Part 3: Consumers Do Care | Sustainability and the Future of Business
For a company with a global supply chain and hundreds of employees and partnerships worldwide, changing directions is not going to happen overnight. It’s a constant balance to negotiate higher costs and responsible, sustainable practices with profit margins.
The production process of Firewire Surfboards’ unique construction of sustainably grown Paulownia wood deck skins and bio-resin yields VOC emissions that are already 50 times less than PU/PE, but CEO Mark Price said there’s still more progress to make towards less toxic foam, higher bio-content resins, and cloth alternatives, to name a few examples. Firewire’s ambitious objective to increase its research and development in those areas means making investments that Price realizes might not pay off until years later.
“If we want to realize our long-term goal to produce the most high performance and least toxic surfboards possible, we also have to stay in business in order to accomplish that, which means growing our business in a disciplined manner, and not creating outsized risk,” Price said.
“I think this last point is of particular importance as the surf industry emerges from the recent contraction,” he continued. “Hopefully we have learned the lessons of chasing exponential YOY growth without limits, and the unsustainable business risks associated with that. Never mind the waste and excess product that such aggressive growth projections inevitably create.”
Independent Sustainability Contractor for Volcom Derek Sabori echoed the same sentiment, acknowledging that sustainable business practices means making decisions for the long haul. “We know what the repercussions of the old ways of sourcing and doing business are: Note the documentary The True Cost, for example,” Sabori said. “Doing business in a black box, searching simply for the lowest cost, despite the impacts on anything besides the bottom line, is just not an acceptable way of doing business and society, as a whole, simply won’t accept it. Therefore, if you’re not building a sustainable and mindful business practice, you’re not preparing your business for the future.”
A common misconception is that sustainable practices are more expensive and the consumer is not willing to pay more. According to Nielsen’s Global Corporate Sustainability Report, almost three out of four Millenials polled and approximately 51% of Baby Boomers are not as price sensitive when it comes to making purchases that align with their social values. Of the respondents “willing to pay more for sustainable offerings,” the findings showed that “personal values are more important than personal benefits, such as cost or convenience.” In other words, these consumers are more willing to pay full price and go out of their way to buy products from companies “committed to positive social and environmental impact.”
Aside from public relations, companies that continue to operate without regards to carbon emissions and hazardous chemicals are at risk for facing regulations, fines, impending carbon taxes, or penalties down the road. Price cautioned, “If you wait until the economic rewards are without risk, you won’t be able to pivot fast enough.”
Burton’s Kenney said she doesn’t believe the myth that customers are only motivated by price: “A lot of people say customers don’t care. Well, in my opinion, that is not correct. I think that from what we know, our customers do care. Someone who loves snowboarding inherently has a deep respect for the environment,” Kenney said. “There’s going to be exceptions but I think the thing that’s lacking when you say customers don’t care is because they don’t have the information available to be able to care. They are getting so many mixed messages that they don’t know what to trust. There is so much greenwashing.”
David Stover, co-founder of Bureo added that sustainability is an ongoing commitment with no finish line. “There’s not a silver bullet. Its finding traction in something small and showing that we can making a difference by focusing on that,” Stover said. Co-founder Ben Kneppers added, “”[Sustainability] is a movement. Its about each person taking on their battle, and if everyone takes on their part, we can collectively become a driver of change.”