Once apon a time during an conversation about ‘being as eco and ethically correct as possible’ (don’t you love those) from a surfing standpoint with a mate, he stopped me dead. He said, there is one problem that we need to fix. One problem that dwarfs the others and, I guess, one which I need to research and discuss. Globalisation.
Firstly, I really didn’t know what that truly meant, so I just nodded and said “yeah, I know”… “so how about those boards made out of old trees! Cool huh?” (cringe).
As you may have guessed by the title of this piece I have done some research and now (2 years later) I can see what my friend Jack was on about. Why was I wasting my time fighting tiny battles when it might be easier to look at the big picture. What caused this war in the first place. Allow me a moment of you time and I will annotate this subject in a manner that fits.
Firstly it is important for you to note, before we begin, that I am not preeching, I am dealing in facts, cold and hard. I have no agenda other than that of truth, dispelling myths and general waffle as part of the ‘eco conversation’.
Secondly, I am not talking about the paying people fair wages in foreign countries. That is not an ‘eco’ issue, that is a ‘humanitarian’ issue. I am not saying it’s unimportant, just that it’s not ‘eco’, another subject if you will.
Things that pretend to be eco (intentionally misleading)
For those of you that have a life and are not trawling social media like a teenage wanabe, you may not have seen the constant ads for Bamboo toothbrushes. I am, however, the wanabe in the analogy and see the same ad time and time again. On exactly the 672nd time I decided it would be the last time I would be ‘ad-shamed’ into making a purchase. I decided to do some research. (By a happy and unrelated coincidence the numbers 672 are the last three digits accredited to the telephone number of my parents house during my childhood.)
Huhumm, toothbrushes that are made from Bamboo… this is a can of worms, I really wish that I hadn’t opened. I want to get to the surf-related stuff but this chestnut is all to old and obvious to ignore.
I have now read a lot (and I do mean a lot) of articles about which toothbrush is best for the environment. Some claim that by 2050 there will be more toothbrushes in the ocean than fish, some claim that chinesse manufacturers are ‘hoodwinking’ innocent suppliers about if the bristles are biodegradable. The spinkter-web is full of do-gooders, harping on about using the bristles from pigs that have been reared kindly in China and that will only wear merino wool clothing from New Zealand.
They are all missing the point. Well, two points really.
All these products are made a very long way from their eventual purchasers, a lot of the time requiring inter-continental transport. At the moment you will have to take my word for it that the cost to the environment of transportation actually eclipses the value the product itself has. ( I will go into detail later)
There is a much easier and more sustainable way of ‘eco-brushing’ your teeth. Now, maybe I am way off on this one so bear with me. Why don’t we (1) throw our ABS plastic toothbrushes in the recycling instead of the sea and (2) use them to make more toothbrushes in our country of current residence? Recycled plastic toothbrushes! Boom.
It turns out I am not the only one to think of this, after a quick search of the tinter-web I came across a company called ‘Preserve’ who sell recycled plastic toothbrushes, made in the US to residents of the US.
I am not going to get into this too much as we are not a dental magazine, just highlight the facts. These toothbrushes are made of recycled yogurt containers and are again recyclable after use through the companies ‘mail in’ scheme (restricted to US customers).
Surely this is ‘double bubble’, its recycling from plastic that has already had a use and it (if you mail it in) will have another use afterwards. It just means YOU will have to make the effort to mail it in. Remember this is only available in the US at the moment, so there is no international shipping. Win win or ‘double bubble’ as we like to say in the office.
Things that have promise / step in the correct direction (but fail due to globolisation)
Now lets look at some surf companies that have an eco outlook but ultimately fail on the overall ‘big picture’ of being eco. They are a apparently trying to do the right thing but fail, perhaps by being too successful (god forbid) and too, errr shall we say greedy.
Carefully here as these guys are trying, indeed spearheading the eco wetsuit research at the moment. The Patagonia Yulex natural rubber wetsuit is made from natural rubber that is farmed in FSC certified forests. (which means no petrochemicals and responsibly grown natural rubber) Which is cool. It sounds cool, right?
The problem comes when you look at where the trees are grown, where the wetsuits are manufactured and where they are sold to the end consumer. Then calculate the carbon emmisions from transport. Check this out.
