Editor’s Note: On August 18, The Inertia’s EVOLVE Summit will celebrate people from the surf and outdoor worlds that use their influence to make a positive imprint on society. Mark Price, who sits at the helm of Firewire Surfboards, has steered the company towards an ethos of environmental stewardship and corporate social responsibility that has completely disrupted the traditional surfboard manufacturing paradigm. In recent years, Firewire has attracted environmentally-minded collaborators like Kelly Slater and Rob Machado. At our inaugural EVOLVE Summit, Mark will speak on a panel about using business as a vehicle for good. Get tickets now and enter code LASTCHANCE at checkout to receive $25 off until August 11th, 2018.
Personally, I’ve long had an interest in the well-being of the planet. That includes concerns around environmental pollution, climate change, the unfettered capitalistic business model and the ‘take-make-waste’ mentality associated with that, and related issues. All of these, and a few more contribute to our toxic footprint on the planet. And if we continue down the path we’re on, it’s not going to end well. Whether our current direction will dramatically threaten our ability to live on this planet in five years, ten years, or even fifty years, I wonder: “Why keep doing something that inevitably is going to end in disaster?”
That mode of thinking urges us to reassess the way the human race interacts with the natural world, to put it at the most core level of human consciousness. And then to drill down further and say, “For my part, I’m a businessman who runs a company and that’s my immediate environment, so I’m going to do something about it within that context.” I came to Firewire in March 2006 with that mindset.
Fortunately for me, the very first product that Firewire brought to market was the FST (Future Shapes Technology) construction. In 2005, the University of Queensland at Brisbane did a study on the volatile organic compounds (VOC) emitted by FST versus a standard PU/PE surfboard and calculated that the Firewire surfboard emitted 50 times less VOCs during manufacturing and over the life of the board itself. And because we had no legacy product, we were a start-up at that time, our environmental ethos was baked into the DNA of the company from day one.
That said, we’ve never lost sight of the fact that we’re building sporting goods equipment – that’s basically what a surfboard is and I don’t mean to diminish the art involved for one second, but performance matters. The mass majority of surfers, for instance, do care about the environment, but they’re not going to compromise their surfing experience just for a greener surfboard. Therefore, the proverbial 3-legged stool that Firewire sits on is anchored around 3 main principles: Performance, durability, and sustainability.
Over the last twelve years, we’ve done a lot of things that have slowly but surely reduced the toxicity of the surfboards that we build, while maintaining and sometimes even improving performance. And that’s been accomplished across a wide variety of fronts. Raw materials are part of it, power consumption, waste stream reduction and upcycling are others, and those avenues have been addressed to varying degrees. For example, our waste per board has been reduced by 95 percent over the last 18 months, from 0.4 cubic meters per board, down to 0.05.
Another central tenet of our business that we’re equally proud of is our commitment to environmental and humanitarian issues and causes. It’s one thing to build less toxic products, and that’s certainly important, but at the same time, there are a number of organizations out there that are trying to shift our collective consciousness around social and environmental issues. Over the years we’ve been strong supporters of SurfAid, Parley for the Oceans, Surfers Against Sewage, the Surfrider Foundation, and Share the Stoke Foundation as we strive to be the best corporate citizens that we can be. In fact, in 2017 we donated funds and product in excess of 3.5 percent of our net profit before tax.
Fortunately, we have an ownership structure and employees steeped in the idea that if you run your business in a qualitative way, then the financial rewards will come. While it’s difficult to pinpoint exactly when certain qualitative investments will pay dividends, they also make the journey along the way more rewarding, even if the financial rewards come later. Consider it duty now for the future.
And as consumers begin to demand ever-greener products, and greater societal responsibility from the companies that they support, if you don’t start addressing those issue now, you won’t be able to pivot on a dime when they become mission critical, and you’ll be caught flat-footed. Therefore, if you take a long-term view of business–which we do–while you never know when precisely the paradigm shift will occur, why not begin preparing for it now?