The New Green Trend In Optical Companies

The reason some companies have been taking eco-friendly steps

If you have visited the Vision Expo’s show floor in the last few years, you’ve probably noticed there’s a small, yet growing trend in optical. In between bright-colored frames, flashy displays and elaborate designs, you may notice that brands are taking on an Eco friendly approach to their fashionable frames more and more often.

From give-back programs, natural materials and eco-friendly processes of manufacturing, optical companies have been finding more and more ways to keep it green. There is a wide variety of companies who have eco-friendly practices nowadays, and we have talked to them in order to figure out what they do exactly, and why they do it.

Eco-Friendly Manufacturing

Using plant-based resins instead of petroleum-based ones is one of the biggest trend among optical companies that are going eco-friendly. One of the companies which made this switch is Costa.

According to John Sanchez, the vice president of the Costa’s product development sector, they extract seeds from castor plants, and then process it through the use of proprietary chemicals, in order to produce an ecological, bio-based plastic resin to be injected into the mold.

Sanchez mentions that Costa made the switch after they realized its traditional plastic products didn’t align with its customers’ core nature, who tend to be outdoor enthusiasts mostly.

Making this transition is somewhat easy for Costa, due to the strong relationship it has with Patagonia, the outdoor gear and clothing company. Patagonia and Costa share many ideas and technology, and Costa utilized a few suppliers from Patagonia in order to help perform the transition.

It was quite challenging, as Sanchez explains. When looking at their materials, they’ve found that their new material was not only much more sustainable and had a lower carbon footprint, it also withstood hotter or colder temperatures, and was capable of working with materials such as rubber in new ways.

Eco Friendly Materials

Some companies have been trying to go green in the way their frames are made, while others choose to go green in the materials they utilize in order to make them.

Modo’s ECO brand, known as the Born Biobased collection is made out of castor bean oil, and the Born Recycled collection features 95 percent of recycled acetate along with stainless steel. According to a spokesperson for Modo, the production process for recycled materials is a lot more expensive, but the company chooses to invest with lower margins when they believe the products are worth it.

Modo does not stop there – all of its marketing materials and packaging is made of materials that were recycled as well.

A cool example of another eco-friendly material use is the metal eyewear frames of Zeal Optics. They are forged out of recycled stainless steel that comes from Sendai, in Japan – the area which was hit the hardest by the tsunami in 2011.

The director of digital strategy and brand activities in Zeal Optics, Mike Lewis, explains that they import their stainless steel as an attempt to help the community recover, recycling materials which would, instead, be dumped into landfills.

Zeal also makes a line of 100 percent cotton, biodegradable sunglasses. The material, called M49 is made out of wood pulp fibers and cotton, manufactured utilizing exclusively renewable resources. According to the company, the material has all useful characteristics of acetate, but it’s free of all toxic substances present in plastics. When left in water or soil, frames biodegrade after one and a half years.

Zeal’s Ellume lens is also the first plant-based lens which has polarization and protects against both HEV light and UVA/B/C.

Zeal Optics’ former president, Sanchez, says the company is looking to utilize many of the materials Zeal uses, like the wood pulp and cotton fibers. Sanchez explains the importance of biodegradability to the company — especially considering every single petroleum based sunglass on the history of the world is still around.

To Sanchez, there are plenty of companies out there developing incredible sustainable raw materials, and the more they’re used, the better it’s going to be for humanity.

While Zeal’s goes as far as Japan in order to produce their frames, WooDone does it into their own backyard.

The Italian optical company offers hand-made frames, which are all carved from a piece of wood from South Tyrol, in Italy. It features two different collections — Wood and Nature. The wood collection features various different frame styles, each of them with different woods such as nut, ash, acacia and chestnut. Meanwhile, the Nature collection features frames that offer a choice of treatments with a nature them: viöl (violets), roses, fienum (hay), bling (galena mineral dust) and Ulmus (leaves).

We need to be more caring about every single choice we make, and eyewear is merely a piece of this puzzle, alerts Jeff Stern, a sales agent for WooDone in the U.S.

