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Archive for August, 2011

The Backyard Collective

Posted by Caitlin | August 26th, 2011 | Filed under Personal Reflection, Positive Change, Who We Are

We love Forest Park; it’s 5100 acres of biking, hiking, walking, running—a few of our favorite things. So last Friday, we were excited to get out of the office and give it some love with the rest of the Backyard Collective. We headed up Ridge Trail with the Conservation Alliance and a few other cool companies in Portland to build turnpikes, pull ivy and put in some hard work for a place we love. Here are few photos from our day in one of our favorite backyard parks.

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Summer Departures, Part 1: The Big Dig

Posted by Josie | August 22nd, 2011 | Filed under Personal Reflection, Who We Are

dig7It wouldn’t be summer without a few broken bones. At least, that’s what Josie and Peter can say. For their summer adventures, they either found themselves on the wrong end of a water ski or wrestling with a few Mastodons. But for most of us at Nau, our warm weather escapes took us to places where time and cell service do not exist, to vast expanses of land where we feel incredibly humbled, to islands where new ways of human living are being tested, or to the edge of our surfboard where everything and nothing exists, all at once.

Oh summer, how we love thee. To celebrate your waning days, we’re toasting a few mimosas in your honor and writing down a few words of remembrance by dedicating this short blog series to you and those moments that leave us humbled, broken and so damn happy we did it.

To kick-off our Summer Departure series, Josie takes us to Colorado where she helped unearth 100,000-year-old dinosaur bones buried deep in her grandparent’s backyard in what is now known as Snowmastodon.

dig4Last October, tusks from a wooly mammoth were discovered in the pond at my grandparent’s house in Snowmass, CO.  Since then, scientists have removed over 4,000 Ice Age fossils that were buried under 40 feet of mud and peat. Eight months after the discovery, I flew to Snowmass, CO to see the dig for myself.

I rolled up the driveway with my mom, hoping to get a peek at the action.  To my surprise, after a 5-minute tour of a big mud pit, the welcoming staff from the Denver Museum of Nature and Science handed my clean, soft, office-working hands a shovel and said “start digging.”

dig5Living in Portland, I get excited when I find a new bike street or a food cart that doesn’t suck. I got to experience the real thrill of discovery when my shovel hit rib bones of a Mastodon that walked on this planet about 999,967 years before I was born (give or take 50,000 years).

We logged the GPS location, size, position and type of bone and kept digging. People around me found molars, femurs and claws from sloths, wooly mammoth’s, mastodon’s and various other species from the Ice Age.  A mountain bike racer/fossil nerd from Grand Junction taught my mom and I how to encase the large bones in plaster to keep them from getting damaged during transport to the Denver Museum.  My hands were so beautifully dirty, I was as giddy as a scientist.

josie2For my Grandpa, one of the biggest surprises of his life was waiting for him at the age 84. For now, I’ll keep getting excited about discovering things in my own city, but in the grand scheme of things, I am ruined. My barometer for discovery is skewed for life.

The Signal Shed

Posted by leighann | August 8th, 2011 | Filed under Design, Sustainability
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The Signal Shed: All photos courtesy of Ryan Lingard Design

If you look for it, you might not see it. Rising high above Wallowa Lake, hidden in the shadows of the Eagle Cap Wilderness in Eastern Oregon sits the award-winning Signal Shed—a 130-square-foot modern mountain outpost. Built with mostly recycled materials, the outbuilding is simple in detail, yet beautiful in design: recaptured wood siding is stained dark to help the shed blend into the natural landscape. Cedar shutters protect the windows and secure the interior in the winter. A large, sliding barn door opens to create an outdoor living space. And the entire structure is built on floating piers to lessen its impact.

It’s the ultimate expression of minimalism. In fact, a judge from a prominent architecture magazine recently praised it as “the absence of almost everything.” And we tend to agree. Its simple beauty, low-impact design and effortless utilitarianism reflects the same principles that we follow in our design process.

To get a closer look, we decided, with some stealthy sleuthing, to track down its mastermind—Ryan Lingard. The Portland architect was more than willing to sit down with us and share his insight into his process of sustainable design, off-the-grid building, and how he did it all for under $10k.

