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Burton Snowboards’ tradition of innovation and disruption extends to activism

Burton Snowboards’ tradition of innovation and disruption extends to activism
Renée Yardley
March 29, 2018

In our “Conversations with Green Champions,” Rolland President Philip Rundle asks sustainability-minded organizations about their approach to environmental responsibility.

In the second part of a two-part interview, Jenn Swain, Sustainable Innovation Project Manager at Burton Snowboards, talks about addressing climate change and other environmental priorities through innovation, activism, and collaboration, while Stephanie Kohn, Director of Brand Management, talks about projecting the Burton brand.

The first interview was titled Burton Snowboards believes the most sustainable product is one that lasts.     

How will Burton achieve its 2020 sustainability goals, released in late 2017? 

JS: We’ve pushed ourselves by setting challenging yet achievable goals for products, people and the playground.  Many goals – like using 100 percent bluesign® materials for our softgoods (the bluesign® system ensures multiple levels of sustainable textile production) and diverting 75 percent of our waste from landfill – extend our existing efforts. 

We’re also aiming for a 20 percent reduction in carbon emissions by using a lifecycle assessments (LCA) to target the best opportunities for improving environmental impact around materials, waste and energy efficiency. This is another innovation in snowboard manufacturing. 

Burton’s attitude is all about progression – whether it’s improving the performance of our products or the impacts of their production. We believe our sustainability efforts will inspire a positive shift across the outdoor industry and community.

Rolland also uses LCA so we’re curious to learn about Burton’s approach   

JS: We’ve measured the environmental footprint of all Burton hardgoods (snowboards, bindings, boots, helmets, goggles) using an LCA software.

Action is the next step. For example, LCA helped us identify epoxy resin as a significant contributor to the footprint of snowboards. That helped lead Burton to use an alternative resin, Super Sap epoxy, formulated with bio-based materials, starting in 2016. It reduces the carbon footprint of that snowboard component by more than 50% compared to conventional petroleum-based epoxy. We now use it for almost all our boards.  

Burton sounds very businesslike about sustainability – you set a goal then go after it systematically – while remaining an upbeat group. Is that a fair summary?

JS:  Yes, we work hard and we play hard. We all take part in the active outdoors lifestyle. We bring everything we have to work at Burton, then we take it all out to the mountain. Employees lead the outdoor lifestyle we are promoting as a company.

Does Burton partner with like-minded organizations to address climate change and more?

JS: In 2013 Burton joined the Ceres BICEP Network – Business for Innovative Climate and Energy Policy – which advocates for stronger climate and clean energy policies at the US state and federal level. 

That year we also became a partner in Protect our Winters – POW – athletes and brands working to mobilize the outdoor sports community against climate change through educational initiatives, political advocacy and activism.

In 2012 Burton became a voting member of the Outdoor Industry Association Sustainability Working Group. Made up of influential organizations, like REI and Kleen Kanteen, for example. This group takes a collaborative approach to social responsibility, the circular economy and the like.  One example is the development and adoption of the Higg Tool, used to assess social and environmental impacts of production and to benchmark sustainability in the manufacturing supply chain.

Would you describe Burton as an activist company?  

JS: Yes. Disruption and innovation have always been part of the Burton brand, and we are now extending that to environmental and social activism. Recent actions on climate change typify our approach:

•    Burton worked with POW to host an event at our HQ in Vermont in February 2018 to help mobilize the community to support state carbon pricing legislation.  

•    Our CEO, Donna Carpenter, published in December 2017 an op-ed in the Burlington Free Press titled, ‘For the Love of the Mountains, Let’s Put a Price on Carbon Pollution.’ 

•    Donna and our leaders also travel annually to Capitol Hill to engage policy makers on climate change. 

Burton also takes a stand on issues that affect our social values, like paying for all interested Burton employees to join Donna Carpenter at the Women’s March on Washington, DC in 2017.  Activism is a source of employee pride.

What is the role of Burton’s non-profit, the Chill Foundation?

JS: The Chill Foundation was established in 1995 to help youth overcome challenges through boardsports. More than 22,000 youth have already benefited from the non-profit organization’s programs. In the 2017 program year, Chill served 1,800 youth in 17 cities across the United States and Canada. Participants are referred to Chill by other social service agencies, drug treatment facilities, foster care agencies, juvenile justice programs, drug treatment facilities, and after school programs. 

As a paper manufacturer, we have to ask: What is the role of print communications in projecting the Burton brand?

SK: Along with digital, print continues to play an important role in our consumer marketing strategy. Whether through a consumer catalog, promotional mailer, in-store signage, or a print ad campaign, the aim is to utilize this collateral to positively impact the consumer-to-brand relationship.

Do you see Burton as a green champion?

JS: I do.  Sustainability is a mindset and a priority at Burton, shown in our 2020 sustainability goals. And for years, Burton has been shifting the business toward environmentally and socially responsible practices to influence the snowboard industry, the outdoor industry, and policy-makers.

We’ll continue to improve our practices, and to raise our voice and encourage others as well.

Does Burton’s attitude reflect a strengthening trend, where responsible businesses are leading change? 

JS: Yes, especially in the outdoor industry, where every business relies on the environment, and customers are deeply engaged with the environment. It’s great to see so many brands joining in and doing their part.