Ecology and Snowboarding - Climate rescue? or climate wash?

2009-02-04 13:23:44

While I was at SIA in Las Vegas recently, one of the prevalent themes I noticed was how many companies were embracing ecology. These days it seems as though every company is putting out some sort of eco-friendly snowboard. The difficulty is in differentiating those who want to look eco-friendly and those who actually are.

Products on display at the ECOsource both: Hug me, I'm green!
These products are advertising their eco-friendliness. Are they legit or posers?

Green washing, a term that everyone needs to become familiar with, is the act of claiming that something is ecologically friendly with the objective of selling it to conscientious consumers. The actual green credentials of these products may not actually be easy to verify and are often the cause of debate. The trick is differentiating those who are trying to sell, from those who are trying to be, green. To this end, SIA decided to take the initiative and put together the ECOsource booth. The purpose of this exhibit was to highlight companies that have taken the initiative to produce products that are made from recycled materials, recyclable, and sustainable. Forty-nine companies participated in the exhibit including industry heavy weights such as Atomic USA, Burton, Helly Hansen, K2, Ride, and Salomon. The first question that came to mind when I saw this booth, however, was how SIA came up with this list. Did they actually seek out the companies that were to be exhibitors, or did the companies come to SIA to profess their eco-cred. This could actually make a huge difference. Much like proper snowboarding etiquette which says that one shouldn't claim it until they own it, companies should not wear green unless they bleed it.

It's not to say that we shouldn't reward companies for making the effort to reduce their overall footprint on the environment. In fact any company who can make a profit and save the environment at the same time should be congratulated on a well executed business plan. However, if the initiative was borne from the business plan, rather than from a desire to actually create something sustainable, it can be hard to believe that there are actual benefits. Especially when you consider that they might not be measurable or alternatively offset by some other process in the manufacturing. For example, if products are manufactured in China, the carbon footprint associated with shipping the final products back to North America will probably far exceed the benefits of any improvements to the construction process. Therefore as an individual, you'll have a much smaller impact on the environment by purchasing something that was sourced and built locally than a more "earth-friendly" product manufactured overseas. This is especially important when you consider that probably about eighty percent of the snowboards sold by the various exhibitors at SIA this year are manufactured overseas by Elan.

The intern is checking out the anti-eco propaganda thinking: Satire?
Sometimes the truth comes out in humour.

Omatic Snowboards decided to take this idea and run with it for next year. Admitting to the fact that they are still poisoning the atmosphere by rooping around in the backcountry on snowmobiles and helicopters, they've decided to reduce the impact of their snowboards by using elfin magic (so not at all). In the process, however, they're using satire to point out the inconsistencies in the eco-marketplace. A point echoed by Shayboarder who says that buying a green snowboard will not do much unless you also change other aspects of your lifestyle. Next year's EXTR-ECO board from Omatic has a lot of pointed commentary on the top-sheet graphic. My favorite is a picture of what looks like laundry detergent called Climate Wash. On the box it says "Truth's out... Spin is in".

So how do you separate the "spin" from the "cycle"? One easy way would be to look at the differences between a companies marketing budget and their research and development budget. Unfortunately this information is not usually easy to obtain. You might be able to get some idea by looking at how aggressively the company is promoting their green credentials. Take Mervin Manufacturing as an example, they are probably one of the most environmentally friendly snowboard manufacturers in existence. They manufacture in the United States (near Canada), and have taken great strides to improve the ecological aspects of their factory. However, Mervin was notably missing from the list of participants in the ECOsource booth. I'm not sure whether this was an accidental omission or a conscious decision, either by Mervin or SIA, but to me it's a clear indication on Mervin's stance on the environment thing: they are clearly doers rather than sellers.

On the other hand, Bond outerwear advertises right on their main website that they utilize "a top-down sustainability model in its business, and is 100% carbon neutral." In this case, the companies entire identity is based on it being carbon neutral. Whether or not this is in fact true depends on how difficult it is for them to measure their actual carbon footprint (usually not an easy task).

So if you're of the conscientious class of consumers, remember to consider how forcefully a company is trying to tell you they are green before believing them. Remember that it's probably more ecological to buy something made locally rather than something made overseas with some kind of fancy polymer. Most importantly, don't get a snowboard just because it's green; it has to be fun too. After all, any product loses any green credentials it ever had when it's found in a landfill. Besides, snowboards don't go to shred heaven if they've never touched snow or made someone smile.

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