- Rubber Trees for natural Rubber - Guatemala
Travels 14, 000 kms (ish) to China
-Wetsuit is manufactured
Travels to consumer – 11,000 km to USA or 6,500 km to Europe or 7,000km to Australia for examples.
Now don’t get me wrong, what these guys are doing is admirable, it shows that they are thinking along the right lines, trying to do something about the pollution conundrum. My questions is, once you factor in environmental transport damage, is it even worth it? Maybe more damaging than producing yucky petrochemical suits? We will come to the facts and figures of this later and you cam make up your own mind.
Having just watched a pretty boring but very informative hour long speech from Mark Price (CEO of Firewire) one could be forgiven for thinking (and maybe rightly so) that these guys are trying to turn this ugly Industry of ours round to a green and sustainible future. Look, you can see it just over that hill, just past all those Firewire adverts and piles of cash.
The company which has seen a major investment from our good mate Mr Slater actively concentrates on producing more sustainable surfboards, lowering the carcinogen levels given off in the process, using eco certified packaging and also likes to be on the bleeding edge of design. Kudos to them, all those things sounds great.
However (sound of a penny dropping) Mark Price also mentions the need to be profitable and for that reason, the boards need to be made in…Asia. My Question is this, does the transportation of these eco boards to their eventual surfers out-weigh there accumulated eco-repuataion during construction?
We will get into the figures later.
Success breads Globalisation
So, changing tack slightly here, we need to understand at what point production of a product gets so big that it needs to ‘Globalised’.
To fully understand a need, we also have to first understand the beneifits of Globolization. Why do it in the first place? This is an easy one, and for it I have a ‘one word’ answer. Profit, or the need for more it.
This is where the accountants, lawyers, importers, agents and logistics experts all become involved. The questions will ask are :
1: Is it cheaper to manufacturer the product elsewhere?
2: What is the cost of getting that product from the new place of manufacturer to the end customer?
3: Are the raw products used in the manufacturing process cheap/easier to get in the country of manufacturer?
4: Are the laws around production and the workforce more relaxed / cheaper in the new country of manufacturer?
How to Limit Globalization
A company called NOTOX have gone above an beyond with their thinking and approach to board building.
Notox originally began in France, they started looking at more sustainable, eco-friendly ways of making surfboards and have been refining the process ever since. Some of their achievements to-date include :
- replacing fibre glass with sustainable Flax
- using 100% bio epoxy resin that gives off zero carcinogens
- each blank they use has 75% recycled content
- replacing the horribly pollutant ‘foamie’ with a surfboard made from sustainable cork.
But, ladies and gents, this is not the reason we mention them. Drum roll please (and also staying on subject target)...
Notox make surfboards in the same country that they sell them. I will explain…
While NOTOX is a French company, they also operate in Australia. Notox Australia operates the same levels of quality and ethos as the French notox except they moved the mountain, they moved production to the country they wanted to sell in!
Notox France – Sells to Europe and one side of the world.
Notox Australia – Sells to Australasia and the other side of the world.
The boards are produced and manufactured (not just sold) in the respective countries. While this does not represent a perfect solution, it shows that these guys are trying to actually make a difference and not just about the bottom line. The road for them has not been easy but admirably they remain determined that this is the right course of action. Kudos to them.
So what is the answer to Globolazation?
At the risk of sounding like a 80’s James Bond vilan (staring Todger Moore), we need to reinvent the wheel and roll everything back a few centuries. Buy things that are made as close to where we live as possible, using local supplies and local labour. Limit the travelling of both humans and materials. Go back to living in grass huts and grunting, outlaw books and education… wow, sorry I went too far back.
But seriously, while many of you, myself included can see so many issues trying to do this with the way the world is, the above are words on which to dwell. I don’t know, maybe you will be the source of enlightenment that finds a way, an answer.
I have, I fear gone on too long. I will leave you instead with some raw facts that paint a picture of their own.
- Shipping a Surfboard from US to Aus releases four times the amount of CO2 as making a surfboard from start to finish.
- A one hour drive in your car releases seven (yep 7) times the amount of CO2 as making a surfboard.
- Flying from Sydney to Bali return releases four hundred and fifteen times (yep 415) more CO2 as making a surfboard.
Take what you want from all this gentlefriends. One thing, however I insist on.
Don’t buy an f*ing bamboo toothbrush.