The outdoor industry has issued a response following recent national media coverage about microfibres and the sector.  An article in the Sunday Times on 10 February made statements about trade associations and brands that do not accurately reflect the current status, nor the work that is being done to address the issue of microplastics.  The European Outdoor Group (EOG) and Outdoor Industries Association (OIA) have published a joint statement to provide a full and accurate update on behalf of the outdoor sector.

EOG and OIA statement

“An article was published in the Sunday Times on 10 February with the headline ‘National Trust launches hunt for the non-polluting fleece’.  While we welcome high profile focus on the important issue of microfibres, the article contains misleading, incomplete and inaccurate information, and inferred that major brands in the outdoor sector are not addressing this serious environmental challenge.  In fact, our industry has a long history of successful collaboration on big issues including this one, which affect every organisation.

“Working collectively in recent years, outdoor organisations have been striving to find viable and sustainable solutions that will allow businesses to keep operating successfully, while reducing the impact that their activities make on the planet.  We are all very aware that without the natural world, we have no industry, and of course, conserving the world around us is fundamentally the right thing to do.

“As far back as 2016, the EOG started to create clarity and foresight on microfibre shedding for its members, with the formation of the European Outdoor Microfibre Consortium, building on interest generated in the subject through biov8tion’s #DontFeedTheFish projectThis initial response to the escalating industry challenge provided a clear sector voice, established the level of understanding on the subject, and helped identify immediate work to do, in order to support the safeguarding of synthetic performance textiles that were being placed at risk within the larger industry conversations.

“The EOG was a founding member of the international Outdoor Industry Microfibre Consortium – now The Microfibre Consortium (TMC) – and in 2017 played a central role in developing a Cross Industry Agreement on the subject.  These developments represented the start of a more substantial multi-stakeholder, wide-ranging and sustained project.  Throughout, the association has been a key player in this global alignment of a test method, and EU policy development, work that is held in high regard around the world and which is seen as crucial to the development of the TMC agenda.  With the backing of its membership (including the Outdoor Industries Association and the three brands mentioned in the Sunday Times article), the EOG has continued to allocate significant resource to the initiative.  The association’s work on the topic is led by Dr. Katy Stevens and Dr. Jane Turnbull in the EOG CSR and sustainability team.

“In the UK, the Outdoor Industries Association has provided regular updates to its membership about a wide range of CSR and sustainability work that is being done on behalf of the sector.  This includes the microfibre projects that the EOG is involved in.

“The Sunday Times article makes references to both the EOG and OIA and includes what is described as a ‘joint statement’.  In fact, the words attributed to the two organisations were taken from an earlier joint statement that was published in January on the EOG website and that of the USA Outdoor Industry Association (not the UK OIA).  The Sunday Times has only produced an extract from that statement and has failed to refer to the wider, substantial work of The Microfibre Consortium.  Crucially, the quotation attributed to the EOG and OIA was not a response to a request for content for the specific article in which it appears.

“Late on the afternoon of Friday 8 February, Jonathan Leake, the journalist who wrote the article, sent an email to the OIA, requesting a response by Saturday morning.  The OIA responded immediately and referred Mr. Leake to the work of the EOG, emphasising that the outdoor industry has been taking the issue of microplastics very seriously and is already doing a lot of work on the subject.  Despite that rapid reply, the article that was published in the Sunday Times, and then online and subsequently shared by other national media, failed to accurately reflect those points.

“To be absolutely clear, the National Trust’s search for a fleece product that does not shed microfibres does not come as a shock to the outdoor industry, as the sector is already fully committed to that quest itself.  Indeed, as a member of the OIA, the National Trust is party to that work.  The OIA applauds the trust’s aspiration and the trust supports the work that the association is involved in.

“The EOG and OIA are dismayed that the Sunday Times allowed this misleading and poorly researched article to be published, and urge the newspaper to explore the subject more thoroughly by engaging fully with The Microfibre Consortium, the Cross Industry Agreement and the wider work being done by the EOG on behalf of the outdoor industry.

“Meanwhile, as they have been doing since 2016, the EOG and OIA will continue to focus significant resources to address the issue of microfibre shedding, working with their members, other organisations operating in the outdoor and wider sporting goods sectors, and many more stakeholders.  The outdoor industry is rightly proud of its proactive approach to sustainability and conservation – they represent huge and complex challenges for all businesses (and society in general), but we are working very hard to find viable solutions for the benefit of all.”

Following the publication of the article in the Sunday Times, representatives of the EOG and OIA have contacted Jonathan Leake to express disappointment about the content of the feature and to once again highlight the proactive and substantial work that the outdoor sector is engaged in on the issue of microfibres.  Mr. Leake suggested that they write letters to the editor.

A full list of members of The Microfibre Consortium can be found at www.microfibreconsortium.com/members.