The attainable sustainable: What are dive manufacturers doing to be more eco-friendly?

The attainable sustainable

As 2020 draws to a close, we thank our lucky stars that humanity hasn’t been wiped out by a global pandemic! Sadly, the threat of our coral reefs being wiped out in another 30 years is still very likely.  Jacques Cousteau said “People protect what they love” and at the heart of every dive gear manufacturer is the love of the sea and a dedication to look after it for the future of their business.

Mission 2020 was an idea conceived by Fourth Element.  The concept was to encourage the dive community to pledge sustainable business practices which would be implemented by World Oceans Day, June 2020.  Over 170 organisations signed up including (among many others) Suunto, Aqua Lung, Dive Rite and KUBI.  Some committed to reduce waste at their premises, use sustainable manufacturing techniques, raise awareness of environmental issues or organise underwater clean ups.  The primary focus for most was to eliminate the use of single-use plastics.

Many of the big manufacturers today associate themselves with environmental NGOs or have ambassadors with a substantial influence in protecting the natural world. As way of examples, Mares are part of Blue Oceans and their partner training agency SSI offer the Blue Oceans study program as a free course; Dr Sylvia Earle is a Scubapro Ambassador.  Her non-profit conservation alliance Mission Blue is partnered with Scubapro, as are WWF and Sharkproject (among others).

The packaging you receive your shiny new dive kit in is changing and there is less of it.  Some manufacturers are using compostable materials, reusable fabric bags or attaching the product itself to a simple card, eliminating the use completely of a single-use plastic bag.  Fourth Element use bags made from Cassava starch which break down over time in the compost heap and Mares wetsuits arrive at your doorstep in a bag composed of 80% corn with a cardboard hanger.

Even here at Mike’s Dive Store we are working to be kinder to the environment.  We have swapped plastic packing tape for paper tape, we re-use boxes received from our suppliers to ship goods and we donate 1% of our profits to conservation charity Sea Changers. Also by choosing to use 'Shop' when you check out you can offset the carbon emissions created by your order for free.  See more in our Sustainability section here.

But what of the products themselves? Selling dive kit is somewhat hypocritical if the environment it is designed to be used in has been decimated by the carbon processes that created it!  Neoprene is a non-biodegradable product that requires a lot of energy to be manufactured. In 2012 Scubapro made a wetsuit from limestone neoprene called X-Foam. This was a game-changer at the time and -as a double whammy on that same suit - they also opted to use a solvent-free glue.  This was later followed by Naturalprene which is a neoprene harvested from renewable rubber trees. Both are evident in the Everflex 3/2mm Steamer wetsuit.

Fourth Element’s OceanPositive range was launched in 2014. The idea was born from the 640,000 tonnes of ghost nets lost at sea year on year. This waste was turned into a yarn called ECONYL® for the swimwear and rashguard range.   Since then Fourth Element have pioneered eco-friendly materials whether they be made from post-consumer waste (X-Core range), with no harmful chemicals (Polartec ® as seen in the Xerotherm range) or sustainably grown and harvested (Yulex Pure as in the Surface Wetsuit).

It is really great to see other home-grown manufacturers as well as Fourth Element pushing the envelope when it comes to sustainability.  AP Diving in Cornwall recycle both the metal swarf and oil that is produced by their machinery while the team at Apeks in Blackburn regrind their rubber and hard plastic waste in house.  They can then re-use it in other products as it gets blended back in with virgin materials.  They sell the waste from the brass bars used in the manufacturer of their regulators back to the company that supplies them, thereby massively reducing their carbon footprint.  The VX1 Mask comes in a reusable fabric case and they pride themselves in the fact that no plastic is used in the shipping of this product.

Diving products should be built to last - that in itself is a good way of protecting our ocean planet by reducing waste.  By using clean energy, sustainable materials and ethical manufacturing processes these companies are also ensuring their business practices are part of the solution to a greener (or should that be bluer?) world.