Burton's sustainable business plan looks ahead 15 years; spearheads climate initiatives and energy policy
Burton's 38-year history dates back to the beginnings of a sport and the birth of a counterculture. Inspired by winter, Burton was instrumental in creating what we now know the sport to be, bringing together a grassroots community of snowboarding ambassadors and activists. Now, Burton's efforts address something larger that has the snowboarding company coming full-circle, back to the basics of activism, and speaking to a different kind of counterculture—that of business seeking sustainability for the greater good.
We have a sport to advocate for that's bigger than we are. That's what I want to preserve." – Donna Carpenter, President and Owner of Burton Snowboards
As climate change and the effects of rising temperatures and sporadic weather patterns –seen by record snowfall on one coast, and droughts on the other—have threatened our normal, some call attention to economic soft spots, greater than just shorter winters. So Burton looks ahead—15 years to be exact—to get ahead of the issue, helping to create a new counterculture, mitigating impact, and speaking on behalf of the Earth, on behalf of winter.
"You underestimate the company culture needed to make a shift towards something like sustainability," explains Carpenter. So Burton brought Ali Kenney, now Director of Global Sustainability for the company, to the forefront, facilitating a restructure in hopes of becoming, truly, a sustainable business. From factory auditing to create more efficiencies and certified practices, to employee programs dedicated to environmental standards in the workplace, Burton has "become a culture for sustainability," as Carpenter puts it.
"It was important to make a cohesive strategy for the whole so, internally, we were able to set real goals so everyone knew 'Ok, we're going in this direction," explains Carpenter. "Now the whole company rallies behind this mentality. They don't say 'Oh no, here comes Ali and sustainability,' they see it as a partnership."
The internal efforts mirrored their external partnerships with organizations like BICEP (Business for Innovative Climate and Energy Policy, a.k.a. the Green Business Coalition), Forum for the Future, and bluesign. The partnership with Forum for the Future encouraged Burton to think long-term, stepping back to evaluate product 15-years from now; thinking about "global megatrends affecting our industry," as Carpenter explains, "—like global climate change, resource scarcity, and the sharing economy. People sometimes become afraid of the future, especially with global climate change. But we ran through all these scenarios and it made us realize that we're selling a lot more than a product. We are selling an experience, a life style."
In 2013, Burton joined BICEP. Alongside other large U.S. corporations like Nike, Levi Strauss, V.F. Corp, Clif Bar, Ebay, and Ben & Jerry's, Burton signed a declaration, voluntarily changing business behaviors in hopes to mitigate impact on the environment, all the while lobbying for stronger energy and climate regulation with the U.S. Congress.
After early talks with bluesign, Burton decided to fully implement life cycle assessment (LCA), a scientific way to look at products and discover where the actual biggest environmental impact lies. "You're evaluating everything from raw material extraction from the earth, to transport, manufacturing, use, and finally, end of life," explains Kenney. "We're then able to find the highest impact areas of our product; if you attack the highest impact area, it's going to be better for you in the long run." The Higg index, a lifecycle assessment standard used to measure and evaluate environmental performance of a product across the supply chain, currently only deals with apparel and footwear. Burton is pioneering a version of the Higg index for snowboards.
Burton's effort to redesign their business, becoming progressively sustainable, is why we chose them as future thinkers. Earlier this winter we sat down with Donna Carpenter and Ali Kenney to understand the crux of their mission, and what the future holds for climate change legislation.
Check out the full interview in the SUMMER ISSUE of TransWorld Business.