Consumerism, the landfill and global pollution.
BUY BUY BUY! Consumerism trends globally continue to increase. The speed at which technology advances, trends change, and products become more affordable, the opportunity to buy ‘things’ is easier than ever. The ability to consume has become a habit of global culture and throughout all industries. Though of as an inherently eco-minded sub-culture, the surfing world is no better (possibly worse) than most in the growing trends of consumerism.
Be it the freshest surfboard model from your favorite shaper, the newest fashion trends in surfing, flying all over the world to scratch that surf itch, or the continual need to stockpile the latest and greatest surf accessories, as a surfer it is very easy and tempting to fall into the consumer trap. Thankful, there are companies striving to change the impact of their products and to help make consumer choices have a lower impact on the environment.
The easiest way to reduce your consumer footprint is to resist the urge to buy. But, the unfortunate reality is that this is a lot easier to say than to do for most of us. So, if you are going to buy, make sure you are aware of what you are buying. If it is new clothing you are looking for be aware of the materials of the clothing. Try looking for hemp clothing, or organic cotton. Look at where the clothing is being produced, not only for the labor concerns, but for the transportation emissions required to get that shirt on your back. There are several surf companies supporting fair trade labor agreements and alternative, eco-minded, fabrics. Clothing is probably the easiest product to find that sustainable alternative for the consumer and the trend for clothing companies to hit this demographic is growing.
Surf accessories such as leashes and traction pads also have better options. There are several traction pad companies using alternative foams or even recycled foams for the traction pads. The same goes for surf leashes, there are leash companies, such as Revowle, popping up that are using post consumer PET plastic bottles to make their leashes. Choosing your surf accessories takes the same approach to my above point about knowing the materials used in your clothing choices. The information is out there and easily accessible from your smartphones. When your making your decisions at the surf shop or online, take a few minutes to look into these companies that provide better alternatives.
In my opinion, one of the easiest and most important factors of a surfboards footprint comes down to durability. When surfboards break you have two options, chuck it, or repair it. Depending on the severity of the “break” repairing it can be costly and change the performance of the board. Obviously, repairing the board is a much better solution than sending it to the scrap-yard, but in the end the repair requires the use of more resins, waste, and materials. So, what is the solution? Well, there are many companies making durable constructions. On this front, I am going to focus on a leader in environmentally focused surfboard manufacturing - Lib Tech Surfboards.
Known for their innovative influence over the snowboard industry since the 80’s, Mike Olson, the mad scientist behind Lib Tech and the overarching Mervin Manufacturing, has also been shaping surfboards for a long time. It is not widely known that Mike has been shaping surfboards since the beginning, and introduced the manufacturing of Surfboards through Lib-tech on a wider scale in the mid 2000’s and within the last five years has grown exponentially. What separates this ‘alternative’ board construction from the others is its durability factor mixed with their unique environmentally focused manufacturing process. These guys do everything differently than the ‘status-quo’ surfboard .
While many hard-core surfers have somewhat resisted the alternative construction surfboard, in recent years the gap is getting smaller. Lib tech surfboards feel closer to a traditional construction than ever bridging the gap between alternative board constructions and traditional PU and/or EPS boards. On a mission to use the most advanced, safest, and environmentally friendly materials on the market, Lib Tech Surf also constructs some of the most durable and long lasting performance surfboards on the market. On both fronts, this company is dramatically reducing the footprint of a surfboard. Click here for more information on Lib-Tech Surfboards and the Mervin Manufacturing environmental commitment and manufacturing process.
I'm not going to go into the full science or explanation of all of the different surfboard constructions, as there are plenty of resources* out there on this and it is a vast topic that would consume too much of this post, but, I will provide a brief overview of the most common. The ‘traditional’ modern surfboard has two common constructions. Starting with the foam core** - the shapable material that is shaved and sanded into the curves of the final product before being glassed or laminated - we have Polyurethane and EPS (expanded polystyrene). The eco-board project Again, to over-simplify things, polyurethane products have a higher carbon footprint and higher toxicity (higher VOC’s) than the alternative EPS foams. You might ask then why Polyurethane cores are so popular? Well, they are easier to shape and work well with both Polyester and epoxy resin lamination - quicker and easier to produce a fine tuned final product. Now, EPS cores have been making big numbers in the surf industry as the most popular non-polyurethane core. EPS, although trickier to shape, emits lower VOCs and is a lighter weight core. Secondly EPS foam can be somewhat recycled and reused - Currently Marko Foam has a 25% recycled EPS foam that has been approved as “qualified materials”. Lastly, EPS foam has a reputation of slower deterioration than Poly and thus lasting longer. The topic of product lifetime will be touch on as an important component to surf consumerism, but before I touch on that I will quickly discuss the common laminating resins used in combination with these foam cores.
