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Plastic SUPs and climate change | The elephant in the room

Did anyone else see the Greta Thonberg documentary this week?

Thought provoking, and yet again makes us deeply question what we do at McConks. Is making plastic SUPs sustainable?

The science is 100% clear, and has been clear for decades. We need to change our behaviours to mitigate the worst ravages of climate change. Technology and mitigations aren’t enough. The evidence presented shows that we can’t just offset the carbon cost of our plastic products by planting monoculture lines of trees. The evidence is clear already that most tree planting schemes employed to offset the cost of transport and production are not as effective as claimed. They’re both fragile, and carbon sources not sinks for the first 30 years of their life. The fragility means that many of them don’t actually mature enough to become carbon sinks, and in fact only generate more CO2. The single most important thing we should be doing is suppress sing demand for new products made from virgin materials. And the second most important thing we can do, is to protect existing forests and to create new fully functioning habitats, not just plant plant new trees or mangroves. Did you know that it costs just $3000 to buy 25,000 trees with some of the offsetting companies, and just $50 a month buys you 500 trees a month. And even when this is done with the best of intents (rather than just corporate greenwashing) it is still probably doing more harm than good

The other big elephant in the room, is that for products made in China (every single inflatable paddleboard in 2021 is made in China), then most are made with coal power. Our iSUP factory uses 30% renewable, but that is all major hydropower, which comes with its own environmental and social issues.

Greta’s challenge to everyone is ‘what are you doing now, we can’t put off change any longer?’

So this is what we’re doing right now:

Our commitments:

Making products last as long as possible – this is the single biggest thing any manufacturer should be focussing on. We don’t have an annual product ‘upgrade’ because we don’t want to promote people buying new product just because they like the new colours. Form and function is much more important to us than colour and pretty pictures. And we offer a generous 5 year guarantee on our boards, because we know from experience that’s at least how long our boards last.

No flying of products – shipping by boat of course isn’t carbon neutral, but the amount of CO2 produced per tonne shipped is a fraction of that of flying.

No flying to meet suppliers – In this modern era of Teams/Skype/Zoom, there is little justification for flying to the other side of the world just to meet your suppliers. Major multinational companies now function without their executive teams needing to get on a plane and if it’s good enough for them it’s good enough for us. Daily contact via email and zoom is a much better communication and QA outcome than visiting once or twice a year. And we also employ a local QA to keep an eye on our specialist SUP and paddle factories.

Rewilding rather than tree planting – the evidence shows that creating new habitat, and preventing habitat destruction creates a much faster carbon sink than planting trees or mangroves. That’s why we chose to work with Trees for Life in the Scottish Highlands who do just that.

Carbon Neutral by 2030 – This is a really big ask, but we’re committed. It’s a really big job just to understand our carbon cost. There are multiple components that all need detailed data much of which isn’t widely available or able to be calculated right now. We need to include the the carbon cost of our supply chain, the carbon cost of our day to operations, the carbon cost of shipping and haulage the carbon cost of storage and distribution and the carbon cost of our products through their lifecycle including end of life costs. It’s almost a PhD worth of research just to understand the carbon cost, let alone develop a solution to become carbon cost that doesn’t involve counter productive measures like offsetting through tree planting.

We’d love to hear what else you think we can or should be doing?

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