BikeBiz investigates the efforts of the carbon neutral and those bigger players with green shoots emerging and asks - how hard is it for a business to be eco-friendly?

How ‘green’ is the bike trade?

We have to admit, it took some researching to pull this one together, or at least more than first bargained for. The assumption that the bike trade is a green business is largely unfounded – after all, the majority of our product is shipped halfway across the world before the consumer gets their hands on items that, without the cost barrier, could largely be produced domestically.

Many firms will of course use recycled packaging, or produce one or two eco-conscious products in a catalogue many times the size. As we said, green shoots aplenty, but very few mature oaks.

Green Oil will be the firm that springs instantly to mind for many in the business with an interest in eco-credentials, so what better place to start than with Simon Nash, a man who has grown his lubrication business from his garden shed, to one with a slice of the market share pie.

“I’ve always thought if you’re educated on climate issues and capable, you should go into politics, or business to change things. I’m British, and love my country. We have the technology and manufacturing capability in the UK, so at Green Oil we use it. Unlike competitors who make lubes in China, we’re supporting the UK economy, and our products therefore have a much lower carbon footprint in transport.”

Nash has taken a product that traditionally relies on oil production and found a way to produce a product of equal, or perhaps better, quality using plants which absorb CO2, which eventually returns to the soil.

“Being plant based, our products also have a lower carbon footprint in manufacturing, as does our recycled packaging,” says Nash. “I’ve done what I can elsewhere too. Green Oil only uses LED lighting – this has provided a 90 per cent saving in lighting costs, and therefore CO2. We use 100 per cent recycled plastic for our 100ml bottles. That means a lower carbon footprint, less oil imported into the UK and less plastic in landfill. We’re experimenting with using factory off-cuts from bottle manufacturing in the mix, whilst ensuring at least 50 per cent is still post consumer plastic (like from the box outside your house).”

Retailers can line their pockets as a result of Green Oil’s efforts too, says Nash. “We even offer to buy back our packaging off retailers and end users for re-use, and offer five litre re-fill cans for shops.”

Practicing what he preaches, the Green Oil website has a sub-page dedicated to the recommendation of other ‘green’ companies, one of those featured is Rachel Hammond’s Bamboo Bikes.

“We ship our bamboo from a commercial farm in China, where bamboo is planted on a cycle (pardon the pun). The bamboo we use takes approximately five to seven years until it can be harvested, so much like coppicing it can be harvested and re-planted in a short cycle,” explains Hammond.

“As a material, Bamboo offers a lot of strength properties which man has tried to replicate in metals. For example, bamboo’s tensile strength is higher than that of steel, as well as it being able to withstand impact much better than carbon. Our frames test stiffer than aluminium equivalent frames, but still offer a smooth, quiet and responsive ride. Bamboo being ‘nodal’, it absorbs the vibration and transfers it through the frame via its length-way fibres, rather than transferring the stress to the rider.”

Off-cuts are sold on to other local craftsmen and women by Bamboo Bikes, so there’s little wastage. What’s more, to further the unique bike’s credentials, Hammond has linked with Bangor University to investigate resins based on natural materials and could soon be using them to bond tubes.

From one company using natural ingredients to another, Clif Bar recently became the first building in Emeryville, CA to achieve LEED Platinum certification. What does that mean, you ask? Well it means that the 115,000 square foot facility is sustainable in its operations. Rated on five green design categories – sustainable sites, water efficiency, energy and atmosphere, materials and resources and indoor environmental quality – the building used 12,000 board feet of reclaimed wood, a rooftop solar array set up and even boasts four atrium gardens, as well as artwork made from recycled kayaks and, of course, bicycles.

The oldest trick in the book for recycling bicycle parts is of course turning used tyres into belts, a trade earning many boutique businesses a fairly quick and easy buck. But not all materials are so easy to recycle, most notably the industry’s ‘black gold’, carbon fibre.

To date this oil-based material has been notoriously difficult to recycle, much thanks to the very limited number of facilities able to re-use the material. Things are changing, though, albeit slowly.

Both Specialized and Trek are offering ways to keep the composite material away from the landfill (in some regions these materials are banned anyway). Specialized has it’s own full-time sustainability strategist with Bryant Bainbridge, while Trek’s man in the know, Colin Knell told BikeBiz: “In Europe we allow dealers to send ours and any other companies’ carbon scrap to us, we are happy to do the recycling for companies who do not have this operation.”

