The Root Award 2017: Innovative, Sustainable Design

Celebrating this year’s pinnacle of eco-friendly design.

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Sustainability is an important part of everything the co-op does—from gear selection to our hiring practices. With that core value in mind, we are proud to announce the winner of our second annual Root Award, which celebrates the most responsibly designed, innovative new product of 2017: the La Sportiva Mythos Eco.

This award is an industry-wide guidepost, inspiring others to place sustainability at the forefront of the design process. It’s how we give a giant high-five to the hours, commitment and grit that goes into creating a sustainable, industry-shifting product.

Change on an industry level starts small, with a kernel of an idea. We want to highlight the underrated seed stages of innovation. Because those seeds grow roots and those roots spread into something much bigger. This year’s product does just that.

The Award Criteria

With so many brands focusing on innovative sustainability, it can be hard to pick the best. We set up some standards to make the choice a little easier. Our criteria are:

  1. Degree of sustainable innovation: How game-changing was the solution?
  2. Contribution to solving an industry-wide sustainability challenge: Did the product help move the industry in the right direction?
  3. 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?
  4. Product scalability: Will the product resonate with customers and is the product accessible to a large audience?

The Winner

Why did the La Sportiva Mythos Eco win? It came down to the four criteria:

  1. These shoes are made of 95% recycled materials. This is innovative in the footwear category, especially for climbing shoes.
  2. The shoes’ metal-free tanning process and water-based adhesives addresses key chemical impacts that are often associated with leather process and shoe manufacturing.
  3. The fact that the shoe can be resoled supports longevity and keeps it in use for a long time.
  4. This shoe has already made splashes in the marketplace—and it is available to a large audience of La Sportiva fans.

Mythos Eco

“With the Mythos Eco, La Sportiva has shown that it’s possible to make a climbing shoe almost entirely of recycled materials,” said Gregory Gausewitz, REI’s manager of product sustainability. “In addition, they utilize a lower-impact leather-tanning process that reduces chemical impacts and uses less water and energy. Importantly, they’ve done all this while maintaining excellent performance and durability.”

Historically, the scraps of the Vibram climbing shoe soles manufactured in La Sportiva’s factory in Italy have ended up in a landfill. They’ve spent years thinking about how to stop that from happening. Recently the technology became available for them to try something new: what La Sportiva is calling the eco sole.

The Vibram scraps from the factory floor are broken down “to a gooey raw material and revulcanized to produce new sheets of rubber,” said Jonathan Lantz, president at La Sportiva in North America. They can make one sheet of Eco Rubber for every five sheets of Vibram rubber waste, which now are saved from the landfill.

But it’s not all about the soles. The process of leather tanning is often quite chemical intensive. With the Mythos Eco, La Sportiva has utilized a tanning process that avoids the use of heavy metals and other harsh chemicals, and results in no hazardous waste. That’s a big win. And the laces, webbing and nylon ribbons are recycled from fishing nets and fabric scraps, taking used products and reconstructing the nylon threads to make the shoes we know and love.

“The great thing about having a small, family-run business is that we care about what happens to employees and the valley [in Italy where we are based],” said Michael Genauer, product line manager for La Sportiva. “If we were trashing the environment, it would have ruined the factory by now. It makes sustainability part of the corporate culture of the brand. … Everything from looking at water and energy consumption to being zero waste.”

La Sportiva proved that a more eco-friendly climbing shoe is possible. And we hope this serves as an example the rest of the industry can build upon.

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