08 Dec

How Ethical Is Columbia?

If you’re an outdoors fan, you’ve probably come across Columbia Sportswear before. But how ethical is Columbia? Let’s take a look.

NOTE: This brand’s rating is under review and subject to change. The article will be updated soon to reflect any changes in scoring.

If you’re an outdoors fan, you’ve probably come across Columbia Sportswear before. The brand was founded in 1938 in Portland, Oregon, initially selling hats. Fifty years later, in 1986, Columbia expanded its market. The launch of its Bugaboo™ parka revolutionised the way alpine skiers dress.

The outdoor gear brand has since grown tremendously, thanks to industry-leading technologies and innovations. Amongst Columbia’s recent highlights is the 2017 launch of its line of “high-quality, eco-conscious gear built for maximum outdoor performance and minimal environmental impact.” The brand even states it is “proud to support initiatives that focus on doing right by the people [it reaches], the places [it touches], and the products [it makes].”

Reading this statement made us wonder, “how is Columbia impacting the planet, people, and animals?” Are Columbia’s products doing right by the people and places it touches? It’s time to answer the question on everyone’s minds: how ethical is Columbia?

Environmental impact

Columbia’s environment rating is “Not Good Enough”, which is a bit of a letdown from a brand that touts products with “minimal environment impact”. The brand uses some eco-friendly materials, including recycled materials and a medium proportion of Bluesign certified fabrics. Unfortunately, we found no evidence Columbia reduces its carbon and other greenhouse gas emissions in its supply chain or minimises textile waste when manufacturing its products.

Labour conditions

None of Columbia’s supply chain is certified by labour standards that ensure worker health and safety, living wages, or other labour rights. While the outdoor gear brand likely publishes information about its supplier policies, audits, and remediation processes, it doesn’t publish a comprehensive list of suppliers or information about forced labour, gender equality, or freedom of association.

It’s also concerning that we found no evidence Columbia ensures payment of a living wage in its supply chain. Plus, the brand didn’t disclose adequate policies or safeguards to protect suppliers and workers in its supply chain from the impacts of COVID-19.

For all these reasons, we rated Columbia’s impact on people “Not Good Enough”.

Animal welfare

Columbia has a formal animal welfare policy aligned with Five Freedoms, and it doesn’t use fur, angora, or exotic animal skin. It does, however, still use leather, wool, and down. And we found no evidence it traces any animal products to the first stage of production. “Not Good Enough”.

Overall rating: Not Good Enough

Overall, we rate Columbia “Not Good Enough”. The American brand has taken some decent first steps, like using innovative and eco-friendly materials, publishing some information about its processes, and having an animal welfare policy. But these initiatives are not enough to warrant a better rating. Columbia needs to reduce its impact on the three key areas of Planet, People, and Animals by reducing its carbon and other greenhouse gas emissions, minimising waste, being more transparent, moving away from animal-derived materials, and paying its workers a living wage.

Note that Good On You ratings consider 100s of issues, and it is not possible to list every relevant issue in a summary of the brand’s performance. For more information, see our How We Rate page and our FAQs.

See the rating.

So, if you’re the type who likes to put a backpack on, tie your hiking shoes, and explore nature’s wonders, but you’re not the type who likes wearing brands that are harmful to the planet, people, and animals, we’ve got you. Keep reading to discover our favourite ethical alternatives to Columbia.

Like hiking? Check our sustainable packing list for hiking

Sustainable alternatives to Columbia

Outerknown

Rated: Good

Founded by surf champion Kelly Slater, Outerknown is a sustainable brand that aims to blend style and function with the protection of natural resources. The brand is Bluesign certified and has partnered with the Fair Labour Association. Find the range in sizes XS-2XL.

See the rating.

Shop Outerknown.

Shop Outerknown @ Curate.