Recent attempts to perfect unique foam derived from algae has been underway between scientists with Arctic Foam and Marco Foam to produce an even more eco-friendly alternative to EPS. Although this has not hit the main stream market, these algae foam blanks are available through Arctic Foam and are a great alternative for a more sustainable surfboard. (See http://arcticfoam.us/algae-technology/).
It is estimated that the type of resin used on a surfboard contributes to around 40% of the carbon footprint. There has been a lot of innovative technology coming out over the past decade of bio-resins, or entropy resins, that are derived from biological sources such as plant matter .*** These resins are generally less toxic to work with and also emit lower VOCs. There are many debates around the use of alternative resins, but this is a critical component to reducing the environmental footprint of a surfboard and should be highly considered when buying a new surfboard.
Overall, there is a lot to consider when discussing the impact surfboard manufacturing has. Overall, the best way to promote a more sustainable surf industry is to ensure the industry continues to move towards these innovative technologies and to build more durable boards that will last long - Less broken boards means less boards in the landfill.
The last area of surf consumerism I want to briefly touch on is surf travel / tourism. As a multi-billion dollar travel industry, surf tourism in seen in all corners, nooks and crannies of the globe. To the most populated areas to the most remote, surfers, novice and experienced are always searching for that dream wave. Unfortunately, the result of this is exuberant amounts of emissions caused by traveling (primarily by air). Although there are carbon offset programs to help mitigate the affects of airplane emissions, there is no way to take out the emissions put out. Some small bits of advise are to either fly less, which may be hard to convince people to do, or to try and plan your travel with direct flights, or as few lay-overs as possible. The air travel dilemma is to deep to go over here but it is something to consider. Even trying to find surf destinations that are closer to home will help reduce your airline impact. One good example of this is here in Canada - Not usually on the typical list of places to find world class surf. However, with the advances in wet suit technologies and a new boom in cold water surf culture, both coasts of Canada provide world class surf. So, for myself, as much as I would love to take those long trips to Central America, South America, Indonesia, etc. I find myself staying closer to home and taking my surf trips to closer locations that require less travel.
The last thing I will touch on in this entry are simple ways to reduce your impact while traveling. As a traveler, it is your responsibility to tread lightly and to help protect and preserve the places you go to. Single-use plastics remain one of the most visible and problematic issues facing our oceans and surf destinations. There are easy ways to help reduce this:
1) Travel with a reusable straw. Eliminate the need to ask for or be given a straw when out.
2) Always travel with a reusable water bottle.
3) Travel with bamboo toothbrushes.
Marine life is just as important to protect as well. Be sure to pack and use reef-safe sunscreen and avoid any high chemical component sunscreens. These all may seem like very basic things to do, which they are, but they will dramatically help reduce the negative impact of ones impact. There are a lot more complex issues surrounding surf tourism and sustainable surf travel, which I will save for another blog. What is important to take away from this, is that as a consumer you have the power to help the shift of the surf industry to become more sustainable. Be mindful of the impact that your purchases make and how they contribute to global emissions.
* The eco-board project through sustainable surf is a great resource to dive deeper into specific board constructions and the impacts of some of the most common constructions. http://www.sustainablesurf.org/ecoboard/ecoboard-resource-guide/
** The eco-board life-cycle study suggests that the foam core contributes to about 10% of the carbon footprint of a surfboard.
*** “A bio-resin is a resin that derives some or all of its constituent monomers from biological sources. Today’s sources are plant-based, usually corn or soybean by-products from bio-diesel fuel refinement. Other candidates include sugar cane, sugar beets, potatoes, lignocellulose, whey and algae.” https://www.compositesworld.com/articles/green-resins-growng-up