words:: Dre Turner
Innovation is at the core of everything Burton does – from the earliest days of establishing the sport of snowboarding through decades of creating the best possible products for it – it’s inherently part of their DNA, including their approach to sustainability. A couple of years back the team at Burton created an impressive set of sustainability benchmarks to meet by 2020, with less than a year to go, we’re checking in to see if they’re on track to reaching these goals.
In terms of protecting our playground they are keyed in on action and advocacy, living the ethos of giving more than you take. By 2020 they aim to divert 75% of their waste from the landfill at global headquarters, and in the name of reducing, reusing, and recycling (and composting) they are at 59% completion – engaging their employees and visitors alike to act responsibly.
Some of their goals have more visible impacts, like the state of affairs in their factories, headquarters, and events. For example, Burton is striving toward 100% Fair Labor Association compliance in their factories by 2020. Meaning every single person working in a Burton factory is doing so in the safest, healthiest, and most environmentally friendly conditions. Today, they are at 81%, and in great shape to hit that 100% mark in under a year.
Another highly visible goal – to make the Burton US Open carbon neutral – was already achieved in 2017, and they are currently 80% of their way to making the event zero waste. Think about how powerful that message is to every person that interacts with the event. And an especially exciting goal from a consumer standpoint is making 100% recyclable and compostable retail packaging, which they are just shy of halfway to achieving, sitting at 49% progress. They also set the goal of 80% recycled content packaging, which they are at 44% progress on.
Equally important are the less visible environmental impacts – like the regulations around what chemicals and materials are used in the production of their softgoods, hardgoods, and the carbon footprints of the business overall. A major landmark is to make 100% of softgoods bluesign® approved, which they are 40% of the way towards achieving. Another is to use 100% sustainable cotton, which they are currently at 58% progress on. And to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, water use, and plastics by using 50% recycled polyester, which today they are at 18% progress and have created some special product to support this specific goal. As they say, one person’s trash is another’s t-shirt, fleece, or beanie.
The creation of much of the outdoor recreation gear we buy today is often made at a cost to the environment, but not always in an obvious way like packaging or recyclability. A common high-impact factor is water repellency, and Burton set out to find a safer alternative for their durable water repellent items. Aiming for 100% PFC-free DWR, they currently are 27% closer to this goal for their gloves, outerwear and bags.
Burton also set out to reduce carbon emissions by 20% in the production of hardgoods, which is a big deal in terms of producing a high-performing piece of equipment – equipment that is often essential to basic safety in the mountains. Today they sit at -3% on this goal, some categories prove more challenging than others, but the product development team continues to work towards this goal without compromising on technical performance. A challenge they are rising to meet in the hardgoods category is the goal to repair at least 40% of all warranty claims, which they are currently over halfway toward achieving, sitting at about 22% and demonstrating durability through repair and decreasing product waste.
Another challenging goal – a 20% CO2 reduction at global headquarters – is unfortunately at -22% in terms of measured progress. But the process of reducing their footprint with energy efficiency and renewables requires upgrading the existing infrastructure to further reduce energy use. One could liken it to the process of getting in shape to lose weight – you’ll gain a little weight at first as you build up some muscle mass, but then your body is equipped to be more efficient and you will soon start to lean out. Essentially, it’s the long game and this is one of the necessary measures to achieving a smaller carbon footprint in the future.
One of the most important byproducts of Burton’s sustainability initiatives is their influence. Using their momentum to set an example and speak out on policy as a means to help protect the environment. The fact that they are still privately owned allows for a more assertive approach to taking a stand and working to influence at a governmental level, which is something they are already actively in the work of. They view sustainability as a group effort – holding space with heavy hitters from both the snow industry and others, combining forces to increase influence and raise awareness.
According to Jenn Swain, Global Senior Sustainability Manager, “Success is to maximize positive social impact while minimizing the negative environmental impact in our manufacturing process.” This holistic view of sustainability, not simply reducing emissions or compostable packaging, is part of what keeps Burton leading the pack both in the industry and across others. The innovative nature that is so core to their brand ethos, the focus on people and culture, it all strengthens the resolve and amplifies the voice we need in the world.
“To protect the playground and the people that sustain our sport means redefining progression.” This statement came from a post on the Burton blog and couldn’t be more apt. They know that if they don’t start making change happen the snowy playground that they love (and that their industry relies on) may not be around much longer. And then who will be buying snowboards? While setting the pace for the global sustainability movement, influencing change and raising awareness, the team at Burton continues to put out exceptional products that allow us to get out there, experience the epic pow days, and be a little bit gentler to the planet while we’re at it.—ML