From adhering to chemical standards to embracing environmental regulations: Oberalp’s journey
We unveil the 7th iteration of our Chemical Policy and inaugurate the Environmental Policy

The five-member Oberalp Sustainability Team specializes in various areas, including social compliance, chemicals, lifecycle assessment analysis, reporting, and everything else that is related to sustainability. Since the Team was founded in 2010, special attention has been paid to the issue of chemicals in the products of our mountain sports brands. Since 2014, the Oberalp Group has had a Chemical Policy (including a Restricted Substances List), which all manufacturers of our products must sign and support if they want to work with us. This guideline has been revised and updated by our internal specialist, Sara Riato, and was published in the 7th version, alongside the new Oberalp Environmental Policy. We wanted to know what was behind this enormous amount of work and interviewed the author. 

Sara Riato
Chemical & Environmental Compliance Senior Specialist at Oberalp Group

What type of chemicals are used in our products?

Chemicals make up everything – and they are involved in every step of the manufacturing process to produce textile products, from the processing of raw materials to the dyeing or water-repellence treatment of a product.

What is the Chemical Policy and why do we need it?

The Chemical Policy is a document with chemical requirements that our suppliers must adhere to when handling our products. This includes textile products such as shoes and shirts, as well as technical hardware and equipment. It includes our Restricted Substances List (RSL), as the name says, a list of substances that are forbidden or only to be used in the smallest quantities. The RSL is based on three sets of requirements: legal requirements, defined by national law; customer requirements, defined by our retailers; and Oberalp requirements, when we want to go even further (for example our “PFAS phase-out” journey started ten years ago, with the Chemical Policy).

It is also a set of best practices, from selecting raw materials, rules for certifications, how suppliers should handle our products, and how to perform compliance tests on them.

The Chemical Policy and the RSL are mandatory: they were shared with our 130 raw material suppliers for apparel and footwear as well as for our 59 final manufacturers of the different categories. They improve and harmonize not only the manufacturing process but also the transparency towards our customers.

The documents can be read here

Chemical Policy V7

Environmental Policy V1

How does the Environmental Policy differ from that?

The Environmental Policy also includes a chapter on chemical handling, but much more:
Firstly, it is a review and analysis document, a starting point to set the baseline for environmental management. Secondly, it contains tools to evaluate the outcome of the analysis, regarding energy efficiency, air pollution, water usage, waste disposal, and their impacts on the environment. Thirdly, it is the base for a continuous improvement process: This policy was officially released in February this year and sent to our suppliers, together with the new version of the Chemical Policy. While they are already working on environmental improvements in their factories, they are now transitioning to the improved methods. To make sure this new set of guidelines was understood, implemented, and acted upon, I travelled to Asia in late February, to formally illustrate the policy to the Bangladesh and Vietnamese suppliers in my role as Chemical and Environmental Compliance.

How do we ensure that our suppliers comply with it?

The Chemical Policy is obligatory for the suppliers: If they want to do business with us, they need to sign it. Furthermore, we are using 3rd party certifications and tests to make sure of compliance, along with our own factory visits, supported by the 15-strong Quality Assurance Team of the different product categories equipment, footwear, and apparel. They help us to monitor the continuous improvement process, which results from implementing new rules and measures.

Why do our policies need to be updated?

With research and development, new methods are designed to increase performance and chemical safety. To stay up to date and adhere to national laws and regulations, we adapt our Policy accordingly, at least every two years. The newly released update is the 7th version of the Chemical Policy.

How do they impact our customers or how would it impact our customers, if we didn’t have those policies?

If we did not have these policies, we would have neither proof of safety, nor transparency, suppliers might opt for the cheapest version, which could diminish the quality, safety, and performance of our products. We are making sure that our products do not contain anything harmful and are safe to use for humans and the environment.