Interview: Rick Lomax of Decarbonated Sports

With the growing awareness and discussions about our environment, infographics, carbon calculators, and other tools to figure out exactly the impact that a product makes are popping up everywhere. From Patagonia’s Footprint Chronicals to Decarbonated Sports innovative new tool called the Surfboard Carbon Calculator, you can see how the products you are purchasing are affecting our planet.

Decarbonated’s new tool allows users (both individuals and companies) to calculate the carbon footprint of their surfboards, with both a simple and full version. The full Surfboard Carbon Calculator is more accurate but also more complex. It takes into account over 90 variables, from size, resin and foam type, fiber layers (type and number), fin set up and number of repairs. They are also offering each user the ability to purchase carbon credits to carbon offset their surfboards, annually ¾ million surfboards are made a year which equates to roughly 220,000 tons of CO2.

Why is all this important, you may ask? Well, Rick gives an in depth explanation  behind their tools as well as what purchasing carbon credits actually does.

Tell us about your website Decarbonated Sports. What is the goal/mission behind it?

Our mission is to make surfing and other extreme sports proactive in tackling climate change, sounds easy when you say it like that. Our sports create greenhouse gases; carbon dioxide and others through our equipment, travel and everyday lives which are fuelling climate change, which, without trying to sound all Armageddon, is going to change our lives for the worse. By reducing surfing’s carbon footprint we can help protect our waves, our sport and our planet, as surfing is one of few sports that will actually be affected by climate change, so we have a greater needed to do something.

Can you explain carbon footprinting in layman’s terms for those who don’t quite understand what it is?

Yes, carbon footprinting is the process of mapping where greenhouse gas emissions are created either by a product, event or company. E.g. a product; from extracting the raw materials, transport, processing into usable constituents, using utilities such as electricity, gas and water, the different shaping processes themselves and maintaining a surfboard through repairs. Take the stringer as an example;

A tree has to be harvested reducing the amount of CO2 absorbed, cut down by some form of chainsaw requiring fuel, which creates emissions, and then it is transported out of the forest to the mill, creating more emissions by using a diesel engine. The mill itself requires electricity to cut the wood. Then the stringer is transported again from mill to foam manufacturer, then to the shaper, then there is some wastage from the shaping process. Finally a surfboard is made, and then you drive and fly it around (although the calculator doesn’t account for how much you drive/fly with the board). Each stage needs, inputs such as gas, electricity, water, chemicals all of which create CO2 and other greenhouse gases that damage our environment. All the greenhouse gases emissions are turned in to what’s called Carbon Dioxide equivalent (CO2e) as a single measurement of emissions created, to allow easy comparison.

Why create a surfboard carbon calculator? How did you come up with the algorithms for your carbon calculator?

The reasoning behind first calculating surfboard carbon footprints was to create a benchmark, so surfboards can be compared by actually how ‘ungreen’ they are to find the greenest surfboard. By knowing the carbon footprint of a surfboard, you can find where the majority of the emissions are created and start reducing it. The surf industry and others really annoy me when they throw around statements that their product is ‘green’, yet don’t actually quantify how green it actually is? It would be great if surf products were all carbon labelled, so you could make an informed purchasing decision.

The Surfboard Carbon Calculator all started at university where I made a standard PU surfboard and a Plant based one, and I wanted to know how green the plant board was compared to a standard surfboard. It turned out the green surfboard only created 175lbs of CO2 compared to the Polyurethanes 408lbs, which applied to the whole surf industry would mean nearly 276 million lbs of CO2 saved a year. Unfortunately after testing this specific plant surfboard didn’t surf as well (it was marginal though), there’s no point releasing an eco-product that has a poorer performance because all it will do is fuel some people negative perceptions of eco surfboards. So instead we created the Surfboard Carbon Calculators to educate surfers of their environmental damage, and offset their surfboards; performance without environmental compromise.

How do you hope this will affect the consumer?

The most important thing is educating surfers, making them aware that surfing does impact on the planet, once people are aware of what, where and how much damage we create people can look for better, more sustainable ways of reducing surfing’s impact. Simple things like driving efficiently to the beach and back, car sharing, buying eco-surfboards where they know the impact has been reduced. The biggest bits of advice is to buy the right board for you, one that’s glassed heavily enough that it will last and a board that’s not just gonna sit in the shed unloved, if it does sell it 2nd hand. By increasing 2nd hand board sales, less board will be made = less CO2 created. And hopeful surfers will carbon offset their surfboard reducing the environmental impact of surfing.

