Bringing fundamental change to everyday life. And, for that matter, death.
Can a skateboard maker change the world? Comet Skateboards is taking a shot. The company produces high-performance decks and wheels using materials made locally and sustainably. It's something any business can do, says Don Shaffer, a co-owner of the company and also the executive director of the Business Alliance for Local Living Economies. "If you source your raw materials as locally as possible, you're shortening the supply chain, putting fewer emissions into the atmosphere by using fewer petroleum products. Lessening the distances that things travel has a very clear environmental benefit."
The six-employee company, which is based in Oakland, California, has its boards made in San Francisco (at a factory that is powered by solar energy) and in nearby Chico. The decks are made from maple and poplar that have been harvested according to the guidelines of the Forest Stewardship Council. (Comet has also started working with bamboo.) The company is now experimenting with biologically based composites to hold the boards together, such as a soy protein polymer. By next year, all Comet skateboards will be certified "cradle-to-cradle," a designation indicating that the company takes responsibility not only for where the materials to make the boards come from and how they're made, but also how they can be disposed of when their shredding days are through.
Comet boards are a little more expensive than some, but the company doesn't just cater to skaters wealthy enough to choose to be ecoconscious. It has championed and raised money for a sustainably designed skatepark in downtown Oakland--the park is scheduled to open in 2007--and is a primary backer of the Hood Games, a community event of skateboarding, music, and fashion that takes place in South Central Los Angeles and in East Oakland. "It's about making it affordable and accessible and creating easier ways to express what sustainability is all about," says CEO Jason Salfi.
"We don't want to be known as the organic winery of the Napa Valley," says John Williams, founder of Frog's Leap Winery in Rutherford, California. It's an odd thing for him to say. Frog's Leap was started in 1984 and in 1988 became the first Napa winemaker to have its grapes certified as organic. Today, Frog's Leap produces 60,000 cases of wine a year, all from grapes that are grown organically. Perhaps more notably, they are grown with water-saving dry farming methods.
In recent years, other vineyards, including Bonterra and Rubicon Estate, have followed Frog's Leap's lead. (Still, fewer than 2 percent of all wine grapes grown in California are certified organic.) But Williams is reluctant to brag, and not only because he's modest. "Up to this point, there's been no advantage to marketing your wine as organic," he says. Indeed, Frog's Leap's labels don't even say "organically grown." So why bother? "We're doing it because it leads to higher quality," says Williams. "And it's better for the health and longevity of the vineyard and the workers."
Indeed, at Frog's Leap, which does about $10 million in annual sales, commitment to a healthier environment goes beyond grapes--and beyond Frog's Leap. The winery has erected solar panels to meet the bulk of its power needs, uses geothermal energy to cool and heat its buildings, and built its new visitor center and headquarters to exacting green building standards. It also has hosted organic farming conferences and "Solar Stampede," an event promoting solar power among other winemakers. Frog's Leap is now developing a work-sharing program with other wineries aimed at keeping more seasonal field workers employed full time. The upfront costs of things like building green add 2 or 3 percent to a project's costs, Williams says. "But the paybacks are the kind we're used to in the wine business, where we take a longer-term view of investments," he says. "I really have difficulty coming up with a single disadvantage to being a green company." Even if the rest of the world doesn't know it.
Before Kim Jordan, a former social worker, and her husband, Jeff Lebesch, an electrical engineer and amateur brewer, went commercial with their home-brewing experiments in 1991, they set a few ground rules. Make world-class beer. Have fun. Promote beer culture. And be kind to the environment. Fifteen years later, New Belgium Brewery, based in Fort Collins, Colorado, is the third-largest American craft beer maker (after Sierra Nevada and Sam Adams), has 260 employees, and boasts annual revenue of $70 million--and its corporate soul is intact.
In 1998, the company became the first U.S. brewery to be powered entirely by wind. It now meets all its energy needs through a combination of wind power purchased from the city and cogeneration of thermal energy from the brewing process. Brewing uses a lot of water, an average of eight barrels of water to produce a single barrel of beer; through recapture and reuse, New Belgium has cut its water use in half. In winter, induction fans pull in cool outside air to chill the beer, reducing the need for refrigeration, which can account for up to 30 percent of a brewery's electric use. Finally, New Belgium recycles or reuses 98 percent of its waste stream--converting spent grain into cattle feed, for example. Hybrids or high-mileage diesels are used for company business.
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