Sustainable snowboarding: Burton attains B-Corp status; Weston goes 4 years on warranty
VAIL – Burton has always been the industry leader in snowboard manufacturing, but the biggest name in the business is also a leader in sustainability issues, and is inspiring those around them.
In October, Burton attained B Corp certification, joining a list of more than 3,000 companies which are striving to meet the highest standards for sustainability, social responsibility, transparency and accountability.
Burton Co-CEO Donna Carpenter said the company has always stood for more than snowboarding.
“Our values around community, sustainability and women’s equity are as much a part of our identity as pioneering the sport,” she said. “Now more than ever, companies need to step up and speak up on issues that impact the world we all share. So we’re all very proud to join the B Corp community, which shares our commitment to balancing purpose with profit.”
Local snowboard manufacturer Weston Backcountry, amid their recent rise to become the second-largest splitboard provider in North America, is also taking a balanced approach to purpose and profit.
In in tackling sustainability issues for the company, Alex Blanchard with Weston looked to Burton as a guiding light.
“Burton has taken massive steps to really pilot a lot of these programs, they’ve made a giant commitment to sustainability,” Blanchard said. “They have five people on staff with an explicit focus of analyzing ways to improve sustainability.”
At Weston, it’s just Blanchard, but he has also been explicit in his focus on sustainability. As the company began to come into its own, owner Leo Tsuo challenged Blanchard to see what he could do to help Weston reduce its carbon footprint. While many companies find economic incentives in reducing their energy consumption, at Weston the process has cut into profits, but in a good way, Blanchard said.
“Sometimes the more sustainable option is not necessarily the cheaper option,” Blanchard said. “We’re willing to not have as big of a profit margin if we feel like we’re doing good for the community and doing good for the environment.”
In converting Blanchard from an intern to a full-time employee focused on sustainability, Tsuo made his initial investment in becoming a more environmentally friendly company. Blanchard got right to work, examining every aspect of Weston’s process.
Packaging and shipping
A logical starting point was to question the decision to manufacture in China and ship to the U.S., which has a large carbon footprint. Blanchard determined that even if the company were to manufacture in the U.S., many of the materials would need to be sourced in China, so it may be best to focus his efforts elsewhere.
“Materials are going a long way, regardless of where the boards are made,” Blanchard said. “So we don’t see it being a big difference.”
In the shipping itself, however, Blanchard identified a big way the company could reduce carbon emissions.
“The easiest thing was just to move from air shipments to sea shipments,” he said. “Air shipments are roughly three to four times as carbon intensive as sea shipping.”
As Weston began implementing that change, Blanchard looked at the packaging with which the boards were arriving. He didn’t like it.
“We used to get bags on top of bags of these foam inserts, that’s just what the factory used, they didn’t really think about it, and they weren’t recyclable, they just had to go to a landfill,” he said. “We pushed really hard and worked with them to develop cardboard inserts for all of our packaging.”
As a result, “All of our packaging is now recyclable,” Blanchard said.
The company has made a big effort to reuse the packaging in shipping boards out to dealers and customers, as well, with a goal of seeing the box used more than once before being properly recycled. While it can also be reused, polystyrene foam can be a bit embarrassing if you’re shipping to an environmentally conscientious consumer. The change may have been expensive, but the company assumes the customer is seeking that out regardless, so the ethical choice is also the logical choice.
“Backcountry users are spending a lot of time in these natural areas, and they care about that and they want to help protect that,” Blanchard said. “Customers are either demanding that their products have sustainable characteristics or are even willing to pay more for sustainable characteristics.”
Within the product itself, Weston has taken a deep dive into a world of materials that are better for the environment. The top sheet is made out of castor bean oil rather than a petroleum-based product, the core of the board is made from farmed wood rather than old growth forest, and they use renewable flax fiber instead of carbon fiber in parts of the board outside the core.
Finally, Weston focused on a seemingly counter-intuitive idea for a snowboard selling operation – they told consumers they don’t want you to have to keep coming back every season for a board you destroyed last year. They even decided to one-up Burton in the process as a friendly nudge among colleagues.
“A bedrock of our design philosophy and brand values are durability and taking care of our riders,” says Leo Tsuo, Owner of Weston. “We felt it was important to formalize this and offer one of the best warranties in the industry.”
While Burton currently offers a three-year manufacturer defect warranty, Weston this season decided to go with a four-year warranty covering all boards, including those purchased in the past. They also took on professional fixer Nate Dumais to analyze and, hopefully, repair all boards that come back, as they’ve seen with past warranties that many times boards are still perfectly usable with a little work.
“We want to keep these boards on the snow as long as possible,” Blanchard said.