Sustainable development is not only a mindset that can be cultivated in everyone but also a practice that can be applied to all kinds of business. It is also a journey that any company can take as long as it is truly committed to pursuing fresh ideas and innovations, leading by example, inspiring others, and championing activities that help make sustainable development a reality.
All Around Plastics sat down with Svein Rasmussen, Chief Innovator of Starboard – a water sport and surfboard manufacturer. Rasmussen found his passion in surfboarding from a young age, he became a world-class athlete, winning the 1983 edition of Mistral Worlds competition, and started Starboard in 1994. It is therefore not at all an overstatement to say that water is a driving force and plays a significant role in his life.
“I love all kinds of watersports. When you go paddle boarding, for example, you’re standing on the water. You can move to the rhythm of the waves and take in everything around you. It’s like meditation and can give you a lot of ideas. They are moments of great value for me.” As a watersport equipment maker who is acutely aware of the ever-depleting resources of our planet, Rasmussen has embarked on a quest for innovations that will both drive his business and improve the environment.
“We have only this one planet, and saving it is everybody’s duty. We have been extracting resources from the world way too fast, and most people have not figured out what the consequences will be in the next 100 or 1,000 years. Therefore, we need to put more emphasis on how to optimize resource utilization.” It is this realization that has inspired him to adopt the circular economy as a guiding principle in steering his business.
How Starboard puts circular economy to practice
“We need to change how we work, both in terms of materials and innovation, beginning with recycling and taking advantage of the properties of each material. Some materials can be reused hundreds or thousands of time. We need to begin with fostering an understanding of sustainability, which will enable us to work more efficiently.”
The principle of circular economy has been integrated into the work process of Starboard to drive its product development and projects for society, which are all rooted in the idea of sustainability. Recognizing the paramount importance of material, Rasmussen constantly explores how he can breathe life back into each post-consumer material and maximize its use.
“At Starboard, we start by looking at our products and determining which raw materials can be obtained from renewable sources. Can we find natural dye and paint? Can we increase our recycled content? This is especially true with plastics, for which we try to look for alternative materials, such as bio-resins, or incorporate recycled materials. For instance, all of our surfboard bags are made from recycled plastic bottles or PET-based textiles, allowing us to get more longevity out of these plastic materials. This is how we look for opportunities to develop new products that maximizes the use of recycled materials while also answering the lifestyle needs of consumers.
“Our most successful recycling initiative is a program in collaboration with DSM, in which we collect fishnets off the coastlines of India, clean them, and turned them into pellets. The material is then upcycled with the addition of fiberglass to achieve required properties for different applications, improved its properties and maximizing its useful life. These enhanced pellets are then injection-molded into different products, such as pumps, boxes, fins, and other components of the surfboard.”
Delivering post-consumer materials to consumers
“When it comes to customers, it is important to educate them on what these materials are. Because they look the same, we have logos on the products to show that they are recycled or upcycled and indicate where the materials came from.”
These logos are very much like nutrition labels on food packages, only that the list of nutrients is replaced with the composition of the recycled content or the amount of carbon offset. This initiative is intended to make consumers aware that they can make a difference and contribute to the world’s sustainability.
“When consumers see this, the special thing is that they will learn that there is a story behind the product or the material. For instance, if you can show them that this product was a fishing net brought up from the ocean, it becomes a good story that they want to become a part of and talk about. They would want to purchase that product and share the story with their friends.”
“We can see that products from recycled materials are emerging as luxury items for consumers today. People want to purchase something special that they can talk about. It is our job to create recycled products that are not only attractive but also restore value to recycled materials.”
Partnership: The key to circular economy
“The most important thing I believe we have been able to work on is partnership. As you know, we’re a small company. There are such a huge number of NGOs and startups that are working on different concepts, ideas, and technologies. We try to see who we can somehow partner up with, learn from, and engage with. For example, we are lucky enough to have started a collaboration with the environmental organization, Parley, in which we create eco-friendly materials for surfing equipment and share our knowledge on materials, research and development, product trials, testing, and marketing.”
Through the Collaboration for Sustainable Future Project, Starboard and SCG have struck a new partnership that focuses on three main areas, namely the development of eco-friendly materials, the promotion of actions against global warming, such as carbon sequestration by mangrove forests, and the cultivation of resource consciousness in youth.
“This marks a new journey, and the partnership with SCG is very special in that it goes on so many different levels. What’s really exciting is also that we are in the same country, so it is much easier to collaborate. This is the prime environment for collaboration.”
As a final note, Rasmussen stressed that everybody could contribute to a more sustainable world. “Our main lesson today is that we have a huge challenge and we need to act quickly. If we sit and wait for 10 or 20 years, it will be too late. When ideas come, we need to see if they can be implemented within a couple of years. That’s the way we need to think now, and that’s the way Starboard thinks. The main thing we can do is make people and organizations understand that it is all about accelerating sustainability programs. Reduction of carbon footprints alone is not enough. Every organization can become climate positive within a year or two if they take climate change seriously.”