Stern explains how the company has decided to work with wood for various reasons, including both how environmentally friendly it is and the unique aesthetic each frame offers.

WooDone’s factory is located right in the middle of a great, incredible landscape in Italy, and they look to do things in a way that’s different than how they did it in the past. Stern explains that the environment matters to them, just like the aesthetics of their product.

According to Stern, wood eyewear frames have existed for various years now, but it was a somewhat limited market due to how difficult they were to adjust — now that the problem has been solved, wooden frames are becoming more and more popular.

Jeff claims its the beginning of a new category. To him, in each show it grows in popularity, particularly in Europe.

Eco-friendly Programs

Other strategies many optical companies adopt in order to go green is helping the environment through projects that give back – in particular those who protect the ocean as well as a species who live there.

According to Sanchez, when you put social and ecological responsibility together, you get the nature of what Costa has been put forth over the last years — approximately a decade now. They’ve been putting lots of effort and energy into protecting the reefs and researching sharks’ natural habitats.

Costa’s Kick Plastic initiative, for instance, encourages customers to reduce the use of plastic bags and bottles, and start recycling. They achieve that goal through the use of various educational videos and articles. Costa has partnered with OCEARH, a group of various scientists who are dedicated to obtaining data on the biology, health and movement of sharks.

Zeal Optics, meanwhile, is a partner of American Forests. With help from the nonprofit organization, Zeal has developed Project 5480 — their goal is to plant 5,480 trees in Colorado every year. The number represents the elevation of Boulder, CO, the location where their company is based.

Zeal works with a variety of other outdoor organizations as well, such as the Latitude Project, which helps poor Latin American communities; Adaptiva Adventures, which gives people with disabilities an opportunity to participate in various outdoor activities; Protect Our Winters, which helps encourage the Snowsports communities to take action fighting climate change; and the dZiFOundation, which seeks to improve the quality of life of those who live in Nepal.

Zeal is not the only company looking to give back to the environment — MOdo sponsors the One Frame One Tree initiative, which plants one tree for every frame they sell. So far, the company is responsible for over a million trees in a deforested region in Cameroon.

Why They Do It

It isn’t easy to take such steps to help the environment — and it isn’t cheap either. Why do they do it, then?

For some companies, the eco-friendly approach is essential to who they are as a brand. Zeal, for example, is boulder-based, located in a highly active city. Lewis explains their company was created out of respect and love for the outdoors, so they aim to make products which enhance the outdoor experience of the wearer’s, and keep up with their nature-loving lifestyle.

As a company who is inspired by the world that surrounds us, they understand how important it is to protect the outdoors and sustain them for the next generations, Lewis explains.

For many companies, doing what’s right is just as important as their bottom line. Each company we contact, however, says customers always respond to their environmental efforts — some of them seek exclusively companies who care about the environment, and some are simply happy to see the brands they already enjoy taking steps to help the world.

Modo’s COO Rebecca Giefer explains that, when ECO was launched, it was their first step toe create a corporate identity combining purpose and design. Their CEO said that who they were was just as important as what they did, and the statement resonated with the team.

Each one wanted to be part of something bigger than simply making new frames each season — they wanted to have a significant impact in the world. According to Giefer, the real change came when Modo began focusing on the who, instead of the what. They became more inspired, and their work became much stronger.

Sanchez believes that while Costa and other optical companies are doing a great job, it would be best if more industry leaders began stepping up to the plate.

According to him, it’s the largest brands who should be leading, since they’d provide plenty of efficiencies for other brands to follow them, using the raw materials. It’s important that the big guys participate in order to make a large impact. Even if they’re serious players, bigger brands could make a major difference.

Unfortunately, Sanchez doesn’t think major companies will begin taking more eco-friendly steps anytime soon, since they focus on the cost. He credits Essilor, Costa’s parent company which helps it live to its standards and commitments — a strategy which has been great for Costa and its customers so far.

Eco friendly eyewear is incredible because it’s durable, strong and beautiful as any other more common materials, so when you get your hands on them and learn what brands are putting the effort, you see plenty of value, Sanchez explains.

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