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August 18 2022

“When it comes to a more sustainable future everyone has to play their part.”

Emma has been working as an R&D Engineer at dimpora since January 2021 and completed her master’s degree in Fiber and Polymer Engineering at Aalto University during the last year at the same time. In the interview, she tells us why she focused on the Life Cycle Analysis (LCA) of membranes in her master’s thesis and why she joined dimpora.

Congratulations on your master’s degree! How do you feel and how did you celebrate?

Thanks a lot! I’m very happy and also relieved – combining a job with full-time studies was challenging at times but also amazing in the sense that I got the full LCA experience, looking at the topic both academically and from a business point of view. The celebration part is still on my to-do list: The official graduation ceremony will take place only in December when family and friends are, of course, invited!

In your master’s thesis, you worked on LCAs of membranes. What sparked your curiosity about it? And what is an LCA?

LCA is a standardized methodology that is used to estimate the environmental effects or pressure on the environment of products & services. The analysis can cover the whole life cycle from the extraction of the raw materials all the way to the point where the product is disposed of, reused, or recycled. The results of an LCA can be utilized for example as a help for a company’s internal decision-making, to communicate the environmental footprint of a product, or to compare several products, processes, or material options. I conducted the LCA as a thesis project to gain a deeper understanding of all the different aspects that need to be considered when developing a product to be more sustainable. And to forge a fact-based opinion on products that are communicated as environmentally friendly.

Why are such analyses important for the outdoor industry?

It is widely known that one of the alarming issues within the outdoor industry is the usage of extremely toxic perfluorinated chemicals (PFCs) for waterproof garments. Even though there are several studies proving the issues, the communication of those chemicals is not as transparent as it could be. Thus, I believe that if LCAs became more a norm rather than an exception and the results were easily available for everyone, it would increase the awareness of the sustainability issues within the whole supply chain, be it fluorinated chemicals, microplastics, long transport routes, recyclability etc. Next to environmental regulations, this would push the outdoor industry towards more sustainable non-fluorinated alternatives. Potentially, this extends also to other similarly harmful components and processes beyond PFCs. However, receiving alarming results in an LCA can only be the first step. The nub of the matter is eventually in how far the companies act on it who are involved at any point of the product life cycle.

Can you already tell us something about your findings? What surprised you?

The goal of the thesis was to analyze dimpora’s two membrane production processes, sane membrane and dimpora eco pur so that we have valid data on the life cycle of our membranes. Moreover, I for example tested how the results would look, if the membrane was made of PTFE which is, unfortunately, the market leading material for waterproof garments. The results were crushing. Using PTFE would significantly increase the impact of the membrane, for example in terms of global warming potential (GWP) and human toxicity potential (HTP). Based on these findings, it is safe to say that dimpora is on the right track with their fluorine-free membrane, which can also be produced as a solvent-free!

How can the outdoor industry become more sustainable? Who do you see as responsible for change?

Everyone, so customers, brands, producers, legislators has to play their part when it comes to creating a sustainable, toxic-free future. Sustainable development of raw materials & production processes have an important role, but also the use phase and disposal of the product affect a lot. And there, the big outdoor brands certainly have the biggest lever because of their impact on the user through assortment and communication.

What did you learn from the master’s thesis that you can now apply to your work at dimpora?

When developing dimpora’s products, close communication between different stakeholders, be it our raw material suppliers, membrane producers, our clients, etc., is crucial. I am very much looking forward to finding the best possible material solutions for the outdoor industry and dimpora’s membranes!

I am very much looking forward to finding the best possible material solutions for the outdoor industry and dimpora’s membranes!

Emma Karttunen