Each year, REI celebrates sustainability by giving a brand the Root Award, which celebrates the most responsibly designed, innovative new product sold at the co-op. This year, COSTA’s Untangled Collection is the recipient of that award. The collection, which COSTA collaborated on with Bureo, transforms used fishing nets into polarized sunglasses that are also designed to be recyclable.
“What is so innovative about this collection is that it addresses and integrates sustainability from end to end—through the whole life cycle,” said Gregory Gausewitz, manager of product sustainability at REI.
Founded by local fishermen and surfers, the 35-year-old sunglasses company COSTA has made it their mission to care for oceans and waterways since day one. The question they started asking themselves in 2015 was how to incorporate this mission into the DNA of the product itself.
John Sanchez, vice president of product development of COSTA, was scrolling through his social media feed one day when he came across Bureo, a company that turns fishing nets from 26 wild-caught fisheries in Chile into plastic pellets that can be molded into everything from skateboards to ergonomic chairs. Sanchez reached out to Bureo on their Facebook page—and got a response. What resulted was a multiyear relationship and brand-new products: the Untangled Collection.
“There are very few materials out there that are truly traceable back to their source,” said Todd Barker, marketing manager for COSTA. “The benefit of working with Bureo is they have traceability in their supply chain—there is no uncertainty about where the stuff is coming from.”
Bureo works with fisherpeople from small communities to large ports. Until recently, there had been limited options for disposing of fishing nets. According to Bureo, many were simply cut off and dropped into the ocean, harming ocean life and polluting the environment. In 2013, Bureo changed that by creating a recycling program to collect the nets and transform them into something useable: in this case, plastic sunglasses frames.
With the Untangled Collection, COSTA didn’t stop at the frames—they set out to make every component of the sunglasses from materials that are recycled, recyclable, or both. The lenses come from a German glass supplier focused on sustainably harvesting the minerals used to create the glass, and they can be recycled just like most glass bottles. The aluminum is made of a blend of pre- and post-consumer recycled content. The packaging the glasses ship in is recycled cardboard, and the signs the brand made to promote the glasses are made from recycled wood. Even the bag the sunglasses come in is made from upcycled garments with an inner fleece made from recycled bottles.
COSTA went even further. They partnered with a company called PLUSfoam to create the nose and temple pads, made from foam that's designed to be recyclable. PLUSfoam also pledged to recycle every pair of sunglasses at the end of their life. You can simply send your used sunglasses to PLUSfoam and they disassemble them, reuse the foam pads and recycle the rest responsibly.
“What’s been most exciting is that we’ve been able to align our values with our products,” Baker said. “These products allow a consumer to really embrace a cause [and become] an agent of change. Their purchase decision really does impact the environment.”
The Root Award
This REI award is an industry-wide guidepost, seeking to encourage companies across the outdoor industry to place sustainability at the center of the design process. It’s how we cheer on brands that put the hours and grit into creating a sustainable, industry-shifting product.
With so many brands focusing on sustainability, it’s often hard to choose just one. That’s why we set four criteria for picking the best of the best:
- Degree of sustainable innovation: How game-changing was the solution?
- Contribution to solving an industry-wide sustainability challenge: Did the product help move the industry in the right direction?
- Alignment with REI’s Better Materials and Gear That Lasts focus areas for product sustainability: Does the product use more sustainable materials while creating a durable product that performs well?
- Product scalability: Will the product resonate with customers and is the product accessible to a large audience?
COSTA’s Untangled Collection scored high on every question, making it the clear winner. We announced the award on January 30 at Winter Outdoor Retailer—the biggest trade show in the outdoor industry.