Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Venture Snowboards’ Evolving Environmental Efforts

As part of their April issue, TransWorld Business examined what action sports companies have been doing to create more sustainable products, processes, and innovative strategies. They talked to companies around the industry about their efforts to make their brands more environmentally friendly.
Lisa Branner and husband Klemstepped into the  snowboard manufacturing ring 22 years ago, founding Venture Snowboards in remote Silverton, Colorado with the vision of creating a more environmentally friendly snowboard. Over the years, their vision and efforts have evolved.
Lisa  won’t run a product just because it’s environmentally friendly; the product has to be durable, and Venture focuses on improving the quality and performance of its snowboards while minimizing environmental impact. The company only uses wood approved by the Forest Stewardship Council for their cores, uses a comprehensive recycling program and has converted its  entire operation to run on wind power.
While the Branners and Venture continuously look at ways they can make their company more environmentally friendly, they also realize that these changes must be practical, and durability cannot be compromised—otherwise, they’ll just end up in the dump.
Our contributor Michael Sudmeier recently caught up with Lisa Branner about Venture’s efforts to be more environmentally friendly.
How has Venture’s commitment to the environment evolved through the years?
Initially it was about using more environmentally friendly materials, but now our thinking focuses largely on efficiency and making our operation as lean as possible.  Our snowboard bases are a great example of this.  Rather than have a single colorway for the bases, ours use random color combinations so we can swap the spare parts from one base with those from another and all the base materials get used.  That’s a pretty simple concept, but even the smallest efforts make a difference when they’re added  together and considered as part of the whole.
Our lumber comes from sustainable forests in Mississippi, our base material and other plastics come from Ohio, and the epoxy we use comes from California.
What have proven to be the biggest challenges when it comes to minimizing the company’s environmental impact?
It’s actually quite a challenge for us to incorporate new, greener materials into our boards. We’ve experimented with a lot of things that didn’t work out in the long run - for example cloth topsheets made of organic cotton and hemp. In the end, what it comes down to is whether or not those materials meet our standards for durability and performance.  It’s a continual process of experimentation and we do a lot of product testing with any new materials we’re thinking about using.
By your definition, what constitutes an eco-friendly product?
From our perspective there are several factors to consider in what makes a product eco-friendly.   First, it’s about searching out materials that have a lesser impact - for example the Forest Stewardship Council certified wood we’ve use for our cores since day one.  Second, it’s about efficiency—using those materials in the most efficient way possible so that you reduce or even eliminate waste.  Third, it’s about sourcing your materials as close to home as possible to reduce transport and therefore the amount of fuel burned.  Lastly, it’s about building the most durable product you can so that it has a longer life and doesn’t need to be replaced as often.
How has Venture worked to source “materials as close to home as possible”?

When making purchasing decisions we look for local vendors first, then move outward in concentric circles, seeking statewide, regional, and national domestic sources before we’ll consider international ones.  For example, with our softgoods we’ve used American Apparel (made in Los Angeles) and have had the screen printing and embroidery done by local operations in the neighboring town of Durango.  On the production end, our lumber comes from sustainable forests in Mississippi, our base material and other plastics come from Ohio, and the epoxy we use comes from California.  I think that right now the only components we use that aren’t sourced within the US are our inserts and our steel edges - and that’s only because there is no domestic source for this stuff.
As a company, what does it mean to be a responsible steward of the environment?
I think that first and foremost it’s about acknowledging our own culpability and admitting that none of us are environmental angels.  We participate in a sport and are part of an industry that takes a pretty heavy environmental toll.  Then it’s about recognizing the fact that making a commitment to the environment is not a one shot deal, but an ongoing process.  We’re never really going to be done with it.  There will always be more that we can do to improve.  You have to be willing to continually question and evolve.
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