OTG: Let’s start from the beginning; how did this all start?
Ryan: We had owned the land for about a year when, during a backpacking trip in the Wallowas, a bear attacked our tent. At that moment, we knew we needed to build something a little more secure. But we also didn’t need everything you would find in a traditional vacation home, nor did it seem appropriate to bring in all the traditional utilities and affect the landscape. We also wanted a structure that would sit more delicately in the landscape: to be modern and minimal, but on the other hand, fit into the pallet of how we saw the environment. We also wanted it to appear as if it was a utility building or a lean-to shelter, so in passing by, you didn’t realize it was an actual home. In the end, we built this utilitarian structure that fills this kind of pragmatic protection of warmth and security that we weren’t getting out of a tent.

inside_looking_outDid you have a certain approach or a process in designing the shed?
We wanted the structure to have the minimal support of camping, but offer the comfort of a more traditional residence. The big sliding barn door, which is probably one of the biggest architectural moves, is the nexus of that. We can throw that door open and have indoor/outdoor living, especially with the dock-like deck that cantilevers out.

Also, given how steep the lot was, building the whole cabin without an access road into the property was an enormous undertaking. One way we resolved the issue was by constructing this super-minimal pier foundation that sits on columns, so it serves the intent of sitting lightly on the landscape. It also makes it easy to minimize the amount of concrete and the amount of “earthwork” we had to do. It also decreased the amount of materials we had to bring in.

Since we would be gone for long periods of time, we also came up with the idea of using shutters as way to secure the shed. When they are closed, you can’t see any of the windows. And in the winter, when the interior lights are on, the rays seep through the slats in the siding to create this gorgeous, almost, sculptural piece.
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Windows were purchased at the Rebuilding Center in Portland, Ore.

Obviously, you sourced sustainable materials: reused windows, recaptured wood. Do you feel like that put constraints on the design? Or were there some happy accidents?
Some things did impact the design, like the windows. We had an idea of proportion and function and we knew we wanted a series of horizontal sliding windows, as well as a focal window looking out across to the mountain and the tram. We were willing to pay for new windows if we found the right ones, but we were able to find some great old windows from the Rebuilding Center in Portland.

For the recaptured wood, we found this character that runs a portable saw mill. He travels to different locations where he finds fallen tress. And his story was much like ours: he had built three signal sheds, connected them with two roofs and now lives in them with his wife and two kids. So it felt good to have a wholesome environmental story around the material, but also the added romance that we were doing the same thing.

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The blackened wood shutter siding helps the shed blend into the shadows of the surrounding landscape. Photo by Ryan Lingard Design

So in designing the shed, were you influenced by any current design or architectural trends?
Basically, the intent of the whole project was to be very quiet in the landscape, to hide in the shadows, and let the views and the surrounding wilderness be the focus, not the structure. Ultimately, the design was more driven by pragmatic and practical ideas, then a specific style. The minimal architecture lends itself to a very basic, but high-quality streamlined design. I guess that is an architectural movement, but it is also an ethos that is much larger than a style: the idea that everything has to be functional. So you don’t have extra trim or extra frames.

That’s a lot like our philosophy; great design is not when there is nothing left to add, but when there is nothing left to take away, when everything has a purpose, a function. So given this approach, what did you learn in the process of building the shed?
Before the shed, I had an almost academic appreciation for builders and craftsman. But through this process, I garnered an enormous respect for the art of crafting something that appears rather simple. Building something simple can actually be much more challenging, especially when you are in a rural environment and the collective resources and knowledge in the building community are otherwise very traditional, which I understand and respect, but it can make things more challenging.

You know, it’s easy when you go camping, because you know you’re only going to be out there for a few days, maybe a week, and then go home. But when you are building a structure and are intentionally eliminating certain luxuries, well, that can be hard for people to understand.

Yeah, you realize all of the crap that you don’t need.
Yeah, exactly. When you go camping for a lengthy period of time, everything gets reset. You come home, turn on a faucet or flip on a light switch and are amazed at the convenience. It’s exactly like that comedian, Louis C.K. says when he jokes about people who complain on airplanes, and he’s like, “Really? We’re flying dude! This is amazing.”

