Bret Warner is a guest contributor to Keep it Green presented by NSP, Rebecca Parson’s column on environmental and sustainable topics in the paddling community.
Transitioning to a sustainable future
About 4 years ago when I started making hollow wood SUPs and paddleboards with the intention of making them as eco friendly as possible, I ran into more than a few naysayers who ranged from questioning whether an eco friendly board was even worth the effort to those who said it was without a doubt a waste of time. A few years after that I was fortunate enough to run a clinic on sustainability in the paddle industry at the Cali Paddler retreat. While preparing for the talk there were still very few companies, even after going through sustainable surf’s certified eco board list, I could highlight that were making large scale commitments to eco friendliness and/or sustainability. Albeit the list had grown considerably since I first set out to build my own eco friendly boards.
Earth Technologies and the future of board building
When I recently learned about Earth Technologies, however, and their drive to be the first surfboard/SUP maker to have a zero waste facility I realized that not only had I missed a major innovator in the eco board movement, but also I was far from alone in being passionate about moving the industry in an eco friendly direction instead of an arguably exploitative one. Ry Harris, owner of Earth Technologies has been shaping boards for 20 years and glassing them for 10. In fact, he started “his” glassing “career” while “messing around” with bio based epoxies. Although there are now quite a few companies using bio based epoxies, among other products, and techniques to keep boards more sustainable, Earth Tech is employing multiple techniques not seen anywhere else.
What goes into a board from Earth Tech?
The foam used in each board is recycled/recyclable foam from Marko Foam, and every board is glassed with a bio based epoxy like Entropy Resin’s Super Sap or Ghost epoxy. To be clear, these epoxies are not 100% bio based, closer to 30%, but they are still far more renewable than other products and have lower VOC (Volatile Organic Compounds that can be harmful to both people using them and the environment) than other epoxy systems as well. Other possibilities for boards include the new algae board, which is made with foam and 25-30% algae, or a board glassed with organic hemp.
On its own this is more than what many companies are doing, but what is most impressive is what Earth Tech does with the waste generated while shaping and glassing a board. All the shaping dust gets collected for later use in blanks and hand planes, and all the larger waste, tape, gloves, saturated fiberglass, etc gets put through a shredder so that it can be combined with foam to make more blanks and/or hand planes. Unsaturated fiberglass cannot be put through the shredder because it might get entangled so any off cut fiberglass is saved, stacked together and used to create fin panels. All this does not make Earth Tech completely zero waste, but they are closer than anyone else out there.
It would be difficult to go to the Earth Tech shop and not be inspired. Whether from an eco conscious standpoint or a business/financial one a zero waste surf shop makes sense, and it isn’t just one or two ways that Earth Tech has committed to sustainability. It’s clear when one walks around the shop that new ideas are being tried and tested on a consistent basis. It is not just about shredding waste to be reused in blanks, they are trying new bio-based epoxies, experimenting with agave wood, glassing with new and different types of material, and still reusing all of that when relevant or necessary. On more than one occasion I have heard people say that it would be great to have an eco-friendly board, but they did not want to compromise on performance or aesthetics to get one. In recent years there have been enough advances that this choice often does not have to be made, and the continually adaptive efforts of Earth Tech are making this choice disappear even more, if not making a sustainable eco friendly board a better option.
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