While it might be difficult to pick one color to describe the theme of the Outdoor Retailer 2007 Summer Market, it would probably be some shade of green. Or perhaps bamboo, corn yellow, or coconut brown. While the exact color might be debatable, one thing is for sure: it would definitely be an earth tone.

In the nearly 20 Outdoor Retailer shows I have attended over the years, never have I seen the “green theme” so universally applied as I did this time around. From the moment I entered the Salt Palace Convention Center and was greeted by the large sign explaining the “Green Steps” program, to prominent displays on the outside of many of the exhibitor’s booths, to the advertisements in the trade journals, I was never far from learning how exhibitors and show organizers are stepping up their commitment the environment in a big way.

The Green Steps program made it easy to quickly identify which exhibitors were making an extra effort to offer environmentally friendly products and practices. Large green steps (footprints) were prominently displayed in front of booths of exhibitors who are “going above and beyond basic business as usual” in their commitment to “greening” the industry. And there were a lot of green steps on the floor of the Salt Palace this week.

This commitment to the environment is not surprising – given the growing interest in the “green movement” generally – and particularly given that most of the exhibitors and retailers make their living on, and have a passion for, the continued availability of wild places. Even so, it was still impressive to see just how widespread the adoption of green practices has become in the outdoor industry.

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Timberland, similar to a several other exhibitors, dedicated a fair amount of real estate on the outside of its booth to describing how the booth had been made using environmentally friendly materials.

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Smartwool touted the environmental benefits of its sole supplier of raw materials: the merino sheep.

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Johnson Outdoors provided a breakdown of its canoes and kayaks that are made with recycled materials.

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Golite and Yakima explained what they are doing to offset the environmental impact of their office, manufacturing, and distribution activities.

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Sierra Designs summarized how its booth, office space, and products are all consistent with a larger corporate mission of being responsible environmental stewards.

While the green theme was woven throughout the show, it was interesting that terms like recycled, eco-friendly, natural, sustainable, renewable, and organic were almost always accompanied by terms describing style and/or performance. It is clear that manufacturers are trying to communicate that in addition to doing good by the planet, they are not compromising their commitment to making quality products that both look good and perform well.

So how does all of this relate to the lightweight backpacking? Well, in addition to the obvious of what is good for the environment is good for all of us who like to spend time outdoors — it begs the question of whether a lightweight backpacker would be willing to pay a weight (and/or cost) penalty in exchange for a product that is produced using a more environmentally friendly method or material.

A case in point is the recent discussion in the BPL forums about the new Patagonia Micro Puff pullover. According to the Patagonia website, the fall 2007 Micro Puff pullover made with a “lightweight…recycled polyester” and “3-oz Climashield® Green continuous filament polyester insulation (40% recycled), weighs 14.7 ounces. My 2004 Micro Puff made with a standard (non recycled) polyester ripstop shell and Polarguard Delta insulation, weighs 12.5 oz — a difference of roughly 2-ounces.

Peanuts, you say! A paltry 2 ounces for the peace of mind of knowing that you are wearing something that not only keeps you warm but is also keeping rubbish out of the landfill? Apparently not so for some ounce counters who say they would prefer the “less green” version to the current one in favor of saving the 2 ounces. Granted, there are other issues at play here (i.e., technical discussion of Polarguard Delta vs. Climashield Green), so the debate is not simply a matter of ounces, but you get the idea of the discussions that might ensue if the casualty in the green gear movement is increased weight.

Personally, I would gladly take the 2 oz penalty in favor of the recycled jacket (assuming fit, price, and technical performance were roughly equal), but there is probably a tipping point. Would I still opt for the jacket with recycled materials if there was a 10 oz difference? Maybe not.

After spending a few days observing the attention and resources currently focused on the “greenification” of the outdoor industry, I am confident that if there are any significant performance tradeoffs (including weight) associated with making outdoor gear more green, they will be resolved, making any such current tradeoffs a moot point over time.