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Arbor CEO On Expanding The Appeal Of Eco-Friendly Products

As part of our April issue, TransWorld Business examined what action sports companies have been doing to create more sustainable products, processes, and innovative strategies. We talked to companies around the industry about their efforts to make their brands more environmentally friendly.

picture-53While Arbor Collective was born with a  focus on sustainability, the company is keenly aware that  many riders don’t make their concern for the environment a part of their outward identity. Since Arbor Collective launched 15 years ago, the company has geared its product to speak to riders’ identities and lifestyles instead of focusing solely on “identity environmentalists” because they believe that people will support a sustainable and environmentally friendly product as long as it fits in with their individual lifestyle.

Arbor knows its products must be relevant and affordable for today’s market, and Bob Carlson, CEO and co-founder, is quick to admit that it’s not possible to make a completely “green” product. Instead, sustainability must be pursued through steps toward the future.

Contributor Michael Sudmeier caught up with Bob Carlson recently to find out more about Arbor Collective’s efforts at sustainability.

How has Arbor’s commitment to the environment evolved through the years?

What has evolved is our understanding of what it takes to make a difference.  You can’t reduce the effect that the production of boardsports products have on the environment if your brand only appeals to the small niche of identity environmentalists.  To make an impact, you must build a wider appeal; one that crosses multiple demographics, economic classes, political viewpoints, and sub-cultures.  Fortunately, most people today do give a shit about the environment.  They just don’t want to make it part of their outward identity.  For many riders, it’s a simple, deep seated value.  We have come to believe that pretty much everyone will choose products produced in a more sustainable manner as long as they speak to their image, performance, and value expectations.  That is what the Arbor Collective is focused on today.

You can’t reduce the effect that the production of boardsports products have on the environment if your brand only appeals to the small niche of identity environmentalists.

What has proven to be the biggest challenges when it comes to minimizing the company’s impact?

Over the years, the biggest challenge has been getting our material suppliers to support our sustainable design efforts.  In the end, environmental innovation must be driven as much by material manufacturers, as it is by brands and their designers.  In the past, we have had to push hard to get our vendors to develop alternatives.  Alternatives that they perceived would be less profitable.  Fortunately this is changing.  In recent years, suppliers have begun to support the development of environmentally friendlier alternatives.  One can debate whether this change is driven by profits, values, or some combination of both; but in the end, brands and their designers now have much improved access to the sustainable resources they need in order to deliver products that are more environmentally friendly.  As a result, consumers are seeing a lot more environmentally oriented products hit the market.

It seems that in the past few years, Arbor has made a deliberate effort to attract a younger demographic.  What served as a catalyst for this new direction?

For the industry to significantly reduce the effect that the production of boardsports products has on the environment, our environmentally oriented products must appeal to the widest range of customers.  Frankly, today’s kids have more awareness of the need to protect the environment than any generation that came before.  But they are still very much into the image, style, and performance aspects of the brands they support.  The trick for Arbor, and frankly the whole industry, is to direct our environmental efforts to the youth market’s internal “eco values,” while allowing the other more identity-based aspects of our design efforts to speak to traditional youth expectations.  Arbor has been working hard to walk this line.  The success we are seeing has allowed the brand to deliver super relevant, more sustainably designed products to a wider range of customers, and in doing so, have a broader, more effective impact on protecting the environment.