With an agreement in place with South Carolina’s MIT, Trek’s reclaimed carbon is broken down and generally sold for use in recycled thermoplastic parts to add stiffness and strength.

“The agreement with MIT is beneficial to both companies,” adds Knell. “We pay for the shipping to South Carolina which obviously renders a cost. As does the man hours associated with receiving scrap back from the dealers. Since the operation started in 2011, we believe that 93,727 lbs (43,000kg) of carbon has been recycled to create approximately 40,000 lbs (18,000kg) of re-usable fibre.”

Among other efforts to recycle mixed metals, ion battery cells and cardboard, Trek’s UK building was designed with local government to be a ‘green’ building. Workers here are encouraged to ride to work with a paid benefit.
Specialized, meanwhile, is of the school of thought that minimising impact in the front end of the business is more productive than ‘back end recycling’, as put by Bryant Bainbridge, formerly the manager of Nike’s sustainability efforts at the point of design.

He told BikeBiz: “At Specialized we are approaching the question of sustainability more broadly than just looking at recycling.”

Working on a similar model to the Nike MSI program, Specialized considers the ‘entire lifecycle’ when bringing a product to market. This spans resource extraction, fibre creation, spinning, weaving, shipping to factories, producing the product, shipping the product to retail, use and, finally, end of life. Using this model, the firm is able to analyse the production’s effect on water use, land resource use, toxicity and waste, among other things.
Sound complicated? Nobody ever said going green was easy. But is it worthwhile from a business point of view, if not an ethical one?

With plentiful opportunities for recycled carbon, of which Specialized says it has shifted 10,000lbs so far this year, Bainbridge says as volumes recycled increase costs of doing so will decline.

“There is a cost in gathering the frames, consolidating them and shipping. I would characterise this as an investment in the future as we work to help establish a take back stream for this material. Once established and sufficient volumes achieved the costs of doing this should be neutralised since recycled carbon fibre does have value.

In the UK and Europe we are currently warehousing our frames and will begin recycling there later this year.”

From hard fibres to soft, the outdoor clothing business has a greater choice of natural sources to pluck its raw material from. German gear firm Vaude has set itself a target to become the most ecological outdoor supplier in Europe by 2015 – an ambitious goal, but one that’s already underway.

The label has created what it calls a ‘Greenshape’ mountain, where the most ecological products are marked as ‘Summit goods’ and the lesser ‘basecamp’ items, with several tier in between.

‘Summit goods’ meet the world’s Bluesign standards, meaning the product meets stringent environmental protection standards. Vaude uses what it calls an eColour dye process, whereby as opposed to traditional multi-dye and rinse techniques, the garment has pigments added during the spinning process. This reduces CO2 emissions by around 62 per cent and uses 90 per cent less water, 63 per cent less pigment chemicals and saves around 65 per cent of the energy used to produce a product. By 2015, Vaude endeavours to make 80 per cent of its goods ‘Green Shape’ rated.

Few in the industry will be unfamiliar with another outdoor industry stalwart with eco-conscious values the SueMe label.

Sarah Gowans of Buffera told us that a combination of domestic manufacturing, a strict use of natural fibres and efforts to offset its use of such natural materials by replacing uprooted plants and trees is key.

“Currently we use organic cotton, merino wool, beech tree pulp, bamboo pulp and are currently testing Eucalyptus pulp. We also use recycled card for packaging, vegetable inks for printing and our point of sale is all made from wood, as well as supplying our customers with a packet of seeds to plant, allowing them the opportunity to offset their purchase as trees and plants are the filters of the world.”

Any product left over in Buffera’s warehouse is used by the firm’s Tottenham tailor, as part of an inner city programme – – which helps keep children off the streets and teach them about fashion, clothing, design, and manufacturing.

Hidden in plain sight, is another domestic manufacturer selling into the cycle trade – the now award winning security firm Pragmasis – headed up by owner Stephen Briggs and his wife.

Perhaps most impressively of all, the duo bought their own woodland – Betty’s Wood – in which they have planted over 6,000 trees together on ex-arable land close to the business premises.

Briggs tells BikeBiz: “It’s a local ancient woodland site that came up for sale nearly six years ago and we have been working there ever since to develop it as a wildlife site, but also as a community resource.

“We have school groups, scouts and many others visiting. We hold regular open days with guided tours. Priority is given to the wildlife there, so the place is locked most of the time as a result.

“Honestly, one of the main reasons for running the security business is to fund that place! It eats money and most of what we make goes into the woods. It is expensive, but it makes us feel brilliant.”

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