Like any other environmentalist, what drives me is a true belief in the idea of positive change through action. That if we work together, we can make the world a better place. While some changes are small and personal, and the effects can be seen immediately, sometimes change is harder won and takes time, effort and hours of discussion and negotiation. But this is the change that will have the biggest impact in the end.

I am fortunate, in my second year at Greenpeace, to be witnessing this kind of change happen first hand.

Toxics campaigner Xiaozhou with Pauline the artificial polar bear
ISPO is the biggest outdoor and sports equipment brand exhibition in the whole Asia Pacific region. Every year, it attracts thousands of visitors and representatives from the biggest brands from all across the globe.

At ISPO, we had one mission. To confront the brands and the public at the exhibition and communicate the dangers of PFCs. I so nervous and excited that I lost sleep the night before. We were walking into the belly of the beast.

I knew that almost all of the brands represented use harmful chemicals and PFCs in their clothing and equipment. How could we make our voice heard when we were so outnumbered? But I knew that this was a rare and important opportunity that we couldn’t afford to miss. Nonetheless, I was happy to do it.

Engaging with the public at Asia’s biggest outdoor brands exhibition

But this happiness quickly disappeared when we arrived at the exhibition. When we talked face to face with manufacturers at the ISPO we were confronted with some disappointing realities. The manufacturers we spoke to admitted that they are already fully capable of producing outdoor gear without PFCs; moreover, they recognized the clear evidence in front of them, showing the harmful effects they have on the environment.  But nevertheless, they would continue as long as it was profitable. This was the first time that I really hit a wall of frustration and felt my hope begin to ebb.
But one thing was clear. If we were going to change anything, we had to talk to the brands.

Then, a moment of hope.

The next representative was from Vaude, a leading outdoor gear brand. When we spoke, we learned that not only was the brand already aware of the dangers of PFCs, but they were already exploring ways to start eliminating it from their supply chain.
A representative even agreed to pose with our PFC-free banner

A staff member from Vaude holds a “PFC-FREE” banner
Just a few months later,Vaude promised to phase out ALL hazardous chemicals from its products and supply chains by 2020.  Moreover, the company has promised to completely eliminate PFCs from its products by the end of 2018.

It’s hard to express how much this means to me. Not only because pushing to eliminate PFCs has been a long and difficult struggle, that has taken us to the bottom of the ocean and to some of the highest peaks of the world, but because I passionately believe in the project.

This is the third big global brand to recognize that PFCs are harmful to consumers and our environment and become a Detoxed global brand. So far Paramo and Rotauf have also comitted  to completely eliminating PFCs.

Is this the end?
Of course not! The fight against hazardous chemicals in our outdoor clothes is just beginning. As we continue to meet with and push brands, we are still gathering evidence of serious hazardous chemical pollution. Many of our favourite products, from brands like The North Face, Mammut and Haglöfs have been found to contain concentrations of chemicals that damage our health and environment.

Another domino has fallen, but we’ll keep putting on the pressure. Meanwhile, we can choose to fight hazardous chemicals with consumer power and choose to buy from brands that are committed  to Detox rather than brands that trash the planet in search of profit.

Change is possible. I’m witnessing it first hand. Slowly but surely, we’re working hazardous chemicals out of our outdoor gear supply chains and stopping the flow of poison into our environment.

Read more about why we’re fighting to eliminate toxic PFC’s from our outdoor brands here.

Xiaozhou Zhang is a Toxics campaigner for Greenpeace East Asia