There is perhaps no greater eco rock star than Yvon Chouinard, founder of Patagonia. Not only has he single-handedly scaled (actually he used both hands) the imposing rock faces of Yosemite National Park, Chouinard has also succeeded in creating outdoor eco-performance gear that lives up to its promise to keep you warmer, cooler and drier. And it all starts with plastic soda bottles. 

Since 1993, the company has been making top-quality fleece garments out of recycled soda bottles through a process that melts the plastic down into pellets, transforms them into yarn and spins the yarn into a polyester fabric. It’s not just a few bottles here and there, but over 86 million that have successfully been kept out of the trash heap. Through continuous innovation, Patagonia now combines recycled soda bottles with unusable fabrics and worn out garments to create polyester fibers that are used for fleece clothing, Capilene-Patagonia’s signature moisture-wicking polyester fabric-base layers, shell jackets and board shorts.

Upping the eco-ante further, when cotton is called for, Patagonia relies exclusively upon certified organic cotton for its men’s, women’s and kids’ clothing, so no toxic pesticides or insecticides need to touch your skin. The company has also created the world’s first customer-garment recycling program. Through the Common Threads Garment Recycling Program, customers can drop off used Capilene-Patagonia base layers at any Patagonia store or mail them into the company’s service center, and Patagonia will break down the fabric, give it a good scrubbing, and integrate the material into new garments. Sure, the program would be more appealing if customers received store credit for the materials they gave back to Patagonia, but it’s a good start and an exciting example of how companies can create continuous product life cycles that limit the need for more raw materials.

And check out these other performance-driven green brands:

Natural High Lifestyle:

California-based Natural High Lifestyle celebrates the local yoga, surfing and environmentally aware culture with fashion-forward activewear using materials like hemp and bamboo. The clothing line is well-suited for relaxing at the beach, the boardwalk or the local café. Visit the company’s flagship store on Main Street in Santa Monica.

Nau

Men and women who want to look chic, achieve peak performance and protect the planet will revel in Nau’s collection of stylish apparel. Using innovative blends of recycled materials and organic cotton, Nau delivers stunningly good-looking, Matrix-evoking garments that sport clean lines and plenty of gadget-toting pockets. Wear Nau. Embrace your inner Neo. 

Prana

Prana believes that performance and design integrity should be mirrored by eco-integrity. The company integrates materials like organic cotton into its line and also offsets the carbon emissions of 250 of its national retailers through the purchase of renewable wind energy credits.

SmartWool

SmartWool is revolutionizing performance wear through its natural wool garments that are not only thermal regulating but also extremely comfortable and stylish. Founded by two ski instructors in New England, SmartWool makes base layers and mid-weight layers that will have you on the go and looking good.

Teko Socks

Teko’s high-performance socks are made from a variety of eco-advanced materials like merino wool, organic cotton, recycled polyester and ingeo, a material derived from corn. The warm, soft, non-slip socks are made in a North Carolina facility that offsets 100 percent of its energy use through the purchase of wind energy credits.

Timberland

Timberland’s company-wide environmental commitment starts with performance footwear that eliminates toxins and utilizes recycled and eco-aware materials. Check out the company’s Earthkeepers Collection to see some seriously styling and environmentally sound shoes. Many of Timberland’s operational facilities are powered by renewable energy like solar energy.

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Excerpted from Josh's forthcoming book, "The Lazy Environmentalist on a Budget."

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Radical thought: Patagonia's work culture pleases workers and the environment

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