Committed to a Sustainable Future
Snow sports brands adopt eco-friendly best practices
Best Practices by Lou Dzierzak, Lkdcom@visi.com
When the first Earth Day was held on April 20, 1970, most Americans didn’t think much about the environment. Four decades later, the way companies manufacture their products has become a major influence in the way snow sports enthusiasts make their purchase decisions.
Today an incredible array of snow sports equipment from skis, boots, technical apparel and even sunglasses are manufactured with sustainable business practices.
Far from simply using eco-friendly inks to print their marketing brochures, brands like Fischer have examined every step of manufacturing to follow sustainable business practices from raw materials to finished product.
“People in general take increasingly care about resources. Everyone knows that oil, gas and energy get more expensive every day. These resources will be empty in some decades,” notes Peter Ashley, vice president Nordic Division, Fischer. “Everyone has to think about how to consume energy and to set-off CO2. All-in-all, it’s better to be an eco-friendly producer who can be proud of not just having a sustainable story in place.”
Connor Folley, marketing manager of Madshus comments, “We feel that it is important that we preserve the winter world that we cherish so much. We recognize that without a healthy environment we would not have a market for our business.”
The majority of the Madshus boot line, including high-end world cup level race boots are PVC-free. “Poly-vinyl chloride is very harmful to the environment, notes Folley. “To my knowledge, we are the only company that is producing PVC-free boots.”
MSR, Flukes and Snow Pickets are manufactured in Seattle, WA using lean manufacturing techniques and durable materials. The products are designed and constructed to last for many years. “We’re not in the business of making “green” or “eco-friendly” products that are heavily marketed as such. Rather, we are in the business of making high quality, dependable gear built to last a lifetime,” reports Joe McSwiney, president, Cascade Designs, Inc. “We operate sustainably, not for marketing but because it is inherently important to us and the way we conduct business. We practice lean manufacturing techniques to minimize waste and recycle materials whenever possible to extend their lifespan.”
Helly Hansen’s technical ski apparel is manufactured following the Bluesign process, an internationally accepted standard for apparel production. Bluesign is a standard that approves the entire textile production chain from raw material and component suppliers who manufacture yarns, dyes and additives as sustainable and eco-friendly. Bluesign ensures that the factory doesn’t have sludge pouring out into a nearby river, meets emission standards and is not using children in production.
In addition to paying close attention to manufacturing processes, snow sports brands are also researching alternatives in raw materials. Madshus, K2, Black Diamond, G3 Genuine Guide Gear and Fischer are using a tree called Paulownia as a source for wood ski cores. Folley explains,” Paulownia is fast-growing and farm-raised. We’ve found a sustainable wood core material with fantastic weight and density properties.”
Petroleum-based materials are being replaced with plant-based materials. SCARPA’s Planet Friendly program is a commitment to sourcing recycled, biodegradable or bio‐based materials as well as finding other ways to lessen SCARPA’s carbon footprint. Several boots in the Scarpa line are constructed with Pebax Rnew, made 90 percent from plant‐based oil. The construction method requires 29 percent less fossil fuel and puts out 32 percent fewer emissions in the process taking Rnew from raw to useable material.
ZEAL Optics has recently launched the world’s first plant based lens, e-llume. “We are the only company globally that currently produces our entire sunglass collection from plant-based resins,” reports Joe Prebich, director of marketing, ZEAL. “We have been working with the USDA and different scientists to help the industry better understand that our Castor-based products are technically superior to a crude oil-based plastic. Plant-based plastics allow for an amazing clarity and purity in the oils, resulting in a superior product performance. This is why we are so excited about our movement into plant-based products, because they are both innovative and sustainable.”
Initially, while snow sports enthusiasts were rewarding these brands for their sustainable business practices, there were concerns that performance characteristics may be compromised. That perception is no longer the case.
“I don’t think it’s necessary for consumers to make compromises,” says Folley. “We are able to provide a more pleasant cross-country ski experience with a waterproof breathable boot. They are also contributing to a better environment by using a PVC-free boot. We feel there is an opportunity to make products that are environmentally sustainable without forcing the consumer to make any compromises.”
Prebich says, “Consumers want both eco-friendly practices and performance and that is exactly what we strive for at Zeal Optics. Our products, although they are environmentally sustainable, are also technically superior.”
Forty-three years after Earth Day was established, the snow sports industry has responded with fundamental changes in the way it manufactures winter recreation apparel and equipment. Collectively, the result is an industry-wide concern for sustainability and product designs that still offer high-performance characteristics with no compromises.
“MSR is positioned as a performance gear brand, however, because of the outdoors connection and U.S. craftsmanship associated with the brand, it is likely that consumers expect us to hold ourselves to reasonably high eco standards as well, “ explains McSwiney. “Even though our primary value proposition is to create the best performing gear money can buy, we also feel an obligation to advance the ecological merit of our products on an ongoing basis.”
Managing a successful snow sports specialty retail store requires expertise in an ever-changing array of business operations. Human resources, event planning, marketing, product selection, social media and e-commerce are just a few examples. Lou Dzierzak has written about these topics for over a decade. Best Practices will shorten the learning curve by offering case studies, resources and how-to tips from experts in specific fields. If you have suggestions for future topics, please feel free to contact Lou at Lkdcom@visi.com.