Between the Threads: Eco Index, the Nitty Gritty.

Posted by leighann | August 1st, 2011 | Filed under Environmental Change, Positive Change, Sustainability, Who We Are
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©Daniel Sharp

Last month in The Thought Kitchen, we sat down with Jamie Bainbridge, our Director of Textile Development and Sustainability, to get a behind-the-scenes look at the Eco Index—a collaborative effort to create an industry-wide standard in sustainability. This month, we’re taking a deeper dive into the nitty gritty details of this innovative tool and putting our Men’s Vice Blazer to the test. Find out what we learned and how it’s going to change the way we do business.

How It Works: The Cliffs Notes Version
Building a tool that assesses the environmental impact of thousands of products produced by hundreds of companies is challenging, and some might even say, downright impossible. That’s why the Outdoor Industry Association (OIA) built the Eco Index as a three-tiered system, so that any company, no matter how small or large, can evaluate their business piece-by-piece.

All three levels—guidelines, indicators and metrics—allow companies to evaluate their products based on two crucial elements: lifecycle stages such as packaging, transportation and materials; and impact such as the use of waste, water and other resources.

The first level—guidelines—is merely a set of recommendations that companies can use to lessen their impact: use more recycled content, minimize packaging, institute end-of-life design policies, etc… The second level—indicators—gets a bit more technical and even incorporates a scoring system that allows companies to assign points (we’ll take a closer look at indicators when we evaluate the Vice Blazer). And finally, the third tier—metrics—requires lots of number crunching and accounting that assigns values to each indicator. Confusing? Yes. Effective? We’ll see.

To get a better grasp on the set-up, think of it like this: guidelines ask what am I doing?, indicators ask how am I doing?, and metrics ask how much am I doing? But despite their qualitative and quantitative differences, every level is designed with the same goal in mind: to increase the transparency of the supply chain and lower the environmental footprint.

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©Daniel Sharp

Sizing up the Vice Blazer: Materials and End of Life
So what does all of this mean for a company like Nau? To start, we can use the Eco Index indicators to evaluate each of our products. Take the Vice Blazer, for example. We picked three sample indicators to size up its environmental footprint and here’s what we learned:

1 Recycled Content
For this indicator, the Eco Index assigns points based on the percentage of recycled content that is used in the product (1 point for 10-24%, 2 points for 25-49%, etc…). But keep in mind, all scoring is merely an internal gauge of a company’s sustainability practices and, in no way, reflects a standardized ranking system (yet). Since the Vice Blazer is designed with 80% recycled polyester, we feel like we’re pulling our weight in this category. However, we still keep an eye on technology to see if more improvements can be made.

2 Renewable Content
In order to produce the premium quality of the fabric in the Vice Blazer, we added 20% certified organic cotton which reduces the use of pesticides, fertilizers and other chemicals. It also gives recycled polyester the smooth, soft feel of cotton.

3 Designed for End of Life
We designed the Vice Blazer to be recycled at the end of its long life, including the labels which are composed of recycled polyester. However, there are two components that could be improved based on this indicator: the back zipper and the cotton content which are both unable to be recycled at this time.

Even though organic cotton is a renewable resource, it is considered a non-polyester “contaminant” and is, therefore, dissolved through the recycling process. In the end, we are throwing away 20% of the garment even though 80% is being recycled and reused.

This begs the question: do we sacrifice the soft quality of organic cotton to produce a completely100% recycled blazer? Or do we include cotton, a renewable resource to create a more premium garment that looks and feels better to the consumer?

These are the design and sustainability questions we face every day as a company dedicated to creating beautiful performance products that balance the triple bottom line of people, planet and profit. And with the launch of the Eco Index’s pilot program in September, these are the tough questions every apparel company will have to answer in creating more sustainable and transparent product and supply chains. However, one, lingering question remains: will it actually work?

Stay tuned: In part three of our three-part-series, we’ll explore the inaugural launch of the Eco Index pilot program and find out if it will actually live up to the hype.