Thursday, February 21, 2008

STACY 1: environmental concerns of the surf skate snow industry

It sports a healthy, outdoorsy image, but surfing is a profit-hungry industry that is only now
becoming planet-friendly, writes Tim Elliott.
Everyone, it seems, wants to be a surfer - or, at least, to look like one. This is good news for the
surf industry, which racked up $11 billion in retail sales last year. Yet for an industry whose identity is so intimately linked to the oceans, surfing has remained curiously aloof from environmental issues. Surfing's base components - fibreglass boards, rubber wetsuits and mass-produced clothes and accessories - are inherently unsustainable, and yet the industry has offered little beyond bamboo boards and organic cotton T-shirts.
"The surfing fraternity is great when it comes to grassroots campaigns to protect beaches and coastal communities, but the industry as a whole hasn't reflected that concern, because, like other industries, it's profit-driven," says Ian Cohen, a Greens MP and co-founder of the Cleans Seas Coalition. Cohen, a surfer, once rammed an eight-metre poo through the doors of Ballina Shire Council chambers to protest against a proposed sewage outfall at Lennox Head, on the state's North Coast. The Surfrider Foundation Australia, a not-for-profit organisation dedicated to the protection and preservation of the world's oceans and beaches, has been similarly critical. "On the whole, the industry is still dragging its feet," says Stuart Ball, Surfrider's general manager.
Now, however, there are signs of change. In the US, an increasing number of surf brands have
started offering environmentally sound products, including organically sourced T-shirts, hats, shoes and sandals. "And many companies, such as Reef, Sole Tech, Volcom and Sector 9, have altered their business operations to reduce their carbon footprint, from using wind credits for power, to new packaging methods and significant waste reduction," says Sean Smith, executive director of the USIndustry rides wave of change -  packaging methods and significant waste reduction," says Sean Smith, executive director of the USbased Surf Industry Manufacturers Association.
In August the Surfrider Foundation launched Project Blue, a campaign by some of Australia's biggest surf companies to donate part of their sales to environmental issues. One of the initiative's big sponsors is Billabong, whose products include boardshorts that are made from 100 per cent recycled PET bottles.
Like most big surf companies, the bulk of Billabong's $1.2 billion annual turnover comes from clothes (surfboards represent only a fraction of the industry). This is a problem, says a recent report in the magazine Australian Surf Business, because clothing and textile production "is only narrowly behind oil and mining as one of the most polluting industries on the planet".
Clothing production generates large volumes of waste and consumes huge amounts of energy and water, taking up to 200 litres of water and thousands of chemicals to produce, dye and finish one kilogram of fabric. Billabong's clothes are mostly manufactured in Asia, a practice that has drawn criticism for the surf industry, over its outsourcing of environmental responsibility to developing nations. A spokesman for Billabong, John Mossop, says he is "aware of that issue", and that each of the company's off-shore suppliers "must demonstrate they are working to local environmental laws".
An industry leader, Quiksilver, whose global turnover reached $2.73 billion last year, has developed a range of bags and backpacks using Q-Tec, an environmentally friendly alternative to PVC.
"Q-Tec contains no dioxins, no heavy metals and is more durable than traditional PVCs," says Chloe Messner, the manager of the Quiksilver Foundation. "We've also halved the amount of plastic packaging we use in the warehouse, and we are a certified Wastewise organisation, meaning we reduce and recycle as much as possible."
Rip Curl, meanwhile, has employed a purchasing manager to secure certified ecological products (like hemp, ramie and bamboo), and is developing ways to recycle its petroleum-based neoprene wetsuits (they are torn up and made into beanbag filler).
Overseas, alternatives to the notoriously toxic process of manufacturing surfboards are emerging, with the US-based company Homeblown developing the industry's first plant-based polyurethane blank.
Homeblown says that its Biofoam, made from plant oils, not only has a finer and more uniform cell structure than foams made with petroleum-based materials but results in a 23 per cent reduction in total energy demand.
"It is time for the surfing community to walk the walk of environmentalism it often talks about," the company says on its website.
But some industry figures are sceptical. "If you look closely, most of the initiatives are more
marketing exercises than anything else," says Sean Doherty, the editor of the magazine Tracks.
"Overall, the industry is still pretty poisonous."
The Surfrider Foundation's Stuart Ball says surf companies must take the opportunity to lead. "They have to see that going green is the way of the future, and that young consumers will increasingly demand that companies operate in an environmentally responsible manner."
Industry rides wave of change - demand that companies operate in an environmentally responsible manner."
The surf industry churns out around 750,000 surfboards a year. Only a tiny proportion of these are made from sustainable, biodegradable or even non-toxic materials. The surf fashion phenomenon is responsible for billions of pounds of clothing sales each year- much of which is produced from crops heavily sprayed with toxic, carcinogenic pesticides that drain into the soil, rivers, and eventually the sea. We take long-haul plane journeys to far away breaks that put more carbon dioxide into the air than a family would generate at home in three months.

The closure of Clark Foam in December 2005 was perhaps the defining moment so far in the slow awakening of the surf industry to the fact that it too must live by the environmental rules that surfers would like to see other big businesses adopting. Clark was shut down due to the fact he could not comply with tough environmental laws, some of which were a direct result of the campaigning done by the Surfrider foundation as part of their ‘Clean Water Initiative’.

And more change is coming. In the post-Clark landscape, many companies are experimenting with other, more eco-friendly ways of producing surfboards, and there are now more and more companies sprouting up that make organic cotton or recycled polymer clothing, or biodegradable surf waxes and accessories. The Surfers Path ‘Green Wave Awards’ is a new initiative to give recognition to ‘green’ surf companies, and our own work at the EcoSurf Project is focussed on raising awareness of environmental issues within surfing and helping to promote these eco-surf companies.

So what can you do as an designer to help surfing become more environmentally sustainable?

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