It might be fair to say that Burton Snowboards (Burton) is the leader in its field, worldwide. Jake Burton Carpenter, one of the first developers of the snowboard itself, founded the company in his barn in Londonderry, Vermont, in 1977. Today, it is still a Vermont company, though it moved to Burlington and has grown a bit. It has approximately 400 employees in the Burlington area, a total of 650 in the United States, and about 1,000 globally. In addition to the headquarters in Burlington, there are offices in Austria, Japan, Australia, Canada, and China.
Burton has firsthand knowledge of climate change. It has already been having a serious impact on the winter sports business. A recent press release said, “There are clear signs of climate change seen through the lens of a snowboarder – extreme weather, decreased snow accumulation, and melting glaciers are among them. In the northeast U.S., the number of days with snow cover has decreased by one to two weeks since 1970.” The change reduces activity and sales, especially in Burton’s home state of Vermont.
Understanding that there is a climate emergency at hand, Burton has undertaken a number of environmental actions to ensure that its snowboards are made to high environmental standards. It changed assembly methods for snowboards in 2016 to reduce wood waste by 20%. In 2017, it started to use FSC-rated wood for all its snowboards, which means that all its wood is sustainably harvested. Also, in 2017, it stopped using polypropylene packaging for adult snowboards, switching to selling them in paper bags. In 2017, it also started using Super Sap bio-based resin to reduce the carbon footprint of the resin on all boards by 33%. In 2018, it started using solar photovoltaics to provide it with electricity (please see the article on Burton’s solar drive on page 8). In 2018, it also started using ReRez® recyclable epoxy in some product lines, and it is expanding that use to other lines. In 2019, Burton became a certified B-Corp in Vermont.
That is not the end of Burton’s work by any means. By the winter of 2020, Burton hopes to have all its clothing and soft goods contain only sustainable cotton. This is intended to reduce chemicals and use of water.
Some things the company does are a bit surprising. It is running what it calls a “Burton Pass Along” initiative. Customers are encouraged to trade in their unwanted Burton gear for reuse, in exchange for store credit or a charity donation. The reason this seems so surprising is that it seems counter to just about everything we expect from a business that is being run for profit. The gear is cleaned and redistributed for reuse. This means, in effect, that new Burton products are being put into direct competition with used Burton products, which people can get at little or no cost. The advantage to Burton may not be much, but the advantage to the planet is that Burton’s products stay out of landfills all that much longer.
This year, Burton did something else we might find perfectly extraordinary. As the Global Climate Strike was gearing up, with over one million people in countries around the world inspired by sixteen-year-old Swedish activist Greta Thunberg to get involved, Burton itself joined the protest. The company announced that it would not conduct business in its stores on September 20th. Retail outlets and offices in the United States, Canada, Europe, China, Japan, South Korea and Australia would do no business on that day. In fact, Burton would not even accept orders placed online, and its web site redirected visitors to the Global Climate Strike website.
On that day of protest, stores were to be open to visitors but not for shopping. The doors would be open so people could come in, gather, and get supplies to make posters for protests. Employees were given the day off, with pay, so they could attend marches and do other protest work.
Donna Carpenter, Burton’s co-CEO, said “I’ve been so inspired by Greta Thunberg and the students around the world who have used the weekly Fridays for Future protests to beg adults to pay attention to the climate crisis.” She added, “At Burton, we want to help preserve the winter outdoor experience for future generations, so I’m proud to have our company join Greta’s movement. As Greta said, ‘We’re all in the same boat, so everyone should be concerned about this.’”
It is obvious that the people at Burton Snowboards are motivated by a love of the environment and of humanity to address the issues of climate change. They are in an industry that is more aware than many of the effects climate degradation has already had, because they can see it firsthand. But there is more than that behind their actions. Clearly, they recognize that we are in a climate crisis that affects every one of us. Burton G.E.T.s it!
Burton Snowboard’s website is www.burton.com.