Patagonia and Yulex have developed a wetsuit in which 85% of the neoprene insulation is substituted with natural rubber which is harvested from sustainably managed forests.

The most environmentally harmful material in ordinary wetsuits is the neoprene insulation, which is made from petroleum-based synthetic materials. To find a substitute for neoprene, Patagonia partnered with Yulex, a manufacturer of specialty natural rubber produced using environmentally and socially responsible manufacturing practices. The outcome is a wetsuit made of 85% natural rubber sourced from rubber trees grown in Guatemala. Not only is this rubber made from a renewable resource, it also has better elasticity and is softer than neoprene.

In addition, the high-stretch interior and exterior wetsuit linings are made with at least 55% recycled polyester fabrics. Patagonia wants to eliminate the use of neoprene in surfing wetsuits, so have made the proprietary innovation available to the rest of the surf industry.

I’ve been working with wetsuits since the early ‘90s, and being part of the team that’s taking a big piece of the process and replacing it with something plant-based and less carbon-intensive is the coolest thing I’ve ever done.

Hub Hubbard – Wetsuit Development Manager, Patagonia.

Why you should care

There are approximately 35 million surfers around the world, and a $120 million annual market for wetsuit sales, creating significant environmental and financial opportunities for these wetsuits., Yulex, who supplies the rubber, is certified by the Forest Stewardship Council. They ensure that their rubber plantations do not contribute to deforestation, and that they enhance the long-term social and economic well-being of forest workers and local communities.

How the Global Goals are addressed

Decent work and economic growth

Workers at the plantations are given extended contracts, ensuring steady income. Certification by the Forest Stewardship Council ensures safe and decent labour practices.

Responsible consumption and production

Replacing oil-based neoprene with sustainably sourced natural rubber is an example of the shift to more sustainable production and consumption in sports such as surfing.

Climate action

According to Patagonia, renewable natural rubber reduces CO2 emissions in production by up to 80% compared to manufacturing conventional, non-renewable neoprene.

Life on land

Patagonia and Yulex are committed to the principles and criteria of the Forest Stewardship Council, and strive to maintain the ecological functions and integrity of the forests.