Why hollow wood boards are better for the environment
It is the environmental issue of our time. The deadly consequences of high CO2 emissions being spewed into the earth’s atmosphere and the rising global temperatures as a result is an environmental, social, economic and political issue. All of the pressing environmental controversies – fracking, GMO’s, industrial development and the like – are linked to this issue.
Surfboards are not divorced from this context. The life cycle of a surfboard has received increased attention exactly because of increased awareness about climate change.
And although surfers are engaged in an activity that intimately connects them to the environment, sadly the foam surfboards they ride are toxic chariots – bad for the planet in almost every way from manufacture through to disposal.
Life Cycle Analysis
Despite what some manufacturers and magazines might have you believe, there is no such thing as a 100% green surfboard. Any claims to this effect are nonsense. Even if your surfboard is made out of a locally grown miracle weed, there will still be a level of emissions at some stage of the manufacture and/or disposal process.
But hollow wood surfboards – the boards that Burnett Wood Surfboards make – do have strong environmental credentials. There is a body of literature to back this up which we refer to below.
In one 2011 Life Cycle Analysis (LCA) study that specifically compared polyurethane (PU) foam boards with wood boards, it was found that wood surfboard production produced less than half the CO2 emissions and other noxious emissions of foam boards.
The LCA looked at raw material production as well as production and assembly of the board itself. It excluded the use of resins in the glassing process because both foam and hollow wood surfboards make use of resins and therefore the emissions were equal. However, there are major advances being made in the development of environmentally-friendly glassing materials which Burnett Wood Surfboards is actively monitoring with a view to integrating in our production processes as soon as we are able.
According to the Cradle to Grave project conducted by the University of Berkeley, California, the carbon emissions from the foam blank production and shaping processes are 60kg of CO2 gas per six foot surfboard. In addition to this are smaller amounts of various toxic chemical emissions.
But in the 2011 study the LCA of a hollow wood surfboard was estimated at 23.3kg of C02 emissions – less than half that of a foam surfboard. This included the entire life cycle production of a board, from the raw materials in the form of logs through to sawing, drying, planning and manufacture of the actual surfboard.
Outside of these hard facts, there are other points in favour of wood surfboards:
– Foam is not biodegradable and it may leach some toxic chemicals after some time. Wood, however, is biodegradable and recyclable.
– Correctly looked after, wood boards will last longer than foam counterparts. This means that while there is an environmental footprint in the initial production of the board, there are no further emissions that would usually be associated with the constant replacement of a surfboard with a shorter life span.
– Wood is not artificially manufactured – it is a natural product that can be replaced.
– The off-cuts associated with wood surfboard production are recyclable. At Burnett Wood Surfboards, we use the wood off-cuts to make surf furniture, skegs and a variety of other creative products. We use sawdust for general garden and vegetable garden mulch.
Pushing back against the reality
As a manufacturer of wood surfboards in a country where economic growth nearly always trumps the environment, we prefer to be honest about the state of play rather than make startling ‘greenwashing’ claims with no factual basis.
It’s tough to find out where wood comes from and if it has been harvested in a sustainable way. In order to cut down on transport emissions, we do make every effort to use wood that is grown sustainably in South Africa, wherever this is possible. It is only through asking questions of our suppliers and working with select suppliers to find out where our wood comes from that we have been able to understand more about the wood species that we use.
Concern for the environment was a founding principle of Burnett Wood Surfboards and the reason I made my first hollow wood surfboard back in 2007. It remains and will continue to remain the reason why we use wood to make our surfboards and in so doing offer a greener alternative to the surfing community.
Patrick Burnett, Burnett Wood Surfboards