Visionary Vision

Eye glasses made from sustainable materials are no longer an optical illusion

Eyeglasses are made out of some substances that definitely aren’t green. Acetate, the plastic most frames are made of, is a petroleum product. Most of the metals, including stainless steel, titanium and aluminum, take a lot of energy to produce, and that means greenhouse gas emissions. So how do you make glasses that are better for the environment?

A pair of glasses every couple years might seem insignificant, but together, the roughly 8 million pairs Canadians buy every year add up to a lot of plastic and metal.

A lens on sustainability

Linkskin uses recycled materials and a simplified design that cuts down on soldering. In some places, the packaging and parts of the frames themselves are recyclable. The company has achieved all this without sacrificing style: Linkskin’s have a cool, modern design that will appeal to urban tastes.

Its main competition in the green eyewear category is Modo, which this year launched a line called ECO (for “earth conscious optics”). These are fashionable modern frames from a company with a strong design history. The acetate frames use waste material from the company’s other collections, while the stainless steel is certified as at least 95 percent post-consumer recycled material.

Modo also makes its packaging from 100 percent recycled cardboard and includes a return envelope. When you’re done with your glasses, drop them in the mail and they’ll end up on the face of someone in a developing country who matches your prescription.

As an added bonus, they plant a tree for every frame sold. While tree planting doesn’t meet many carbon offset standards, it certainly doesn’t hurt.

Both brands are available in Canada.

Return to nature

Speaking of trees, maybe you want to get away from plastic and metal altogether, for a more natural look? Some eyewear designers have been using natural products for years. Their luxury frames are made of buffalo horn, mahogany and other precious resources, which means that many of them are hardly green products. Many expensive woods are also routinely poached, and purchasing them may contribute to illegal harvesting.

One of the first companies to make a green claim was iwood ecodesign. Its frames are made from many laminated layers of sustainably harvested wood veneer, certified by the Forest Stewardship Council.

Iwood even makes sunglasses, which are an odd combination of contemporary shapes with thick wood. For the right wearers, they’re great. For others they’ll either be too contemporary or too woodsy. But as sunglasses go, they are green, and come with Zeiss lenses that offer 100 percent UVA/UVB protection.

All eyes on Vancouver

Locavores might prefer the new wood collection from Vancouver’s Spectacle Eyeworks. While there’s nothing particularly green about Spectacle’s manufacturing process, the frames are carved from Canadian maple, harvested by Interforest in Boucherville, Que., so at least you know it’s not some of the illegally harvested timber that’s flowing so easily into China.

The frames were designed by Mehran Baghaie, an optician who moved to Canada from Iran when he was a teenager. They have wide temples with designs inspired by First Nations art. The showpiece is based on totem poles in Stanley Park that he got thinking about during a walk with his son. Another has tiki-inspired carvings. Another is more of an urban mashup totem, including a carving of a skateboarder.

Spectacle Eyeworks' frames are available at high-end optical retailers in Canada.

Sporty frames

Want a sportier look? Then check out the Bob Burnquist Signature Series Recycled Fuel Cell, a long name for a pair of plastic sunglasses from Oakley. Like the Modo, Oakley is using waste material to make their token green product. They feature an organic bamboo logo and all the packaging is made from recycled material.