Patagonia

Rated: Good

Patagonia is a brand that truly lives and breathes the great outdoors. It makes clothing for trail running, climbing, mountain biking, surfing, skiing, and snowboarding. Patagonia has strong labour rights and uses recycled, rather than virgin, polyester. It has also committed to reducing its energy use and emissions, and stocks sizes XS-3XL.

See the rating.

Shop Patagonia @ LVR Sustainable.

Shop Patagonia @ Labell-D.

Shop Patagonia.

Shop Patagonia Pre-Owned @ Vestiaire Collective.

Shop Patagonia Kids Pre-Owned @ Retykle.

tentree

Rated: Good

Canadian brand tentree believes big change starts small. Small as in bringing your reusable bag to the grocery store, making fewer, more thoughtful purchases, and choosing to purchase sustainably when you do. The brand plants ten trees for every item purchased to help regenerate ecosystems and provide planting jobs in communities around the world, and has already planted over 65 million trees.

All tentree’s products are created with an Earth-First approach, meaning they're made in fair, safe working conditions, and constructed using only sustainably sourced and recycled materials. tentree’s super comfy fabrics and easy wardrobe staples are typically available from XS to XL.

See the rating.

Shop tentree.

Thesus (Alice + Whittles)

Rated: Good
A single black gum boot with a white sole on a piece of wood

Thesus favours transparency, ethical manufacturing practices and sustainable materials as a means of creating long-lasting, positive change. Find the boots in EU sizes 36-46.

See the rating.

Shop Thesus.

Le Pirol

Rated: Great
woman wearing blue sweater and man wearing orange sweater from sustainable brand Le Pirol

Le Pirol is a Nordic knitwear brand tailored for a modern, sustainable lifestyle. Shop the range in sizes S-2XL.

See the rating.

Shop Le Pirol.

GROUNDTRUTH

Rated: Good
sustainable fashion brand groundtruth

UK-based GROUNDTRUTH grew from 3 sisters’ shared belief in the power of collaboration, and their drive to protect people and nurture the planet. Together, they saw the opportunity to design problem-solving travel goods that drive positive change: reducing plastic pollution and improving people’s lives.

See the rating.

Shop GROUNDTRUTH.

VAUDE

Rated: Good
black vaude puffer jacket

Vaude is a European family-run outdoor wear brand. It sustainably produces clothes and materials for the outdoors, using eco-friendly materials, like recycled fabrics. It is also a member of the Fair Wear Foundation and has a Code of Conduct that covers all of the ILO Four Fundamental Freedom principles. Find the range in 2XS-4XL.

See the rating.

Shop Vaude.

pinqponq

Rated: Great

pinqponq is a German brand that makes stylish and functional bags out of recycled plastic. It sources materials under the Fair Wear Foundation Code of Conduct and traces all of its supply chain. The brand is also 100% vegan.

See the rating.

Shop pinqponq @ thegreenlabels.

Shop pinqponq.

Sandqvist

Rated: Good

Sweden’s Sandqvist makes a range of stylish, everyday bags from backpacks to handbags. It uses organic cotton and recycled fabrics and is a member of the Fair Wear Foundation. Sandqvist even has its own workshop which repairs and upcycles old bags into new products.

See the rating.

Shop Sandqvist.

Shop Sandqvist Pre-Owned @ Vestiaire Collective.

Napapijri (Pre-Owned)

Rated: It's A Start

Napapijri was born in 1987 in the shadow of Europe’s highest peak, Mont Blanc, where an Italian manufacturer of travel bags gave outdoor apparel a new meaning by combining innovative materials and close attention to style. The brand has made a public commitment to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and uses a few eco-friendly materials.

See the rating.

Shop Napapijri Pre-Owned @ Vestiaire Collective.

Editor's note

Feature image via Columbia, all other images via brands mentioned. Good On You publishes the world’s most comprehensive ratings of fashion brands’ impact on people, the planet and animals. Use our Directory to search more than 3,000 brands. We may earn a commission on sales made using our offer codes or affiliate links.

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