Sustainability Talk: Never Summer Snowboards
Marca Hagenstad July 23, 2019 backcountry, Camping, Gear Review, Tents, van life Sustainability Talk: Never Summer Snowboards Factory Tour
I had to chance to tour the Never Summer snowboard factory in Denver and talk sustainability with the chairman of the Board, Vince Sanders. Here’s what I found out.
Never Summer is the largest independent snowboard manufacturer in the U.S., with 70 employees and over $10 million in annual revenue. They have been designing boards since 1983 and have built a reputation for their quality and innovation in snowboard design and technology. Never Summer introduced the hybrid rocker camber design back in 2008 and since have combined their original patent with their Ripsaw Rocker Camber Profile to create the ultimate blend for edge grip, float, and a surfy feel. They are continually innovating and evolving design and materials, such as their Carbonium top-sheet material.
While sustainability is not a claimed mission or marketing aspect of their brand, they have sustainability embedded within many of their company operations. First and foremost is the durability of their products. Keeping products in the use phase as long as possible is a pillar of the sustainable circular economy. Never Summer does this by making products that are among the most durable in the industry. Boards are carefully handcrafted in their Denver factory, each board taking 5 to 6 days to make.
They keep durability at the forefront when selecting materials and creating new design features. They innovated a carbon layup which not only stiffens the board at the ends (for edge hold pressure, spring, and stability) but also holds the integrity of the board’s flex pattern over a longer period of time, reinforcing the board for longer life.
There are managers in each phase of production ensuring quality and maintaining a very low rate of defective boards which do not go to market. Out of 12,000 boards made, only about 50 don’t make the cut through the final inspection (less than 0.5%). This process of ensuring high quality in production not only makes great boards but is an important part of waste minimization. And even the rejected boards are not disposed – they are dispersed to employees or you might see a few of them in Wahoo Fish Tacos.
Never Summer tries to reduce waste in each phase of the manufacturing process. The only waste from wood used for the core of the board is sawdust, as all boards are cut to length and all other trimmings are used in youth snowboards. They optimize weight and performance by using the strength of beech with a blend of poplar and paulownia, which is the fastest-growing hardwood that is light and strong.
For the base graphics, the color schemes are flip-flopped to avoid extra plastic waste during production. Clay-based paper and water-based inks are used for the topsheet graphics. Dye sublimation is done where inks become part of the paper they are being applied to, after being put in press at 385 degrees for a little over a minute. The sublimation/printing shop has a recycling program.
Never Summer also has a repair and restore program to keep your board performing as long as possible. So once you invest in a Never Summer board, you know that you will be enjoying its performance for a very long time.
Thanks to Vince and Never Summer for the tour and for creating great boards and reducing impacts on the environment whenever possible! Having U.S. based operations is a big plus for sustainability: it reduces emissions from transport of products and gives management more control and oversight ensuring that fair labor practices are being followed.
Below are highlights and resources for sustainability issues in snowboard manufacturing.
Sustainability Wrap in Snowboard Manufacturing
- CO2 Emissions
- Baseline emissions can be estimated and goals set, exploring options for energy efficiency upgrades in all buildings (e.g., LED lighting), on-site renewable energy, and purchasing carbon offsets or RECs.
- Employees can be encouraged and incentivized to take transit and bike.
- Find ways to reduce waste from packaging, exploring if reusable shipping containers and reusable sleeves to protect boards are possible.
- Offer employees incentives for innovating ways to reduce waste.
- Sustainable Materials
- Explore sustainable sourcing options such as FSC-certified wood and sustainable rubber.
- Replace high-impact materials with lesser impacts, such as bio-plastics and bio-epoxies.
- Increase use of recycled materials. Some companies are using recycled steel edges and recycled ABS sidewalls.
- Consider conducting life-cycle assessments on products to have visibility into where biggest impacts are coming from.
- Social Sustainability
- Have the control and oversight to ensure that fair labor practices are being followed in operations and the supply chain (e.g., Code of Conduct for all suppliers).
- Assess if living wages are paid.
- Consider charitable giving and community service policies that allows your company to give back to the local community.
- It’s an industry-wide question – What can we do with our gear when we are done? Keeping products out of landfills is a new factor to consider in product design and is a goal of the sustainable circular economy.
- Consider take-back programs – have a customer for life.
- Design products for disassembly.
- Innovate ways to reuse materials in new products.
- Explore partnerships.
- Outdoor Industry Association (OIA) Sustainability Starter Guidance, Toolkits and Boot Camps
- BCorps Assessment of Impacts of Workers, Communities and Environment
- Life-Cycle Assessment Beginner’s Guide
Marca Hagenstad is a snowboarder with an economics problem. She enjoys backcountry splitboarding but spends most of her time working to save snow through climate mitigation and helping companies reduce their environmental impacts.
Marca has determined the economic values of snow for the UN IPCC and for Protect Our Winters (POW). She founded Circle Economics in 2018 to facilitate the transition to a sustainable and circular economy. She helps companies measure their environmental, economic and social impacts in industries ranging from manufacturing to utilities.
Her training by the Sustainability Consortium, created to transform the consumer goods industry, enables her to advise clients on sustainable business strategy and responding to sustainability indices. She advises clients to go beyond compliance, turning data into insights to guide profitable business strategy.
Marca has a B.A. in Economics from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and an M.S. in Economics from Utah State University. She tests splitboards for Backcountry Magazine and teaches snow science with Winter Wildlands Alliance (WWA).