Let's challenge the outdoor footwear industry to go PFC Free by 2025
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What the heck are PFCs?
Perfluorinated chemicals (PFCs) are a group of man-made chemicals that include a class of about 5,000 fluorinated compounds known as PFAS — or per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances. They are called "forever chemicals" because of how persistent they are. These toxic chemicals never break down, remain in the environment, and enter the food chain. Today, they are found in everything from fast food wrappers and drinking water to durable water repellent (DWR) treatments in outdoor apparel and footwear.
The problem with PFCs
PFCs are good at resisting a lot of elements — heat, oil, stains, grease, and water — which is why they’re used to treat everything from clothing and furniture to food packaging and non-stick cooking surfaces. But they don’t stay there. Traces of these toxic chemicals get into the environment and never go away, and there is evidence that exposure to PFCs can lead to adverse health outcomes in humans.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), “Chemicals in this group have been a concern because they do not break down in the environment, and they build up in wildlife. PFCs have been found in rivers and lakes and in many types of animals on land and in the water.”
They’ve also been found in our blood. In the Fourth National Report on Human Exposure to Environmental Chemicals, CDC scientists measured 12 PFCs in the blood serum of 2,094 participants aged 12 years and older who took part in the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES) during 2003–2004.
The harm they cause to human health is less understood. But the CDC adds that PFCs may affect growth and development, reproduction, and injure the liver.
FAQs and where to learn more
Perfluorinated chemicals and polyfluoroalkyl substances are very long words that are hard to spell and pronounce. Here's a little help and answers to the questions we hear most.
What are PFCs?
PFC stands for “perfluorinated chemicals” and is a broad term that some scientists use to refer to a group of chemicals that includes PFAS, or “per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances.” PFAS chemicals are man-made, bioaccumulative, and very unhealthy for our environment and human health. They are found everywhere, and degrade very slowly, if at all, under natural conditions. Because of all this, they are known as “forever chemicals.” To make things even more confusing, PFC can also refer to a distinct subclass of perfluorinated chemicals, perfluorocarbons, which are distinct from PFASs in their chemical structure and health impacts.
To be clear, when we talk about PFCs, we are referring to PFAS chemicals.
Why is this important?
PFAS chemicals have been found to cause liver toxicity, disruption of metabolism, the immune and endocrine systems, adverse neurobehavioral effects, and complications with pregnancy — including neonatal toxicity, reduced birth weight, seizures, and death. They have also been shown to cause significant hormonal disruptions, hypothyroidism, multiple organ tumors, testicular and kidney cancers, liver malfunction, high cholesterol, ulcerative colitis, obesity, decreased immune response to vaccines, and delayed puberty. The EPA reports that PFAS groundwater contamination is problematic in 33 states, with high population states like California, New Jersey, North Carolina, Florida, Pennsylvania, Ohio, and New York.
Are all KEEN products PFC Free?
We actively ban all PFAS chemical compounds from our supply chain. We say our products are 97% PFC Free — because of the massive amount of environmental contamination (it’s in the bottom of the ocean, the clouds, and in the blood of polar bears!), there’s no way that we can guarantee being 100% PFC Free. We test for contamination regularly, and we consider this an endless journey of constant vigilance.
How long have KEEN products been PFC Free?
We started identifying and intentionally removing PFASs from our supply chain starting in 2014. We removed 65% within the first year. It took us three more years to eliminate the rest. By 2018, we could confidently say we were PFC Free.
What about older products?
KEEN products produced before 2018 may have PFAS-based water repellency.
What about the KEEN products that Amazon/other retailers have? Are those PFC Free?
No matter their distribution, all KEEN products go through the same rigorous testing protocols to ensure our PFAS standards.
But it doesn’t say “PFC Free” on the box or the shoe. How do I know if my shoes are PFC Free?
We don’t label this on our shoes or packaging. If they are KEEN shoes built after 2018, they are PFAS-free. You can find the date of manufacture of your KEEN shoes on the inside shoe tag, sometimes found on the tongue or the medial ankle. Usually the date is at the bottom right corner of the tag, appearing as MMDDYY.
There is no universal standard or label for this, but our friends at the Green Sciences Policy Institute have a list of recommended brands and products that actively eliminate PFAS and other classes of toxic chemistries from their products/supply chains.
Are all kids’ shoes PFC Free?
Yes, all KEEN Kids shoes are PFAS Free and meet the same standards as all of our other products.
What safe alternative is KEEN using to replace PFCs in its water repellency treatment?
We source “green alternatives” from two major chemical suppliers, Rudolf and 3M, which both provide safe and effective DWR (durable water repellency) treatments that do not include fluorinated chemistries.
Does KEEN have a Restricted Substances Policy?
Yes, we have a Restricted Substances Policy. Our Policy is based on the industry-standard Apparel and Footwear International RSL Management Group (AFIRM) restricted substances list, and designed to ensure that our products meet all required global standards. Our Policy also includes four additional compounds restricted by KEEN as part of our efforts to proactively use more sustainable chemistry.
How do you measure the environmental impact of your supply chain?
Each year, KEEN and its significant suppliers complete the Higg Index. Managed by the Sustainable Apparel Coalition, the Higg Index is a tool used by companies all over the world – including KEEN – to elevate sustainability in manufacturing by measuring impacts and monitoring progress in reducing environmental impacts. The Higg requires that we examine all aspects of our company’s operations from materials selection, to shipping, to end of use, and solicit input from employees across the company, including product engineers, operations managers, and product developers. The Higg is a key way we increase transparency into our supply chain, gauge performance, and drive improvements year over year.
Does KEEN work together with other groups on sustainability?
Yes, we work with a variety of working groups, brands and retailers from around the world on sustainability. Examples include:
- European Outdoor Group: The EOG Sustainability Working Group works in support of the outdoor industry in the areas of corporate social responsibility and product sustainability.
- Leather Working Group: This multi-stakeholder group assesses the environmental compliance and performance capabilities of leather tanners, and promotes sustainable and appropriate environmental business practices within the leather industry.
- Outdoor Industry Association: The OIA Sustainability Working Group is a collaborative effort among more than 300 outdoor brands, retailers, suppliers and other stakeholder organizations working to identify and implement better business practices throughout our supply chains.
- Sustainable Apparel Coalition: The SAC is transforming the apparel, footwear and home textiles industry through system-wide collaboration in pioneering assessment tools and supply chain transparency with the Higg Index suite of measurement tools.
Where can I find other resources about KEEN and toxic chemistries?
- On PFAS
- GSPI’s Madrid Statement
- GSPI’s PFAS video
- GSPI’s Consumer Resources page
- EPA’s “What are PFCs and how do they relate to PFASs?”
- Environmental Working Group’s “PFAS Contamination Map”
- The Detox Outdoor Campaign
- On KEEN’s work
- Forbes article: “KEEN Embraces Sustainable Changes While Consciously Creating Outdoor Footwear”
- KEEN blog post: “Getting forever chemicals out of footwear”
- KEEN PFC Free video
- KEEN’s Consciously Created approach
- KEEN’s Reducing Impact page
- Other brands
- Salomon’s PFC Free story
- Jack Wolfskin's PFC Free product information
- European Chemicals Agency article on Adidas’ PFC elimination
DETOX THE PLANET OPEN SOURCE INITIATIVE
How to go PFC Free at your company
We know how hard it is to get PFCs out of our products, and to keep them out. It’s a constant battle, one we can win if we work together. That's why we’re sharing our 7-year PFC Free journey. Download our Green Paper below.