While pro surfing fans will not see many changes in the World Tour until 2014, there is already a major effort ripening that could soon make the events certified sustainability leaders in global sports.
If they can agree to come together.
Sustainable Surf, a San Francisco-based non-profit that works to implement environmentally conscious initiatives in the surf industry — from surfboard building to ASP events — first made inroads at the Rip Curl Pro Search, San Francisco, in 2011. Co-founders Michael Stewart and Kevin Whilden consulted Rip Curl event organizers on utilizing recycled cooking oil for generator fuel, a local waste diversion company, carbon offsetting, and other methods to lessen the event’s environmental impact.
Sustainable Surf’s venture in San Francisco was a chaotic one, with little structure and even less hands on deck, but through pure grit — and Stewart’s unwavering enthusiasm — the end result became a turning point in the trajectory of professional surfing’s environmental footprint.
“We didn’t have a specific plan at the Rip Curl Pro,” admits Stewart, who before co-founding Sustainable Surf worked for Carbonfund.org, a Maryland-based carbon footprint offsetting non-profit. “But [Rip Curl was] enthusiastic about letting us throw everything at the wall, and we came away with this great case study which we realized could serve as a basis for all future surfing events.”
Stewart and Whilden (whose background as a geologist has taken him to Antarctica to study the effects of climate change) meticulously gathered data throughout the event, effectively quantifying their success. Late in 2011, they took their report to ASP North America, who agreed to partner with them to create the Deep Blue Surfing Event (DBSE) program — a comprehensive, five-step set of guidelines for addressing the operational, environmental and community footprint of pro surfing events. In developing DBSE, Stewart and Whilden consulted both the Global Reporting Initiative — the organization who oversaw and audited sustainability efforts at the 2012 Olympic Games in London — as well as the Green Sports Alliance, who has worked with American pro sports governing bodies like the NBA, whose Green Week is already in its fifth year and supported by the Natural Resources Defense Council, an international environmental non-profit with over 1.3 million members and online activists.
VOLCOM LEADS GREEN CHARGE
In early 2012, Sustainable Surf partnered with Volcom to make both the 2012 Fiji Pro and the 2013 Pipe Pro DBSE certified. The Costa Mesa, California-based surfwear giant is leading the charge in environmentally responsible events in large part because of the unique support of their parent company, France-based Kering (formerly PPR), which requires its brands to conduct an Environmental Profit and Loss (EP&L) analysis, which is designed to curb waste, water use, carbon emissions, and other environmentally taxing practices that are inherent in multi-national commerce.
“Having an organization like Sustainable Surf helps you set a standard.”
But Volcom’s Department of Sustainability Senior Director, Derek Sabori, proudly points out that Volcom set up their department a year prior to Kering’s company-wide EP&L analysis requirement.
“When Kering made that push, it was immediately a perfect fit for us,” says Sabori. “But there’s no way that I could be doing the things I’m doing now without their help, support and resources.”
With such encouragement from the very top, it’s no surprise Volcom would become the first to commit to the DBSE program. But Sabori also believes that involving a third-party like Sustainable Surf in World Tour events is integral to effecting real change, as well as to reaching pro surfing’s ever-growing audience.
“Having an organization like Sustainable Surf helps you set a standard,” says Sabori. “A lot of value comes from that because, in the end, they’re going to be the ones that quantify your sustainability efforts and tell the public, ‘Yep, they ticked all the boxes; they passed,’ or ‘Nope, they didn’t pass.’ The surf industry needs something like them.”
January’s Pipe Pro, Volcom’s second Deep Blue certified event after Fiji, was the most successful sustainability audit yet. By collaborating with local organizations like TR3EES, Pacific Biodiesel, EachOneTeachOne, and others, Volcom exceeded the minimum goal of the five DBSE guidelines (Waste, Energy, Community Support, Climate Change, Transportation). Some highlights were: 1,962 pounds of waste diverted from the landfill and repurposed as compost and fertilizer; 156 gallons of biodiesel used in place of traditional fuel; and a 280 metric ton CO2 footprint (roughly the weight of 102,853 finished shortboards) one-hundred-percent offset.
Stewart, Whilden and Sabori hope that Kering’s sustainability initiative and Volcom’s success at translating that into the greenest World Tour events ever will become the blueprint for a standard measure of environmental excellence on the new ASP World Tour, beginning in 2014.
And the quantified success of the Volcom Pipe Pro has led Stewart and Whilden to secure talks with the ISA, Vans, Quiksilver Europe, and the ASP — a sign that Volcom’s emphatic endorsement of third-party certification is stirring interest among World Tour key players. However, it is, they all insist, still too early in game for commitment.
“We plan on pursuing and engaging in sustainable initiatives,” says ASP VP of Communications Dave Prodan, who acknowledged talks with Sustainable Surf but stressed that no formal or informal agreement had been made between the two organizations. “We’re in the process of considering a lot of things for next year, so we can’t say this early on who we’d be working with.”
Hurley’s Vice President of Global Outreach, Ben Edwards, also points out that the events — and all the other major surf brands — have been implementing eco-friendly and sustainability efforts in their companies for a long time on their own, noting that Hurley will not be pursuing Deep Blue certification for this year’s Hurley Pro, to be held between September 15-21.
“I think if you went through [the DBSE guidelines] you’d see that we meet, and in many cases exceed, all of them,” says Edwards. But he also acknowledges that Sustainable Surf is “doing some great things. It’s great to see that they’re assembling what an event can be going forward.”
Stewart is optimistic. “The desire for most brands is there — as Rip Curl bravely showed us in San Fran,” he says. “And Volcom have really proven that this can be done and that [sustainability awareness] actually adds value to their events.”
Sabori agrees with both Edwards and Stewart’s insistence that sustainability is and has been a passion of most surf brands for a long time, but refers back to his belief in the power of a standard.
“It would be a great thing for the new World Tour,” he says. “We’re committed to the program, but I would love to see others commit too. Hopefully once one, two, then three of us do it, there will be a tipping point — together we set a standard then move on, and, eventually, it just becomes the norm.”
(The folks at Volcom made a documentary about the Volcom Pipe Pro’s environmental impact, which you can watch right here on YouTube.)
- Greener, Lighter, Faster, Awesome (onetribe2010.wordpress.com)