When a user calculates the carbon footprint of their surfboard and then purchases carbon credits from your company, what do you then do with that money? What does purchasing carbon credits actually mean? And how are we assured our money is actually used to offset that footprint?

When you purchase carbon credits for whatever amount your boards create, that exact amount needs to somehow be reabsorbed. We work with a company that is registered under the UN Kyoto protocol that ensures the carbon credits created are legal, environmentally positive and absorb that specific amount. There are hundreds of ways of absorbing CO2, from simply planting trees to building multimillion Dollar renewable energy projects. One great example is the energy efficient stove donated to some of the world’s poorest, the stove uses the same fuel (wood or coal) that the people receive it use, but instead of simply having a fire on the floor the stove maximizes the heat created from the fuel.

Energy efficient stoves:

  • * One tonne of domestic coal when burnt creates 2.5 tonnes of CO2
  • * Say the average family’s old inefficient stove/fire used 2 tonnes of Coal a year therefore released 7.5 tonnes of CO2.
  • * And the new stoves are 50% more efficient
  • * By using the new efficient stove only 50% coal is used to create the same amount of heat.
  • * So 50% less CO2 is released into the atmosphere, that’s a saving of 2.5 tonnes of Carbon dioxide equivalent of Greenhouse gases a year.
  • * If 1000 stoves are provided to a community then 2500 tonnes of Carbon Dioxide (equivalent) have been saved and can be sold as Carbon Credits.

* So not only does it help the environment but means the people that you have bought the stove for save time and money by buying or collecting less fuel

How is surfing different from any other sport out there..say MLB baseball, which uses 50+ balls per game, or skateboarders who go through decks, trucks, and wheels, or triathlon which athletes utilize a ton of gear ranging from a wetsuit, bike, helmet, shoes, shorts, socks, etc.?

They aren’t, we are not saying surfing is the only sport that is bad for the environment, and we are definitely not saying don’t do any sport, we just want to help make our activities more sustainable. But surfing is different because we have this image that we are super eco-hippies, which we don’t necessarily deserve. And the second point is sports like surfing, snowboarding and Skiing are controlled by atmospheric occurrences, which will be affected by climate change. You can play baseball in the rain, you can skate indoors and you can run in heavy winds, but the specific conditions to create decent clean swell are so specific that any change of the climate will probably reduce this window further. So we as surfers has more to lose, especially with rising sea levels some of our low tide waves will eventually be lost. So we really have more emphasis to do our bit.

What other options do you suggest for a surfer to do about the carbon footprint that a surfboard brings to our environment?

4 simple rules; Reduce, Reuse, Recycle, Reabsorb.

Reduce the amount of CO2 that is created by buying greener surfboards and by buying and selling 2nd hand boards.

Reuse, surf all your boards till they snap or sell/exchange them, or have extra fins plugs to make your boards more diverse and can even make a board feel brand new, try a 4+1 longboard…soooo much fun.

Recycle; very very few surfboards are even partially recyclable. But if it is definitely at the end of its life, don’t put it in Landfill, use the foam for repairs or make a table, mirror or chair? Art? There will be someone out there who wants it! Rather than putting a brand new board on the wall of a bar, what a waste!

Reabsorb; Carbon offset your surfboards, so there’s no net gain of CO2

Is your outlook a positive one? In your experience, are you seeing change in how people choose their next surfboard?

Yes, it is, the is no definitive guidelines to eco-surf products/surfboards that actually quantifies the environmental impact, which makes it harder for surfers to actually know how much CO2 they have saved, using the calculators give them an indication of how they have helped tackle climate change.

We are hoping over the next few months to start working with shapers and surf companies so we can reduce the carbon emissions of surfboards and other surf products, so it’ll be easier for surfers to find green solutions.

What are the plans for Decarbonated in the future?

We have a couple of really exciting projects in the pipeline; the scientific testing of eco-surfboards performance, couple of big conferences and trade shows. We are constantly looking for new ambassadors, so if you’re a competitive surfer, artist or really want to be involved drop us a line.

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