outlet Stores
- The North Face Clothes Recycling app
- The North Face Renewed Collection
- The North Face Remade Collection
- The North Face Renewed Collection About page
- ABC News: Almost 80 percent of unwanted textiles end up in landfill, a report finds
- VF Corporation’s 2020 Sustainability & Responsibility Report
- Higg Facility Environmental Module (FEM)
- The Conservation Alliance
- The North Face Explore Fund
- The North Face Manufacturing page
- The North Face Product page
- Input Mag: The North Face has turned defective clothes into an Earth Day collection
- CNBC: As The North Face battles Patagonia in outdoors market, it bets tackling climate change will pay off
- Good On You: How Ethical Is The North Face?